Welcome to the Northwest Nearshore- the Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI) blog. We’ll post updates on our nearshore observations, key events, and results here on a regular basis. This post? A synopsis of how we got to the nearshore-and why it matters so much.
The nearshore extends from the area of tidal influence in lower rivers out to a depth of 30 meters (approximately 100 feet) mean low low water. It includes the vegetated shoreline. The nearshore is a place of high importance-all of our iconic species including salmon and forage fish depend on the nearshore for feeding, migration, and in some cases, spawning. There are countless references that provide details what exactly the nearshore is, exactly how it functions, and why it is so critical to protect. CWI regularly provides workshops on the importance of the nearshore, and conducts research to define key elements to promote and protect.
But the nearshore is also a place of hardship. Because of it’s proximity to these resource and incredible beauty we insist on living ON the nearshore. According to WDFW, we are currently losing our nearshore to shoreline development at a ratio of 10:1. Surf smelt and sand lance spawning habitat is regularly lost thru armoring and fill. Jennifer MacIntyre (WSU/UW) has frankly demonstrated that run off from the impervious surfaces of development flat out kills juvenile salmon. Where is non-point runoff routed along our shorelines? The nearshore.
And of course, once we develop a shoreline we have to defend our infrastructure there. Our active Strait of Juan de Fuca feeder bluffs, which we know thru multiple research efforts including DNR and DoE, erode in feet-not inches- per year.
‘Defending infrastructure’ is traditionally done thru bulkheading. This involves placing large rock and or sheet pile along the shoreline, which in turn ironically causes a swift and expensive increase in erosion, and rapid unbraiding of nearshore ecosytem function. Revetments such as along the Port Angeles landfill shoreline are expensive and futile-maintenance costs for these armaments can average $2000 per feet per year (based on City of Port Angeles utility costs), and at best only slow erosion rates by half.
There is no forage fish spawning here-and juvenile salmon are visibly stressed while migrating along this armored shoreline. We find dead Chinook along this stretch of the Elwha nearshore every year during surveys.
The bottom line: when we develop along our nearshore, shoreline erosion is accelerated, fish resources are lost, and those iconic northwest view scapes that we all cherish-and live here for-are literally washed away. The economics of ecosystem services that are lost when we lose the nearshore are just now being quantified-by Earth Economics. The numbers are jaw dropping.
In contrast, protecting our nearshore takes only common sense (otherwise known as ‘situational awareness’) and costs-literally- nothing. We are so fortunate to be in the position of having intact nearshore to protect here on the north Olympic Peninsula. We also have a world scale sediment restoration event that could turn back over 100 years
of sediment starvation and fully restore our nearshore Elwha-but we have to act now. Stay tuned for details on what CWI is discovering as we work to protect and restore our nearshore ecosystem-and how you can become part of the solution.