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USGS Will Collaborate with Coast Salish Indigenous Peoples to Measure Water Quality in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and Strait of Juan de Fuca)

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Eric Grossman discusses logistics for data collection with canoe skipper Eric Day, water quality scientists Rachel Lovellford and Sarah Akin, director of Office of Planning and Community Development Charlie O'Hara (all from Swinomish Indian Tribal Community), and U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Paul Schuster
Above: Eric Grossman (seated) discusses logistics for data collection with (left to right) canoe skipper Eric Day, water quality scientists Rachel Lovellford and Sarah Akin, director of Office of Planning and Community Development Charlie O'Hara (all from Swinomish Indian Tribal Community), and USGS hydrologist Paul Schuster at a breakout session at the Third Annual Coast Salish Gathering. [larger version]

George Adams holding a water-quality probe
Above: George Adams, canoe skipper for the Nooksack Indian Tribe, holding a water-quality probe. [larger version]

In an exciting new partnership between the Coast Salish (indigenous peoples of the Salish Sea ecoregion) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), members of western Washington Tribes and British Columbia First Nations will measure water quality in Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca during their annual summer canoe voyage, the Tribal Journey. Currently, groups paddling more than 100 canoes are planning to set out from locations throughout Washington State and British Columbia, Canada, and travel during July 2008 along six principal paths to Cowichan, southern Vancouver Island, for the biggest potlatch of the year. The annual Tribal Journey honors the centuries-old traditions of transport and trade by peoples living around the Salish Sea ecoregion—he large inland waterway that encompasses Puget Sound in the United States, the Strait of Georgia in Canada, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the two countries. Historically, Coast Salish people traveled the waters to meet and gather for festivities. Use of traditional water routes was revitalized in 1989, and the modern summer Tribal Journey is now an important event for many Tribes and First Nations. The landing of the Tribal Journey at Cowichan will also serve as the opening ceremony for the 2008 North American Indigenous Games.

This summer, a scientific component will be added to the Tribal Journey's rich array of cultural activities. Four to six of the canoes (the number has yet to be finalized) will carry water-quality probes and Global Positioning System (GPS) units on each of four to six of the principal routes to Cowichan. The probes will measure surface-water temperature, conductivity (salinity), pH, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, and turbidity. Upon completion of the Tribal Journey, the data will be downloaded and used to compile a database of water-quality measurements across the Salish Sea, maps, geographic-information-system (GIS) data layers, and reports that will help Tribal, Federal, State, and local entities identify water-quality issues and ultimately manage Salish Sea resources. USGS geologist Eric Grossman has been invited by the Coast Salish to provide scientific advice and technical expertise in planning and conducting the study and analyzing the data.

paddle illustration with the following description: The Paddle is the symbol of the Coast Salish Gathering and shares with the world that we are the people of the shores and beaches of the Salish Sea. The salmon within the logo represents the sustainable element of our cultural life ways as Coast Salish people. The salmon is our identity - it carries our spirits, brings food to our families, and keeps our bodies healthy. When the salmon becomes extinct, you will see our life ways as we know them today become extinct.

"The annual Tribal Journey of the Coast Salish offers a unique and unprecedented opportunity to measure the pulse of the Salish Sea's environmental health," said Grossman, who has been studying the effects of urbanization on water quality and habitat in Puget Sound (for example, see "Deltaic Habitats in Puget Sound—Natural Versus Human-Related Change," Sound Waves, December 2004/January 2005). Grossman and Coast Salish partners are excited about the upcoming project. Grossman noted that at the end of this summer's Tribal Journey, the Coast Salish and the USGS "will be able to map out data captured simultaneously across a broad expanse of the Salish Sea." The data will provide a snapshot of conditions during summer 2008 that "we can compare with processes that affect water quality throughout the region—such as river discharge, tides, winds, currents, and coastal upwelling—and with future measurements along successive journeys."

The feasibility of conducting water-quality studies during a canoe voyage like the summer 2008 Tribal Journey was successfully demonstrated during a 1,200-mi-long canoe trip down the Yukon River in summer 2007. The Yukon River Healing Journey—from Moosehide, Yukon Territory, Canada, to Russian Mission, Alaska (approximately 130 mi from the mouth of the Yukon as the crow flies)—was undertaken to promote environmental awareness and celebrate cultural ties, with visits to indigenous villages along the way. During the planning stages, Jon Waterhouse, director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), asked Paul Schuster, a USGS hydrologist who helped the council establish a regional water-quality-monitoring program, if he could suggest a way to "marry culture and science" on the Yukon River canoe journey. Schuster said, "Why don't you just drop a water-quality probe off the side of the canoe?" and soon they were designing a project to make continuous water-quality measurements along more than half the length of the 2,300-mi-long Yukon River. Instrument manufacturer YSI Inc. lent a state-of-the-art water-quality probe that was towed behind the modern two-person canoe captained by Waterhouse. The canoe was also fitted with foldout solar panels and an inverter for charging batteries to run a computer, video, and GPS unit, illustrating "how the YRITWC and indigenous people of the Yukon River watershed are blending traditional practices with modern technology to take care of the land and water" (YRITWC newsletter, Currents, July 2007, v. 2, no. 2).

Installing a water-quality probe and global positioning system unit on a traditional canoe Testing the equipment
Above left: Installing a water-quality probe and GPS unit on a traditional canoe during a breakout session at the Third Annual Coast Salish Gathering. [larger version]

Above right: Testing the equipment. [larger version]

A canoe is an ideal platform for towing the water-quality probe: "If you go too fast," said Schuster, "the probes don't work." Motorboats, even at their slowest speed, move fast enough to cause air pockets to form around the water-quality probes (a process known as cavitation), which interferes with the probes' performance. The solution is to use new technology with old. Waterhouse and his paddling partners towed a 15-lb, torpedo-shaped water-quality probe off the stern of their canoe, measuring surface-water temperature, conductivity (salinity), nutrients, pH, and total dissolved solids. Schuster, who had been part of a 5-year-long USGS study of water quality and climate change in the Yukon River basin (see Yukon River Basin Studies) called the results "a unique and very interesting dataset," adding, "We learned a lot about the river that we hadn't discovered in the 5 years we'd been working there."

Yukon River Basin
Above: Yukon River Basin, showing water-quality parameters (nitrate) measured as part of the 2007 Yukon River Healing Journey. Data indicate inputs and influences to water quality from tributaries and point sources. [larger version]

The idea of integrating a water-quality study into the 2008 Salish Sea Tribal Journey was suggested to Coast Salish in late 2007 by Grossman of the USGS and Chairman Brian Cladoosby, Charles O'Hara, Debra Lekanoff, and Sarah Akin of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. The proposal was formally adopted at the Third Annual Coast Salish Gathering, held February 27-29, 2008, in Tulalip, Washington. At the Gathering, Swinomish Chairman Cladoosby familiarized Coast Salish elders and leaders with the study and the intention of the Coast Salish-USGS partnership to address issues related to the recent deterioration of ancestral waterways and marine resources that for millennia have sustained the Coast Salish. Among the goals of the Coast Salish Gathering were to integrate the diverse indigenous peoples of the Salish Sea under one Coast Salish voice and to adopt an environmental science and policy agenda that will help the Coast Salish sustain their environment and marine resources, which are closely linked to their culture and identity.

During the Gathering, Coast Salish elders and leaders, and scientists from Tribes, First Nations, academia, and numerous agencies—including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environment Canada, and Parks Canada—highlighted critical impacts to nearshore ecosystems that mirror problems identified by the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership. These impacts include historical changes in fish-, bird-, plant-, and invertebrate-community structure; increases in parasites (sea lice) and invasive species; sedimentation impacts to shellfish-harvest areas and fish migratory pathways; impacts of trawling on benthic ecosystem structure and function; and increases in pollution from both point and nonpoint sources, especially wood-pulp mills, metal refineries, and dairy farms. Improving our understanding, and ability to predict the extent, of these impacts to nearshore habitats, estuarine processes, and marine resources is the principal mission of the USGS Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound Project, in cooperation with its many partners.

Summer 2007 Coast Salish Canoe Journey
Above: Summer 2007 Tribal Journey, in which 88 Native American Tribes from Washington State and First Nations of British Columbia, Canada, paddled along several pathways to a common host destination at Lummi, Washington, over the course of 3 to 4 weeks. Red star, summer 2008 destination: Cowichan, British Columbia, Canada. (Routes in 2008 may differ from those in 2007.) [larger version]

"The Coast Salish have extensive traditional ecological knowledge of their environment and patterns of change across the Salish Sea," said Grossman, noting that the plan to collect water-quality data during the 2008 Tribal Journey "will provide a unique opportunity to use traditional ecological knowledge and western science to improve understanding of ongoing change to the region's ecologic and cultural resources and the processes that affect them."

Grossman will serve as scientific advisor to Coast Salish for the Tribal Journey, and Akin will serve as project coordinator. Grossman and Akin have been conducting workshops for Coast Salish participants in preparation for the Tribal Journey. To learn more about the Tribal Journey, visit URL http://tribaljourneys.wordpress.com/tribal-journeys-of-the-nw/. To learn more about the history, peoples, and mission of the Coast Salish, visit URL http://www.coastsalishgathering.com/.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Deltaic Habitats in Puget Sound—Natural Versus Human-Related Change
Dec. 2004 / Jan. 2005

Related Web Sites
A Blending of Science and Tradition
USGS (U.S. Geological Survey)
Yukon River Basin Studies
USGS (U.S. Geological Survey)
Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Tribal Journeys
Washington Tribes and British Columbia First Nations
North American Indigenous Games
North American Indigenous Games Society
Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council
water-quality monitoring program
Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council newsletter
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
Third Annual Coast Salish Gathering

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Water Quality in the Salish Sea

Research Striking Variability in Sea-Otter Diets and Feeding Strategies

Meetings U.S. Coastal Water-Quality Workshop

Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study

Awards Alaska Bird Conservation Awards

Staff Sea-Otter Expert Joins USGS Staff

New Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellows

Publications May Publications List

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