Green not always good

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The green water of Hood Canal caught the attention of media when NASA published photos of the algae infested waters. “Stunning!” said Terri King of NOAA’s Sea Grant and, “It’ll cause low dissolved oxygen,” said Jan Newton head of UW’s environmental department, and Vera Trainer another NOAA expert is quoted as saying that the bloom “isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Such understatements by three people who are experts in the environmental conditions of Puget Sound are troubling – because Puget Sound has different conditions than those of Hood Canal. If these three highly qualified experts were to expand on these statements and speak apolitically, they would absolutely emphasize that this green water, which is caused by a coccolithophore plankton, can be deadly to Hood Canal and to adjacent waterways—including Dabob and Quilcene bays.

If they were to expand on this, these experts would tell you that any and all algae that finds it way or grows in any estuary can be deadly to the plants growing on the estuary’s bottom because algae naturally cuts off the sunlight that the plants need for photosynthesis. An example of this is the increased amount of eelgrass shedding that has increased in Quilcene Bay during the last decade because of the excessive algal growth that the waterways have experienced. This is reinforced by the doubling of turbidity readings and the loss of diving, pursuit, and surface fisher birds during the same period. (A good indicator is the decrease in loons, eagles, scoters, and kingfishers—which as of 2016 no longer fish in Quilcene Bay.)

If the media was interested, these experts would tell you that these phytoplankton don’t live very long and when they do die, they cause serious havoc on the bottom of the waterways. (Called the “benthic zone” by these experts) These algal carcasses invite bacteria to a feast and they respond by the trillions to consume nutrients from the dead algae while consuming dissolved oxygen from the water. Just imagine the carnage at the bottom of the waterways as the bacteria live and die while eating the living and dying algae. A mat of this carnage covers small plants, fish and shellfish eggs, and anything else that can’t quickly find some protection—if there is such a place. All this happens not long after you see that so-call “stunning” green water view.

Because Vera Trainer of NOAA appeared to be puzzled by the amount of this plankton’s (to us neophytes usually known as ‘algae’) presence in Hood Canal and our two bays because the problem normally originates from agricultural activities, she apparently doesn’t know (as doesn’t Terri King or Dr. Newton) that we have one of the largest point sources of “agricultural activities” anywhere on the western sea coast right here in Quilcene Bay. And if you take a minute to study the green water in Quilcene Bay (as shown in photo), you’ll see a small white dot that shows the Coast Seafoods shellfish hatchery as an apparent point source of the “agricultural pollution.” Notice that the green is solid green around the hatchery and that the only blue water is north of the Big Quilcene River and right where the Little Quilcene River and Donovan Creek runs into the estuary. The flow of water from these sources push the nutrients of primarily nitrogen and phosphorus from 40 billion baby oysters all the way to Hood Canal. Consider this: with three sources of water flow creating a hydrology that overcomes tides and winds to move everything that floats slowly toward Dabob Bay, how do the nutrients get into Quilcene Bay unless the source of the nutrients is in Quilcene Bay?

Now, as I have stated previously, although I claim that I am a good technician and a pretty good researcher, I am not an expert scientist or aquaculture biologist as are King, Trainer, and Newton; but I absolutely do know more about the physical characteristics of Quilcene Bay and Dabob Bay—and possibly Hood Canal—than any of them. As a resident of Quilcene for 35 years, I’ve spent many days on these waterways. And because I am close to 85 years old, I am predicting that I will never see Quilcene Bay pristine again unless I live to be 100 and you help me clean it up starting NOW!

JD Gallant