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Science during the year of Covid: The Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview

Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview 2020

Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview 2020

While Covid restrictions remain a part of everyday life, a lot has eased since the global quarantines of spring 2020. During that time, the coronavirus effectively shut down scientific fieldwork in Puget Sound, leaving huge gaps in data for most facets of the ecosystem, from orcas to eelgrass.
Despite the lockdowns, a new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program offers an assessment of marine conditions during 2020 and paints a surprisingly complete picture of the local environment at that time. This is the tenth year that the group has prepared an annual marine waters overview, and while the environmental conditions measured in 2020 may not have been particularly remarkable — they are described in the report as “somewhat typical in terms of Puget Sound water properties and biota” — the challenges for scientists were extraordinary and historic.
In some cases, during the pandemic, Puget Sound scientists risked their health to monitor endangered species or to conduct research deemed essential by state and federal agencies. Autonomous sampling devices and citizen volunteers also provided much-needed help as many scientists were grounded and research vessels were docked.
Much of this data has been compiled in the annual report, which the authors call “a tribute to the resilience of the scientists and institutions producing it.” Thanks to their efforts and those of dozens of scientists at agencies, tribes and other organizations, the Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview 2020 summarizes what we know about Puget Sound’s marine ecosystem during Covid Year One. The overview examines patterns and trends in numerous categories, including plankton, water quality, climate, and marine life. Technical summaries from the report are also used to inform the Puget Sound Vital Signs, a series of indicators of Puget Sound ecosystem health established by the Puget Sound Partnership.

The following highlights from the report were provided by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program. The Puget Sound Institute assisted with the preparation of the report.
Conditions in Puget Sound were generally warmer, sunnier, and wetter in 2020 but not extreme. 

No fish kills or strong hypoxia events were reported.

Ocean acidification (OA) in Puget Sound waters continues as our understanding of patterns grows. 

Biological responses to changing conditions vary – some good news, some bad. 

Seabird abundance and species diversity were typical to low. An encouraging observation is that the rhinoceros auklet breeding effort and reproductive success that, after three consecutive years of anomalously poor conditions had returned to long-term average values in 2019, were stable in 2020.
Next year, the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program will begin compiling a summary of the marine conditions of 2021.

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