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Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound


The overall health of the Puget Sound estuary has steadily decreased with the increase in population and development of the Puget Sound Basin. Impairment of nearshore processes and habitat in the Sound, extending along over 2,000 miles of shoreline, is believed to be a critical factor in the declining health of the Puget Sound ecosystem. However, the complex role of geological, biological, and hydrological habitat-forming processes in maintaining ecosystem health is poorly understood.

In response to past and ongoing pressures on the nearshore of Puget Sound, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has joined state natural resource agencies, other Federal agencies, tribes, the commercial sector, NGOs, universities and numerous local governments to form the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration (PSNER) partnership. The PSNER partnership is working to restore and preserve nearshore habitat to help rehabilitate the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem and prevent additional damage in the future as human population in the basin continues to increase. To enable the selection of optimum management options, PSNER partners need the ability to predict and evaluate outcomes of possible restoration and preservation options prior to their implementation. In addition, once options have been implemented, outcomes need to be monitored to verify that the projects have their intended impacts and can be adjusted as needed. This adaptive management approach to ecosystem rehabilitation requires that the ecological function of the nearshore habitat of Puget Sound be better understood.

Start/End Dates

10/1/03 to 9/30/14


Puget Sound, WA


  • Guy Gelfenbaum, Project Chief
  • Eric Grossman
  • Jessie Lacy
  • Renee Takesue
  • Jon Warrick
Map of Puget Sound

Figure Caption: Puget Sound region, showing the Skagit River and Skagit Delta study area (right box) and the San Juan Island study area (left box).


The long-term objective of the Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound Project is to develop scientific information and tools to support natural resource managers in the adaptive management of nearshore habitats of Puget Sound. The information and tools will explain observed ecosystem conditions by relating those conditions to natural and human factors, by defining the causes of spatial and temporal variations, and by providing the basis for predicting the effects of proposed nearshore rehabilitation and preservation.


One of the most imposing barriers to decision making for improved natural resource protection and management is our lack of understanding how natural processes in Puget Sound work. USGS is coordinating closely with the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration (PSNER) Nearshore Science Team to identify major data and information gaps, and to develop an integrated science plan to address those needs. A multi-year, multi-disciplinary plan to provide scientific information on habitats, fish and wildlife populations, and nearshore physical and biological processes is being developed by the USGS and its partners. The first phase of the plan includes starting to fill important data gaps in nearshore physiography and initiating several pilot studies in selected sites.

Tasks and SubTasks

Coastal Habitats:

  1. Geological reconstruction and habitat change of major river deltas -initiate studies of the Skagit delta dealing with geological and environmental reconstruction, sediment and nutrient/pollutant transport pathways and fluxes, and fluvial sediment input.
  2. Effects of Elwha dam removal on nearshore habitats - characterize nearshore sediment characteristics and habitats prior to dam removal. See web site: "USGS Science to support the Elwha River Restoration Project"
  3. Beach and nearshore sediment dynamics - initiate studies of sediment dynamics in mixed grain-size beaches, along beaches with shoreline armoring, in areas of seagrasses, and associated with coastal bluffs.
  4. Lidar nearshore bottom characterization - initate studies to process and interpret bathymetric lidar data to characterize water-column turbidity and bottom habitats.
  5. Estuary utilization by juvenile chinook salmon - explore estuarine habitats for important fish species.
  6. Salmonids and forage fishes in Puget Sound - continue studies of fish utilization.
  7. Deschutes River estuary feasibility study - address flow and sediment transport for the Capital Lake restoration study.
  8. Puget Sound Beach Monitoring - several sites selected for beach state measurements, which will be used to develop a numerical model for longshore transport on mixed sediment beaches.

Multi-Disciplinary Studies:

  1. Project coordination, outreach, and data management
    We will need to retain a strong relationship with our Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration (PSNER) partners. The objectives of this task are to ensure proper project coordination, outreach of project results, and data management.
  2. Major river deltas - Skagit
    We will conduct paired studies of land-use change; studies of socio-economic values and the current use and health of nearshore habitats for fish (Chinook salmon, bull trout, forage fish), invertebrates, and birds; and paleoenvironmental reconstructions of habitat quality within the delta.
  3. Aerial photograph of the Elwha River mouth.Elwha River Restoration
    See web site: "USGS Science to support the Elwha River Restoration Project" at
      investigate the physical connectivity between the Elwha River, Elwha coastal habitats and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with measurements of the coastal system hydraulics
      current status of nutrient cycling and primary productivity in the lower river and estuary
      analysis of the microstructure and perhaps microchemistry of otoliths from adult Chinook salmon from the Elwha River to determine the proportion of adults that resided in the delta for five or more days as juveniles, the duration and amount of growth while in the delta, and the associated inter-annual variability in these parameters; test for relations between adult production from fish using the delta, juvenile densities, and hydrologic conditions (flow, water temperature, turbidity) during downstream migration
      review existing surveys and information about the current levels of public perception and understanding of the goals of the Elwha River Restoration Project, and its effects on the local community and the Lower Elwha Tribe
  4. Effects of urbanization on nearshore ecosystems
    We will start to investigate anthropogenic impacts on nearshore ecosystems of Puget Sound by conducting a pilot study in an embayment.
  5. Landscape monitoring thrust
    Develop Landscape Monitoring pilot for Puget Sound


Web Sites

"USGS Science to support the Elwha River Restoration Project" at


Gartner, J.W., Prych, E.A., Tate, G.B., Cacchione, D.A., Cheng, R.T., Bidlake, W.R., and Ferreira, J.T., 1998, Water velocities and the potential for the movement of bed sediments in Sinclair Inlet of Puget Sound, Washington: USGS Open-File Report 98-572, 140 p.

Gelfenbaum, G., T. Mumford, J. Brennan, H. Case, M. Dethier, K. Fresh, F. Goetz, M. van Heeswijk, T.M., Leschine, M. Logsdon, D. Myers, J. Newton, H. Shipman, C.A. Simenstad, C. Tanner, and D. Woodson, 2006, Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound: A research plan in support of the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership: Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership Report No. 2006-1. Published by the USGS, Seattle, Washington

McGann, M., Grossman, E.E., and Takesue, R.K., 2005, Is Trochammina hadai Uchio a native or introduced benthic foraminifer in Padilla Bay, Washington, USA: North American Paleontological Conference, Halifax, Canada (June 19-24, 2005)

Takesue, R.K., Grossman, E.E., Wyllie-Echeverria, S., and Elliott, J.K., 2006, High Cadmium may contribute to eelgrass (Zostera marina) habitat loss in Westcott Bay, San Juan Island: American Society for Limnology and Oceanography Summer Meeting, Victoria, British Columbia June 4-9, 2006. p. A118

Takesue, R.K., Rosenbauer, R.J., Grossman, E.E., and Wyllie-Echeverria, S., 2005, Sedimentation and contaminant loading: impacts on eelgrass (Zostera marina) bed health in northern Puget Sound: 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference, Seattle, WA (Mar 29-31, 2005)

U.S. Geological Survey, 2006, Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS): USGS Fact Sheet 2006-3081, 2 p.

Articles from our online newsletter Sound Waves:


  • Washington State Department of General Administration/POC: Schilperoot, Dave
  • D.O.I. U.S. Fish and Wildlife/POC: Tanner, Curtis
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/POC: Fresh, Kurt
  • Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe/POC: Beirne, Matt
  • Padilla Bay National Estuarine research Reserve/POC: Stevens, Terry
  • Skagit System Cooperative/POC: Hinton, Steve
  • Stanford University/POC: Francis, Chris
  • USACE Seattle District Northwestern Division/POC: Hargrave, Bernie
  • University of Washington/POC: Wyllie-Etcheveria, Sandy
  • Washington/Puget Sound Action Team/POC: Redman, Scott
  • Washington Department of Ecology and Monitoring/POC: Shipman, Hugh
  • Washington Department of Fisheries and Wildlife/POC: Smith, Tim
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources/POC: Mumford, Tom
Photo of the Elwha River drainage.


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