Friday, August 21, 2009

How Will The Puget Sound Respond to Mounting Pressures?

Looking out towards the Olympic Peninsula from the shores of San Juan Island one sees beauty and magnificence at every turn- majestic orcas in the Straits, eagles soaring overhead, crystal clear waters at your feet -a seemingly pristine ecosystem sprawling into the horizon. But appearances are just that- in reality, the Puget sound and the entire Salish Sea are in jeopardy and have been for many years- clinging to the precarious hope that humanity will take a moment to figure out its future before time takes its eventual toll. While many have watched Hedrick Smith's Poisoned Waters, a Frontline documentary which examines the growing hazards to the local ecosystem and the concurrent impact on the heath of us as inhabitants, most people still do not recognize that the pollution in our environment acts as a chronic cancer slowly eating away at the natural resources so vital to our lives.

Because of the bottom topography, the Puget Sound is very slow to flush out pollutants that endanger fish, mammals, and marine invertebrates. Still, we fail to recognize and acknowledge that whatever goes into Sound ultimately comes into us. The waters not only affect the health of our orcas and salmon but has commensurate rates of human cancers and autoimmune diseases rising as we also absorb the toxic load in our water, air, and food sources.

Sadly, in 2006, the Puget Sound Partnership commissioned a public opinion poll and found that only about 25 percent of the region’s population had a high awareness or concern about the Sound’s environmental health. Research shows that awareness and concern of an issue must be maintained at high levels for citizens to be willing to make and support personal and government actions necessary to bring about change.

In that light, the Seattle Times recently ran an article focusing on various environmental impacts in our region- and I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight their coverage-- which is excellent. A group of journalists from around the country and Canada convened here this summer as fellows with Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources to learn about the complex issues in this region. They spent nine days in the field, talking with scientists, business owners, farmers, tribal members, politicians and local residents. Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes served as director of the trip.

These videos present a snapshot of the journey. The issues are deeper and opinions more varied than what can be captured in several short videos, but the people and places you''ll see are part of the larger conversation about Puget Sound: its past, present and future.