Tag Archives: Elliott Bay

Amusing Monday: Video shows transformation
of Seattle’s waterfront

I’ve always heard that downtown Seattle and its waterfront area were built on a massive amount of fill, but I never knew how massive until I viewed the video on this page.

According to the researchers involved, Seattle is “one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States.”

The video was completed two years ago, but I had not heard of it until I read a recent blog post by archeologist Peter Lape, researcher Amir Sheikh, and artist Don Fels, who together make up the Waterlines Project. The three have collaborated to study the history of Seattle by focusing on how the shorelines changed over time. As they state in the blog post for the Burke Museum:

“For more than ten years, we’ve worked as an informal group, known as the Waterlines Project, to examine Seattle’s past landscapes. Drawing from data gathered by geologists, archaeologists, historians and other storytellers, we are literally unearthing and imagining our collective pasts…

“What have we found? Among other things, Seattle is one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States. From the dozen or so settlers who founded it on Coast Salish land in 1851 to its current status as America’s fastest growing city, hardly a decade has gone by without its residents taking on some major ‘improvement’ projects affecting its shorelines.”

The maps and photos collected during the Waterlines Project will take you back to another time. Thanks to photographer Asahel Curtis, much of the history of our region has been preserved for us to see. Some of his notable photographs on the waterfront theme:

Killer whales have been in and out of Puget Sound

The three pods of Southern Resident killer whales have been in and out of Puget Sound the past few weeks, according to reports from Orca Network and the Center for Whale Research.

Today, people began reporting sightings of the killer whales from the Bainbridge Island ferry before 9 a.m. Apparently, there were lots of orcas and spread out, as folks began seeing them about the same time in Seattle’s Elliott Bay, according to reports from Orca Network.

By 10:30 a.m.,they were between West Seattle and Vashon Island. They continued south and reached about the halfway point on Vashon Island about 12:30 p.m., when they turned around and headed back north, according to reports. Some whales may have continued south around the southern tip of Vashon Island and came back north through Colvos Passage, as five or six whales were spotted near the Southworth Ferry Terminal about 5 p.m.

Below are videos taken from news helicopters over Elliott Bay in the morning, top from KOMO-4 and bottom from KING-5.

Gray whale was eating trash before he died

Plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweatpants and a golf ball.

These and many other small pieces of plastic and assorted debris were found in the stomach of a dead gray whale that washed up last week on a West Seattle beach.

Despite those findings, the man-made debris probably did not cause the death of the whale, which was not as emaciated as three other gray whales that have died recently in Puget Sound, according to John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective.

Still, the items are an unprecedented amount of junk to find in the stomach of a gray whale in Washington state, said Calambokidis, who participated in the necropsy over the weekend. John said he has never seen this number of foreign objects in a gray whale, and Cascadia’s records cover nearly 200 such whales examined over many years.
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Elliott Bay toxic studies provide encouraging results

It is exciting to hear that the millions of dollars spent in cleaning up the waters going into Seattle’s Elliott Bay has made a measurable difference in the health of fish as well as in the sediments themselves. For overall findings, check out the news release from the Washington Department of Ecology.

It is also reassuring to know that money spent on gathering sediments and collecting fish samples has paid off with important results. The report calls for some new monitoring efforts and ways of interpreting data being collected. I believe careful monitoring will continue to collect dividends as researchers figure out what measures work best to clean up our bays.

I don’t want to get carried away here. Elliott Bay is far from clean. A third of the bay still fails to meet state sediment standards, and pollution-tolerant organisms are far more abundant than pollution-sensitive species. We have a long way to go.

Improvements were seen in the concentrations of four metals (lead, mercury, silver and tin), in most polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (petroleum products), in PCBs, in overall toxicity and in the health of benthic communities (organisms that live in the sediments).

Almost no changes were seen in the concentrations of five metals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper and nickel) nor in a few polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Worsening conditions were observed for one metal (zinc), for two polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (acenaphthylene and retene) and for a common plasticizer chemical (Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate4).

The report concludes: “Faced with a growing human population in the Puget Sound area, work is increasingly important to stop pollution at its source, clean up contaminated areas, and monitor the results to make sure our efforts are working.”

I would add that we need to stay on top of emerging pollutants, including flame retardants and new chemicals, to measure their toxicity in the lab and track their presence in the environment.

For those who would like to delve more deeply into this subject, I would recommend a “four-page summary for scientists,” (PDF 1.2 mb) as described by Ecology’s news release.

You may also review:
A two-page “focus sheet for the general public” (PDF 888 kb)
The full report: “Urban Waters Initiative, 2007: Sediment Quality in Elliott Bay” (PDF 5.2 mb)

The various news stories I read did not go much beyond Ecology’s original release.

The next reports from the Urban Waters Initiative will focus on Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, followed by Bremerton’s Sinclair and Dyes inlets. I believe all areas are showing improvement, though it will be interesting to see if anyone can tease out — or even discuss — differences related to dredging and capping versus reduction in pollutant discharges and effects of natural sedimentation.