by Sara Adams, freelance writer
Estuaries—where a river meets the ocean—are some of Washington’s most ecologically and culturally important ecosystems. They provide habitat for a range of plant and animal species throughout their life cycles, including the threatened Chinook salmon. The integrated channel networks filter sediment and nutrients to improve water quality, while bulrushes and sedges stabilize shorelines during flooding events and storm surges and prevent erosion.
Despite their array of benefits, functioning estuary habitat has declined across Puget Sound, with critical species and local communities feeling the impact. The Stillaguamish River Delta historically supported nearly 20,000 Chinook salmon annually. In 2019, just 500 fish returned. For the Stillaguamish, Swinomish, and Tulalip tribes, whose ancestors have stewarded these lands and waters since time immemorial, addressing declining salmon populations is a key priority. Ensuring juvenile salmon have places to mature is necessary to recover fish stocks for commercial, subsistence, ceremonial, and recreational fishing, as well as for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.