The Olympic Coast as a Sentinel Video

Olympic Coast tribes have depended on local marine species for their livelihoods, food security and cultural practices for thousands of years. Today, these species—and the indigenous communities that depend on them—are at risk from ocean acidification. Olympic coast tribes, federal and academic scientists, and marine resource managers are working together to understand and plan for the impacts of ocean change to tribal community well-being. This collaborative investigation and project video were funded by the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program; project partners include the Hoh Tribe, Quileute Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Makah Tribe, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Olympic National Park, NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, UW Applied Physics Lab, UW CICOES (formerly ‘JISAO’), and the University of Connecticut. Learn more about the project at


Transcript of the video above:

00:21 MEG CHADSEY: The Olympic Coast is home to four coastal treaty tribes. The people of the Quinault Indian Nation, and of the Makah, Hoh, and Quileute Tribes have lived along these shores since time immemorial. The livelihoods, traditional foods, and cultures of these indigenous communities are deeply rooted in this place. Olympic Coast tribes are highly dependent upon fish, shellfish, and other marine resources for their cultural, social, and economic well-being. Tribes' rights to manage and utilize these resources in perpetuity are protected by treaties with the U.S. federal government, but their continued access to these resources is at risk as the chemistry of our ocean changes. Human emissions continue to pump more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. These CO2 emissions dissolve into our ocean where they react with seawater to form carbonic acid, a process known as ocean acidification. Acidifying conditions are making the ocean less hospitable to many sensitive marine species upon which the tribes depend.

01:31 HOWEESHATA/DAVE HUDSON: Manila clams, horse clams, crab, geoduck, fish, crab, razor clams - they're all important to all of us out here.

01:44 MEG CHADSEY: Organisms with hard parts made of calcium carbonate like clams and crabs have a harder time forming their shells and skeletons especially during their early larval stages. Ocean acidification also interferes with the ability of coho salmon to sense and respond to the presence of a predator.

02:05 STEVEN FRADKIN: As the coastal ecologist at Olympic National Park, I have huge concerns about ocean acidification in terms of 65 miles of coastline which is a biodiversity hotspot you know it's got more species, or arguably more species of marine invertebrates and seaweeds than any other place on the West coast of North America and those biota are at great risk to OA, ocean acidification, as we go into the future.

02:33 JOE SCHUMACKER: The Quinault Indian Nation depends upon its coastal resources as they have for millennia and anything that's out there lurking in the water that could be impacting those is of deep concern. What we don't know is the scariest part. What we do know is frightening.

02:56 MEG CHADSEY: Ocean acidification is a very serious problem in all the oceans of the world but its effects are being felt more dramatically on the Olympic Coast because of seasonal upwelling. The same upwelled waters that nourish the coastal food web are also naturally higher in dissolved carbon dioxide meaning they can be more corrosive than surface waters. From above and below, human and natural sources of CO2 are pushing the Olympic Coast marine ecosystem towards biological thresholds.

03:26 JAN NEWTON: To address these issues, the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program launched a three-year collaborative research project to assess the vulnerability of Washington coastal tribes to ocean acidification. NOAA has been leading coastal cruises measuring water properties that allow assessment of ocean acidification and more recently they've added biological observations. The University of Washington has worked with NOAA to site ocean acidification sensors on buoys along the Olympic Coast.

03:56 JAN NEWTON: One such buoy known as Ćháʔba· is located off La Push, home of the Quileute Tribe. The tribe provided this name which means "whale tail" in their language. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary also maintains some seasonal buoys which are located in shallower waters than Ćháʔba· and the Olympic National Park deploys intertidal sensors so data is being collected at multiple water depths. The park is also monitoring intertidal ecology.

04:24 JAN NEWTON: There's also been a lot of work by the coastal tribes. For instance, the Quileute has a nice time record of sampling phytoplankton for harmful algal blooms and many of the tribes are collecting water quality as well as biological time series so there's a lot of data, very rich, and that has been useful for several purposes, but what was really exciting about this project and the funding of NOAA is the recognition that to do a regional vulnerability assessment what we really needed to do is synthesize these data and to put together the various scales - the physical and chemical measurements along with the biological observations and to look at not only the conditions now but also the projected conditions through computer modeling.

05:17 MEG CHADSEY: Another groundbreaking aspect of this NOAA project was the opportunity to integrate this natural science with a new social science collaboration between Washington Sea Grant and Olympic Coast tribes to understand how ocean change may affect these place-based communities.

05:35 MELISSA POE: So in 2017, our tribal partners on this emerging proposal invited me to contribute to lead a social science effort on how ocean acidification would be expected to impact community well-being. We wanted to extend it to a whole comprehensive Olympic Coast region so we engaged all of the four coastal treaty tribes. From the get-go tribal scientists and managers have really been central in leading the priorities and approach to this research. It's a really dynamic and diverse collaboration with partners from various agencies and institutions so each of these partners brings their unique perspectives and needs to the project and any kind of regional study like this requires that we draw from a strong collaboration and diverse knowledge.

06:32 MELISSA WATKINSON: Being an indigenous person in academia and in the research role that I'm currently in, mostly within a Western science framework, I feel that I am able to bring an indigenous scholar's perspective within this research and I really want to ensure that the communities that we work with feel that they are being respected in that process as well.

06:54 JENNY WADDELL: So as a sanctuary, our mandate is really to help protect the ecological integrity of this very special place. Olympic Coast is really unique as a sanctuary though because the sanctuary lies within the usual and accustomed harvest areas of four coastal treaty tribes and part of our mission really is to fulfill the federal responsibilities with respect to these treaties which are very much enforced and alive today.

07:22 KATIE WRUBEL: Projects like this to understand regional impacts on the Olympic Coast, it's essential to partner with tribal governments because they have been here since time immemorial. They have extensive local knowledge on the area and the resources, specific observations on what has changed even in the short history and then are at the forefront of facing these impacts.

07:49 REBEKAH MONETTE: Concerns with ocean acidification for the Makah Tribe are really significant because of the reliance upon the marine resources that we have here and the changes that we see from the things that we know so we know that we're looking at potentially some species not being able to remain in our area and new species coming in and that really is a huge concern for us.

08:14 MEG CHADSEY: This strong coalition of public, private, and tribal partners is working together to synthesize all of this oceanographic biological and social science data to better understand a path forward to sustainability and resilience.

08:30 SIMONE ALIN: Since the early 2000s, the sanctuary's long-term oxygen observations have been showing us how bad oxygen conditions can get on the shelf. For species such as Dungeness crabs, these animals are continuously exposed to acidified conditions and then sometimes hit by this hammer of low oxygen conditions that can really be this one-two punch they can't escape from and so the picture that's emerging is both I think a really important one for our state as a whole to learn but also very important for the coastal treaty tribes as well as the state fishing industry to understand as they plan for and learn to adapt to a rapidly changing ocean and climate in our region.

09:23 MEG CHADSEY: Oceanographer Sam Siedlecki has been developing regional simulations of future ocean conditions based on observed trends of things like dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide along the Olympic Coast.

09:36 SAM SIEDLECKI: Each one of these triangles represents one of the moorings that are at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary which have been in the water making observations for a long time and giving us an idea about variability in things like oxygen. This particular visualization encompasses the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary region that we were just looking at on the previous slide. What we're looking at here is an animation of one of those regional simulations which provides seasonal forecasts on the time scale of six to nine months for the Washington and Oregon coasts, so all of the warmer colors in each one of these variables it signifies a stressful condition for some organisms.

10:24 MEG CHADSEY: In addition to these oceanographic observations and forecasts, this project's drawing on biological data contributed by our coastal partners. One dataset that's really representative of this type of information and of the collaborative spirit of this project overall is the razor clam data that are collected by state and tribal partners. These partners, as well as the Olympic National Park, have been monitoring the size and health of razor clam populations along a good portion of the Olympic Coast for decades now and this information has always been considered in a fisheries management context but not so much in an ocean change context until now.

11:02 ANDY MAIL: I think there is a - I think there is an effect right now on the clams because like you say I've been digging since 1956, you know I've been, I've been digging since 1956. Since I was six years old, five years, six years old I started digging and I notice, I notice just in the last maybe four or five or six years I noticed that the clams break a little easier when you when you get when you take them out because you go down you grab the clam and they snap a little bit - they crack a little bit easier. Are they really getting thinner? Are the shells getting thinner? I don't know. I can't I can't tell you for sure but the only way to find out would be to take to measure the clams - like if you find a you find a midden from 1600 and measure the clam.

11:48 JENNIFER HAGAN: Razor clams and crab are central to Quileute economy well-being and culture. In order to protect community health and well-being we want to make sure that these shellfish are safe to eat. More than 20 years ago, the Quileute Tribal Council had the foresight to create a water quality shellfish lab here in La Push that's given us the capacity to track local shellfish health and bio-toxin levels.

12:13 JUSTINE JAMES: The razor clams, you know those are a big part of our lifestyle both as a food and as a source of revenue. Very few job opportunities so this offers tribal members the opportunity to go out and supplement their income. Some of these guys can make some really good money on just one clam tide.

12:37 JOE SCHUMACKER: We get caught up in these kinds of things, these physical science issues like ocean acidification so often and yeah we look at economic impacts we'll put some broad numbers across that say oh this is a value impacted this community out here dollars and cents and so forth. It's much more than that.

12:56 REBEKAH MONETTE: Adding the people into the studies it really does I think allow you to quantify some of those impacts that are not done through monetary or financial resources. A lot of times if you're doing some type of like damage assessment for an oil spill it typically has to do with a monetary value of a resource and it doesn't really capture some of those important social aspects but what happens if you don't have you know access to fish for a season or two. It gives you an idea of what that might be like over the long run.

13:36 MELISSA POE: Many of these species are what we think of as cultural keystones - that is they're centrally important to tribal community life. They're important for food customs, identity, social relationships and a way of life. Identifying what the impacts are to community health and well-being and to the resources in the ocean is really at the heart of our project.

14:02 JUSTINE JAMES: When I go to meetings I bring smoked salmon our first salmon that's been baked and I pass it around to the people attending the meetings and you know everybody praises it for the taste and everything you know and then I calmly look around the room and I said this is also a cultural resource because people just think of trees and you know things like that when they think about natural resources. They don't consider the spiritual side that a salmon brings to a tribal community.

14:48 MELISSA POE: Through community-based participatory action research we're identifying unique indicators of health and well-being for each of the respective communities. There are a number of ways that tribes adapt, have always adapted, and will continue to adapt. For example, tribal canoe journey has been one of the ways for creating and renewing linkages in the larger region between tribes and First Nations that in many cases is also reinvigorating the trade networks. The Quinault Nation has identified a priority for engaging young, young people school-aged kids in learning about marine sciences and inspiring their interests in marine science engages youth in thinking about how to manage these resources for the next generation and for the generations after. The Quileute Tribe has identified traditional foods programs as one approach to responding and coping to climate changes. In this particular kind of example, which has been successful in other northwest tribal communities, a focus on traditional foods could bring a broader holistic view of community health that ties the land and the sea together.

16:12 MELISSA WATKINSON: The process of tribes being able to lead and develop the evolution of these projects is really key for success and ensuring tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

16:23 REBEKAH MONETTE: I think if we got um the community thinking realistically about alternatives or adaptations that could be made during a time of change that would be success I think to just get folks ahead of the curve and having I think some real ideas ahead of them in terms of how we might handle those changes.

16:53 JOE SCHUMACKER: I think there's some pretty good players in this in this project. I'm hoping that they come up with something very useful uh that brings it home to tribes and to others outside of us outside of coastal communities so that they can better understand hey folks there's people out here that are going to be seriously impacted by this issue. Here's how, and here's the depth of how. It goes beyond again you know monetary impacts so I'm excited about that aspect of it.

17:22 MEG CHADSEY: We do have a really great team of people working on this project but I think what truly sets us up for success is our approach. Since its inception, this project has been about centering the human communities confronted with ocean change and really striving to ensure that they shape the nature and outcomes of the research. We hope others will be inspired by what they've seen in this video to take up this approach in partnership with other place-based communities facing similar challenges. That in itself would be a success.