Puget Sound Partnership Nearshore Conservation Credit Program
Puget Sound nearshore habitat – including estuaries, beaches, and eelgrass beds – make up some of the most valuable habitat for our region’s salmon and orcas. At the same time, the nearshore contributes to the wellbeing of human communities that enjoy the recreation, food, and economic opportunities available where the land meets the water.
Unfortunately, most nearshore habitat has been lost, hamstringing current recovery efforts. Since 1900, about nearly three quarters of Puget Sound’s estuary habitat has either been converted to farmland or filled and developed into urban and industrial uses. Hard armoring disrupts natural processes along nearly a third of Puget Sound shorelines. Toxic chemicals from creosote-treated lumber and other derelict structures continue to leach into the water. In total, more than 93 percent of Puget Sound’s natural shoreline has been modified by human development.
How does nearshore conservation help endangered salmon and orcas?
Juvenile salmon, including Chinook, require healthy nearshore habitat to evade predators and feed—growing large before venturing out to the expansive ocean environment. At the same time, healthy nearshore habitat (with intact beaches and thriving eelgrass beds) provides critical spawning habitat for forage fish like herring and surf smelt. Those fish, in turn, provide a vital food source for adult salmon. One step up the food chain, Endangered Southern Resident orcas depend on those salmon for prey, making this habitat important for the whales as well.
Further degradation of nearshore habitat will increase the risk of extinction for Puget sound salmon and orcas
To stem the loss of critical nearshore habitat and uphold the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries and the US Army Corps of Engineers established the Salish Sea Nearshore Programmatic (SSNP). SSNP requires that infrastructure and maintenance projects in the Puget Sound nearshore completely offset their ecological impacts (as quantified by the Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator).
After working with NOAA Fisheries and the US Army Corps of Engineers to avoid and minimize habitat impacts, permit applicants may offset outstanding impacts with either on-site or off-site conservation. Applicants may also choose to purchase conservation credits through an authorized credit provider like the Partnership Nearshore Credits program.
Off-site restoration – whether conducted by the applicant or paid for by the purchase of conservation credits – must occur within the same regional service area as the permitted project and be quantified by the Conservation Calculator.
The Partnership aggregates funds from credits purchase, selects conservation projects to generate credits, tracks their progress, and reports on those projects.
Initially, the Partnership will work with the Department of Natural Resources' Creosote Removal Program to generate conservation through the removal of creosote-soaked pilings and piers. Creosote-treated wood leaches chemicals into the sediments and water column, causing extremely high mortality and developmental abnormalities in herring eggs. Herring are an important forage fish in Puget Sound and a critical food source for our migrating salmon, which in turn are the primary food source for endangered Southern Resident orcas.
In addition to creosote removal, the Partnership will explore opportunities to remove shoreline armoring. Shoreline armoring disrupts natural erosion, which supplies much of the sand and gravel that forms and maintains our beaches and creates habitat for many other species.
Last updated: 10/25/22