Thursday, January 23, 2014

Around the Sound: Sea grass thriving in former industrial area of Bellingham waterfront

By Dustin Terpening, communication manager, Bellingham

Industrial area of Bellingham waterfront.

Aerial view of Georgia Pacific, the log pond, and rafts of logs in the bay from 1977.

Buoys dot the surface of the log pond, supporting nets

Native eelgrass on the floor of the log pond.

Placing 43,000 cubic yards of clean sediment in the log pond.
Native eelgrass is returning to a former industrial area of the Bellingham waterfront known as the Log Pond, according to a recent study.

“Actually, it’s not just returning, it’s thriving,” said Mike Hogan, Port of Bellingham environmental analyst.

The sea grass provides some of the most important marine habitat within Puget Sound. It’s critical to the survival of salmon.

Explorations by a consultant working for the Port found three distinct, healthy beds of eelgrass in September 2013.

The waterfront site was used by the former Georgia Pacific pulp and tissue paper mill to store logs used in its papermaking processes. During the company’s operations from 1965 to 1971, mercury-contaminated wastewater was released directly into the Log Pond. Environmental regulations were a little different in the sixties - there weren’t many. 

Cleaning up the Log Pond

Today, the Log Pond is part of a state-driven cleanup project. The Washington Department of Ecology and the Port are developing long-term cleanup projects for the Whatcom Waterway, as well as the old Georgia Pacific property.

Work to restore the pond began in 2001, when Georgia Pacific covered and isolated six acres of contaminated sea floor with 43,000 cubic yards of clean sediment. This was an interim project completed ahead of the future site-wide project.

Sea life began to come back

Within two years of the interim work, visible signs of life started showing up - native eelgrass was naturally seeding and rooting again in the pond.

Then in 2005, with a $23,250 grant from Ecology, a local coalition of agencies helped foster the natural recovery of eelgrass with an experimental buoy system project. Seeds were naturally released from buoys and nets and implanted on the seafloor. Information learned from the project will be used to accelerate eelgrass recovery throughout Puget Sound.

Over the past nine years, both the area and density of the eelgrass beds have expanded.

 “We’re seeing great things happen in this former industrial area,” said Hogan. “Eelgrass is at the base of the food chain and it’s helping bring sea life back to this hampered waterway.”

Eelgrass provides refuge and food for juvenile salmon. Salmon can hide from predators and eat tiny animals that live in the eelgrass.

“We have a lot more work to do in this waterway and around the bay, but this is a great sign that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Lucy McInerney, Ecology site manager for the Whatcom Waterway cleanup site.

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