A waterway mapping project led by a man aboard a kayak has made its way to the South Puget Sound nearshore as part of a bid to aid in the conservation and restoration of estuarie in this region.
Brian Footen, president of Seattle-based startup EarthViews, has been cruising through Puget Sound with the aim of using several mobile mapping technologies strapped to his kayak to map all 1,200 miles of the nearshore. He's been in the Olympia area this week.
Although there are varying definitions of Puget Sound’s boundaries, the Washington State Legislature says the estuary includes “all salt waters of the state of Washington inside the international boundary line between Washington and British Columbia, and lying east of the junction of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the rivers and streams draining to Puget Sound.”
The state of Puget Sound
A critical estuary, Puget Sound houses a complex ecosystem that both humans and animals rely on for healthy food and clean water.
However, according to the 2021 State of the Sound report, which was funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Puget Sound is “not doing well” but showing signs of progress.
The report noted that there were only 74 whales in Puget Sound as of the latest count, which is merely three-quarters of the 2020 target of 95 whales. Puget Sound Chinook salmon, a threatened species, also remain at “historic lows.”
Polychlorinated biphenyls, which are industrial products or chemicals, also continue to pose a threat to the Puget Sound and the fish that call it home.
Among marine bird species, marbled murrelets are declining while rhinoceros auklets and pigeon guillemots have maintained the abundance of their population.
Mapping the shore like Google Street View
Aimed at helping conserve and restore areas like Puget Sound, EarthViews creates interactive maps that provide water-level imagery and data. The startup’s partners include National Geographic, NASA, and Esri, a supplier of geographic information system software.
“Street View-style maps are a great way to engage people and show them places they will never get to see for themselves,” Footen told The JOLT. “At EarthViews, we developed a way to create these maps, but with a lot more attention to also mapping the data that is inherent to the locations.”
Footen’s kayak is equipped not only with a camera that takes a 360-degree panoramic image every 10 seconds, but also a water quality meter that records water conditions every 10 seconds, and a recording device that geolocates his animal sightings.
How EarthViews helps
EarthViews maps can help scientists and even the public to locate points of interest, educate through virtual field trips, search areas for recreational activities, visualize waterway data, create a baseline of current waterway conditions, and enhance waterway emergency management and navigation.
Through crowdfunding, Footen began his Puget Sound mapping campaign by kayaking 120 miles of the east shore that runs from Seattle to Olympia. The next phase of the project involves mapping the South Sound.
“I hope these nearshore maps are able to help scientists and conservation folks with the important work they are doing to help recover the ecosystem,” Footen said.
“However, if in the end all that is accomplished is adding the Puget Sound Nearshore to [the] EarthViews Atlas that shows nearshore conditions in the early 21st century, and that imagery and data is archived with the Washington State Historical Society, I believe that we will have provided an important service for this generation and generations to come.”
More information about EarthViews' work is available at their website.
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