The docks and pilings that dot the coastline of Puget Sound are not only part of this area’s historical landscape, they are also unique ecosystems that support a diverse range of life both above and below the water’s surface. As part of a plan to clean up Puget Sound, both the north and south docks at Chambers Bay are slated for removal as early as July 15.
Migratory birds such as ospreys, purple martins, barn swallows, cliff swallows and pigeon guillemots nest in these docks each year. Currently, two colonies of purple martins are occupying both the north and south docks, as are pigeon guillemots. More than 30 cliff swallow nests are active in the north dock; neighboring ospreys use both docks as a perch from which to spot prey.
Below the water, each piling is covered with a diverse array of anemones and starfish, limpets, mossy chitons, giant barnacles, whelks, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, spider crabs and kelp crabs. Iridescent nudibranches swim in the dark shadows cast by the pilings, and all of these marine creatures find refuge in the tide pools that the pilings leave behind at low tide.
At low tide, these pilings provide invaluable hands-on exploration, allowing people to discover, up close, the many sea-dwelling creatures that exist in their own backyard. For years, these docks have been field-trip destinations for science classes, 4-H groups and day camps.
Metro Parks Tacoma even hosts “Pier Peers” and low-tide events at Titlow Beach where people can observe the creatures living on the old pilings of the docks. The docks and pilings are the centerpiece of these events; without them these community events would not exist.
Creosote has been cited as the main reason for removing the pilings. Of all the factors that contribute to the decline of life in Puget Sound, creosote-treated pilings that have stood in the water for nearly a century are not an imminent threat.
Compared to derelict crab pots, overfishing, raw sewage from illegal dumping and from the countless septic systems that line the Sound, fishing line, fishing nets, fuel, and oil from motorized watercraft, pollution from an increasing number of coal trains – not to mention the looming threat of crude oil trains – the hazards caused by creosote are minuscule.
Ecosystems take years – decades – to reestablish themselves. We cannot afford to lose the habitat nurtured by these structures. If the pilings are to be removed, a habitat plan should be put in place before their removal. Removing these docks in the middle of the nesting season would be extremely detrimental to both the resident and migratory bird population.
These structures should be left intact, not only for the benefit of the creatures that flourish on them, but also for the people of Puget Sound who are fascinated by them.
Jennie Sheridan of Tacoma monitors purple martin colonies at Chambers Bay.