"I would like to tell our Canadian friends that science is back in the United States of America."

Considering the room was full of scientists — and the morning’s coffee was just kicking in — perhaps it’s no surprise that Puget Sound Partnership Director David Dicks’ statement was greeted by thunderous applause. But it also seemed to set the tone for the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference in Seattle this week, eliciting a sense of anticipation and optimism that many had been holding back for almost a decade.

Dicks followed his bold assertion about science’s big comeback with four key strategies for improving the health of the Salish Sea:

  • We must protect the remaining key functional areas along the Sound, so that we don’t lose any more ground.
  • We must restore the places where we can recreate healthy habitat.
  • We must reduce pollutants going into the Sound — right now, some 150,000 lbs. of pollutants make their way to the Sound every day.
  • We must coordinate all of our efforts in the same direction.

But it’s not just about science, Conference Co-chair Chris Townsend reminded the group of some 1100 participants at the opening plenary session. "We need to find better ways to connect science with management and policy decisions." And in fact, the Puget Sound Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference has changed format to focus on policy and action steps, rather than serving solely as a platform for presenting current research.

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The morning’s keynote speaker, Andrew Rosenberg, a member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and a past deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, echoed Townsend’s message. "This is not just a science exercise. You are not going to develop successful management by just doing more science." The way we manage now does not reflect the complexity of ecosystems, he added, "we need to do something different."

Easier said than done. In that room alone, there were many varying interests: American, Canadian, and First Nation leaders; six governing bodies; countless scientists, policymakers, business folks, educators, concerned citizens. And everyone comes to the table with a different point of view.

For Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Council, the call to action is personal. Cladoosby has lived in the area for the entirety of his life and has seen definitive changes in the environment in that time: beaches being closed, fisheries dwindling, even 70 degree waters in the early morning hours — something unheard of in the area until just recently.

"This is a reality, folks," he said with the certainty of many generations. Cladoosby went on to emphasize the importance of relationships in solving the issues at hand. "We have entered into a marriage of sorts, and the honeymoon begins tonight."

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The key to a healthy relationship is communication — and it takes time and hard work, he said, continuing the metaphor. "Our purpose here is to find ways we can all work together … to find out how we can move forward together."