"What are the cumulative impacts from geoduck farming and do they really matter?"
This is a question the Army Corps and the Department of Ecology are now asking themselves as they review new permit applications for geoduck farms. Everyone should. An isolated geoduck farm may be relatively inconsequential. As a whole they may be transforming vast areas of Puget Sound's intertidal tideland ecosystem.
With ~350 acres of geoduck farms already existing, permit applications for new farms have begun. Three of the 9 new applications are for 12 acres on Fudge Point, just south of McMicken Island State Park, on Harstine Island, seen in this photograph taken early April of this year. These contiguous proposed farms span the area from Buffington's Lagoon around Fudge Point, covering an area roughly equivalent to 4 football fields. This is in addition to existing geoduck farms to the north.
Fudge Point (April 2011)
Seen below is an area of similar size which already exists at the mouth of Eld Inlet. Multi-year geoduck plantings create a near contiguous strip within the intertidal zone of -4 to +2 elevations, spanning thousands of feet. At the mouth of Totten Inlet are similar areas on both sides. Harvesting occurs over periods of years with peaks during high Chinese market demand.
Eld Inlet (April 2011)
Supporting the existing farms now is a growing infrastructure. Included are areas where the PVC pipe used in farming (44,000/acre) is piled; bagged; and, then shipped to various locations throughout Puget Sound. Seen in the photograph below is one of those areas where apparently state owned tidelands on Harstine Island have been converted to a shipping facility.
Spencer Cove Lagoon (April 2011)
Also included in geoduck farming are "nurseries" used to grow geoduck seed to a larger size which increases their survivability overall, but more importantly, in the higher tidal elevations (+1 to +3) thereby increasing the acreage which may be planted. Rafts, trays and wading pools are used. Seen below are close to 900 such pools, now removed due to tideland impacts. However, the Army Corps and the Department of Ecology now allow individual farms to use these pools, in essence, creating an impact wherever there is a farm needing a "nursery."
Nursery Pools (2008?)
Cumulative impacts do matter.NEPA regulations define cumulative impact as: "the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time." [See 40 CFR 1508.7.]
The Clean Water Act requires the Army Corps and the Department of Ecology to consider impacts to Puget Sound ecosystems on a scale larger than a single farm. The public process allows citizens to remind those agencies involved about that fact.