Final Report: Coastal Climate Impacts to First Foods, Cultural Sites, and Tribal Community Health and Well-being

EPA Grant Number: R835595
Title: Coastal Climate Impacts to First Foods, Cultural Sites, and Tribal Community Health and Well-being
Investigators: Donatuto, Jamie , Campbell, Larry , Grossman, Sarah , McBride, Aundrea , Grossman, Eric
Institution: Swinomish Indian Tribal Community , USGS Western Fisheries Research Center , Skagit System Cooperative
Current Institution: Swinomish Indian Tribal Community , Skagit System Cooperative , USGS Western Fisheries Research Center
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2017 (Extended to May 31, 2019)
Project Amount: $756,620
RFA: Science for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Tribal Environmental Health Research , Human Health


The objectives are to characterize the coastal hazards of sea-level rise, storm surge, and wave energy alongshore the Swinomish Reservation and the resulting vulnerability of habitats for first foods and sites, and develop opportunities and planning tools to build adaptive capacity using a sustainable systems-based approach that can be disseminated through multi-pronged education avenues.

Specifically, through this grant we focused on five main objectives: 1) Develop an integrated model characterizing the variability in projected coastal hazards of inundation and erosion due to the combined influence of sea-level rise, storm surge, and wave energy through the year 2100 alongshore of the Swinomish community; 2) Map the vulnerability of Swinomish first foods, coastal ecosystem habitats of first foods, and culturally significant sites in relation to cumulative influences of climate change (sea-level rise and storm surge) and coastal development; 3) Using results from objectives 1 and 2, assess impacts to Swinomish community health and well-being; 4) Create assessment and strategy matrices based on outputs of Objectives 1-3 as adaptation/mitigation planning tools in the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative; and, 5) Employ a multi-pronged education and dissemination approach to ensure that tools (models), results, and associated meanings for Tribes are widely disseminated locally, regionally in Coast Salish communities, and beyond.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Objective 1. Develop a model projecting future coastal hazards.

Task 1. Characterize and inventory present day nearshore and beach habitats and process drivers along the western shore of the Swinomish Reservation

Impacts to biological communities are difficult to measure without establishing baselines prior to the environmental change. Although modern records do not provide a quantitative dataset of past ecological function or productivity, they still can provide resource managers with valuable information when assessing current or impending threats. Over the course of the project, SITC completed collection of new physical science data and utilized existing data to examine how sea-level rise and associated wave/storm surge will potentially change the structure and function of nearshore and marine habitats that support species traditionally utilized by the Swinomish people. For this project, we prioritized the improving site specific knowledge of the habitats of juvenile salmon, juvenile crab, and clam species.

To address the lack of high-resolution information on nearshore ecological communities SITC conducted a series of survey activities at six targeted locations across the reservation:

  • Clam populations have been on the decline in recent decades. To begin to address this juvenile clam recruitment patterns were assessed at four sites using two different sampling strategies. Over the course of this investigation we detected recruitment of 12 different clam species, though abundances of clam species preferred for harvest were low.
  • Beach sediment surveys were conducted as a part of habitat inventory. Methods used to classify beach sediment types were classified by project PI Aundrea McBride to delineate the dominant characteristics of the substrates in a way that is relevant to ecological evaluations while retaining the benefit of a rapid field assessment. Nearshore features known as rearing habitats to juvenile salmon, crab, and clam species were documented.
  • A nearshore survey of commercially targeted and non-targeted biological communities was conducted across the study site. From this dataset, we were able to identify beaches on the Reservation that exhibited higher or lower biological productivity relative to others under modern environmental conditions.

Ecological surveys can be time intensive in terms of field and laboratory processing of the samples. Extreme care needs to be taken in the identification of organisms. The need for strict adherence to established protocols and use of regional dichotomous keys is necessary to ensure quality assurance measures are achieved. The future benefits of high-quality ecological baseline data are invaluable; especially in a time when we are seeing unprecedented changes in the environment and with the risk of other catastrophic events which could change the species composition and function of the reservation beaches that have supported Swinomish tribal culture and economies for generations.

Task 2. Develop a predictive Coastal Vulnerability Model that will quantify the expected change and relative impacts to habitats, morphology, and substrate of beaches, pocket estuaries, spits, feeder bluffs, and sediment transport.

Changes to shoreline morphology (and subsequently ecological function) can occur due to chronic seasonal or annual tidal regimes and predominant current patterns as well as by more dynamic or catastrophic extreme periodic weather related events. To evaluate the current and potential risk and magnitude of change at sites across the Swinomish Reservation project partners at the U.S. Geological Survey developed a predictive coastal vulnerability model. This numerical phase-averaged wave model for Skagit Bay and the Swinomish Reservation shoreline is capable of simulating wave energy as they approach the shoreline under various sea-levels, non-tidal residual processes, wind speed and direction scenarios. The model was developed using Deltares Simulating Waves Nearshore (SWAN, Booij et al, 1999), XBeach, and runup algorithms (Stockton 2006; TWA 2002). This model was utilized by the project team to assess potential climate change vulnerability and risk to the first-foods habitats at the six study sites across the Swinomish Reservation.

A 50-m regional wave model grid was developed and integrated with best available digital elevation model for the area sourced from the USGS CoNED new topo-bathymetric digital elevation model of Puget Sound (Danielson and others, 2019) and the relief of two prominent jetty’s near the mouth of the North Fork Skagit River that influence transmission of wave energy which was parameterized following d’Angremond et al (1996). The regional wave model simulates water levels, wave heights for all combinations of influence of tides, non-tidal residual processes (inverse barometer effect, offshore upwelling, and other components), wind speeds and directions. Water levels and wave parameters predicted by the Skagit Bay SWAN model were validated using measured water levels, wave heights and periods from oceanographic instrument deployments at three locations spanning the period Dec 2017 to February 2018 (Crosby and Grossman 2019). Sites were located to capture the largest waves and extent of wave propagation in the central Skagit Bay, effects of the jetty offshore of Martha’s Bay and highest wave exposure along the Swinomish Reservation immediately offshore of Snee-Oosh Beach where flooding and impacts have been increasing in recent decades.

Wave run-up models using the outputs of the regional SWAN wave model were constructed every 100 m using Stockton’s (2006) formulation to calculate wave run-up and total water level, while XBeach was coupled to the regional wave model to evaluate flood extent, wave energy and bed shear stresses at the 21 priority biological monitoring sites described above. XBeach version 1.22 was used in 1D, non-hydrostatic mode along the cross-shore transects. Offshore wave conditions were derived from SWAN model predictions. XBeach non-hydrostatic is based on Stelling and Zijlema (2003) and models the free surface with depth averaged flow similar to the accuracy of lower order Boussinesq models. Outputs were compared to simulations based on measured waves. Performance was evaluated through SWAN convergence criteria set to default, such that iteration continues until 99.5% of grid cells have converged. SWAN predictions were compared at three instrumented locations, measuring wave heights and periods. Model predictions were acceptable and within error of other critical flood evaluation parameters, namely digital elevation model error. Predictions were most sensitive to uncertainties in wind forcing compared to model configuration. XBeach outputs were validated in the study area for only one event, the March 10, 2016 storm that caused flooding of Snee-Oosh Road, however our run-up modeling continues to be validated with significantly more regular monitoring effort at an unrelated study site on west Whidbey Island approximately ~20 km away. Models were run on several multi-core desktop computers with computation times averaging1-2 weeks for historical hind-cast simulations and preparation of the look-up-tables.

  • Waves are dominated by local wind forcing. Extreme wave events that impact the west shores of Swinomish Reservation are dominatedby prevailing winter gales from the south-southeast, though periodically west and north winds can generate waves. South-southeast gales drive the largest waves as they are aligned with the Bay’s geometry (~160-deg South). Fetch for wave generation is also tidally dependent and increases significantly under high tides and elevated storm surge water levels when the Skagit River-delta and fringing tidal flats are submerged. The Swinomish shoreline is relatively exposed to waves from these directions and the largest waves are predicted and observed between Lone Tree Point and Snee-Oosh, with areas near Kiket Island and Similk Bay experiencing moderate wave energy. Waves are partly sheltered by mid-bay jetties, however at high tides jetties are partially submerged and sheltering is reduced.
  • Wave height recurrence estimates were developed from our long-term hindcast (1950-2010). The 10-year recurrence level varied from approximately 0.7 m to 1.15 m while 50-year recurrence levels varied from 1 m to 1.5 m.

Objective 2. Map projected vulnerability of Swinomish first foods and coastal ecosystem habitats.

Task 3. Integrate habitat characterization (Task 1) and coastal vulnerability outputs (Task 2) to create models, maps, and data layers of projected relative impacts to shorelines and habitats.

Our modeling indicates that the entire west Swinomish Reservation shoreline is expected to face additional sustained flooding with and comparable to incremental sea-level rise but an exponential increase in area (and shoreline elevation) affected by periodic wave impacts. While greater flooding will increase the saturation state and salinity of shoreface soils and habitats leading to more erodible conditions and modification of salinity zones important to valued wildlife, vegetation, habitat availability and groundwater resources, greater wave energy is expected to increasingly erode unconsolidated shorelines. Critical habitats including the sand-cobble spits that help form Lone Tree, Kiket and Turner Bay lagoons that are important to salmon and shellfish and restoration projects for their recovery are most vulnerable and appear to have shown impacts from recent large wave events. General beach sediment characteristics like particle size distribution and percent fraction of size classes that strongly affect habitat availability and subsurface ecosystem functions are also expected to increasing change with greater wave energy. Bluffs, riparian vegetation and the distribution and longevity of large woody debris across the back beach are projected to be increasingly modified by higher water levels and wave energy. All of these environmental responses can and are recommended to be evaluated with additional “morphological change” models that benefit from the “phase 1” modeling conducted here which provide boundary conditions to evaluating how shorelines, sediments and habitats will be affected by the combination of dynamic natural and “land-use” activities likely to play out across our coastlines.

Model outputs of regional extreme water level and wave metrics were mapped alongshore to evaluate the regional variability in exposure to coastal flood and wave hazards. Priority sites of concern were ranked, characterizing relative exposure across the study area. Metrics including maximum historical, annual maximum and magnitude of select recurrence frequency (e.g., 10-yr, 50-yr) events in terms of significant wave height, wave runup, and total water level were used to map extent of vulnerability and projected flooding. Model outputs like bed shear stress was used to assess potential sediment mobility and erosion that lead to coastal morphologic change, shoreline migration, and impacts to habitats and species of concern as First Foods. Metrics derived from the model were also compared to available environmental characteristic data to evaluate potential impacts to geomorphology, substrate composition, and other habitat structural elements important to ecosystem functions supporting first food species.

Objective 3. Assessment of how projected changes to first foods and sites will impact Swinomish community health and well-being.

Project personnel employed the Swinomish Indigenous Health Indicators (IHI) as the community health indicators in the impact assessment. The IHI were developed via previous EPA STAR grants (#82946701 and #83479101). The six IHI are Self Determination, Education, Resilience, Community Connection, Resource Security, and Cultural Use.

Task 4. Run community workshops to evaluate current community health and well-being, assess anticipated impacts and priorities based on results from Objectives 1 and 2, and discuss how to best bolster adaptive capacity.

Knowing that time and resources limit staff from doing in-depth individual interviews with all community members, project personnel chose to hold small facilitated group discussions in workshop settings. Staff who facilitated workshops and held interviews are long-time employees of the Tribe, and some are Tribal members themselves. These familiar faces helped community members feel more comfortable in sharing their views and knowing that the information they shared would not be misused.

Community workshops consisted of several consecutive sessions. The workshops began with a poster presentation and one-on-one/small group discussion. This discussion centered around an “Intro to climate change at Swinomish” and overview of results of Objectives 1 and 2 (the risk matrices and images of sites). The next stage involved participants evaluating the posters, encouraging reflection on relative significance of the anticipated impacts at each site and for each of the Indigenous Health Indicators. One of the key aspects of the engagement process was to encourage thoughtful and explicit assessments of individual priorities by giving participants the opportunity to revise their preferences as the evidence became better understood and new information was introduced through deliberation. Aware of the many behavioral biases affecting thoughtful preference elicitation (e.g., framing bias, anchoring bias, confirmation bias, jumping to conclusions), project personnel devised the workshops to incorporate several opportunities for learning and familiarization with the prioritization methods used, and to think more carefully with an open mind. The informal but systematic workshop design helped participants develop better informed judgements, a critical step when participants arrive with little project information and have not considered yet why one site might deserve more attention than another (i.e., trade-offs).

Finally, participants were given a set of worksheets (similar to the posters presented). Participants worked individually to complete a final round of prioritization by ranking the significance of climate change impacts to each IHI by answering the questions: Knowing that all aspects of health (the IHI) are important, which are the most important to protect from climate change? Participants’ responses on the worksheets comprise the data we used for the project analysis.

Swinomish staff anticipated that one of the challenges with engaging the community is that prioritizing sites and IHI can be uncomfortable. For many community members, all of the locations are important and all community health and wellness values are important: “don’t make me choose – protect everything.” Project personnel took care in the process design process to come to an understanding that not all aspects of community health and wellness will be impacted by climate change to the same extent, and these impacts will differ from location to location. Further, given the Tribe’s limited resources (money, time, capacity) not all protective actions could be undertaken immediately. Therefore, priorities are needed so that better decisions can be made. Characterizing the issues in this way promoted thoughtful discussion within the context of climate change using the evidence provided by multiple forms of scientific data— western science and Indigenous.

Project personnel facilitated six workshops, and numerous individual interviews for those who were unable to attend a workshop. Sixty-eight Swinomish members deliberated over, provided judgments on, and indicated their priorities in response to climate change risks based on results from Objective 1 and 2 (about 14% of the local community). A total of 22% of participants identified as youth, 44% identified as adult, and 34% as elders.

Task 5. Analyze and compare Indigenous Health Indicator results across workshops.

Participants in the workshops and interviews ranked “education” as the most important aspect of community health to address in the face of the projected climate impacts; “natural resource security” ranked second, and “cultural use and practice” ranked third. There was a high level of agreement across all participants about the order of the rankings, which suggests that community members largely agree that actions protecting these three aspects of community health and wellbeing should garden strong support in climate adaptation planning.

Participants also ranked the six priority sites as well. All the sites are considered important, therefore participants evaluated them in terms of the priority of protecting them from climate-related impacts. There was broad consensus that Lone Tree is the most important site to protect in this context. Following Lone Tree, in order of priority, are Snee-Oosh Beach and Similk Beach; all three of these beaches garnered a high level of agreement as priority sites among diverse community members. As with the IHI, an improved understanding of community priority locations gained from the scoring is strengthened by articulating the group deliberation and rationale individuals provided for their ranking scores.

This project effectively engaged the Swinomish community and successfully elicited knowledge and value judgments of community members. The methods used were economical, yet do take time to facilitate the workshops. In addition, workshop facilitators must be well known with the community, otherwise turnout will be low as many Indigenous communities are wary of data collection by researchers outside of the community.

Objective 4. Create assessment and strategy matrices, informing adaptation/mitigation planning tools.

Adaptation strategies and activities based on Project findings were presented to the Swinomish Senate July 2018 as proposed updates to the Swinomish Climate Change Action Initiative. These updates included new strategies focused on education (Task 7 below) and natural resources security (Task 6 below), as well as with particular focus on the priority nearshore areas such as Lone Tree Point.

Collectively, the community workshop results can be used to support future efforts to protect and strengthen community health and well-being in response to climate change. The results will help to set priorities, focus limited energy and resources, ensure thatcommunity members andothers are working toward common goals, and establish agreementaroundintended outcomes/results. As priority adaptation actions are identified and implemented over time, this information will support community leaders in both strategically allocating limited resources and justifying the selected actions.

Task 6. Translate results of the Natural Systems assessment and strategies matrices as part of Swinomish Climate Initiative related to habitat for juvenile salmonids, shellfish, forage fish, crab and culturally important resources and sites.

Results from Objectives 1 and 2 were compiled into a master table containing information for the juvenile stage of first foods salmon, clams, and crab broken down by each of the six study sites. This table is a continuation of the climate change risk assessment table generated for the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative: Impact Assessment Technical Report (SITC 2009). For each of the six sites, researchers ranked six factors (regional site significance, impact sensitivity, adaptive capacity, complicating factors, vulnerability, and probability) using data compiled and collected in Objectives 1 and 2. The ranked metrics were scored to determine the estimated risk for each first food at each site.

The vulnerability results for each site and species were collated into a final synthesis table. This summary table was presented to the Swinomish community during workshops as part of Objective 3. Along with the summary table, infographics were developed to present during community workshops and interviews.

Task 7. Translate results to the Human Systems assessment and strategies matrices in Swinomish Climate Change Initiative related to tribal health and well-being.

Project personnel compiled the results from the Swinomish community workshops and interviews into a strategy matrix, using average ranking as an indicator. The table contains results of average rank score, priority rank, and the level of agreement for each of the six IHIs (education, natural resource security, cultural use and practices, community connection, self-determination, and resilience).

While project staff developed assessment outcomes and strategies to be included as updated addendums to the Swinomish Impact Assessment and Action Plan documents (Tables 1 and 2), Swinomish leadership preferred that staff collaborate in 2019-2020 to produce new 10-year updates for the Assessment and Action plan documents in lieu of adding addendums. The project staff then focused on initiating adaptive strategies that were prioritized as a result of the project findings. For example, the development and implementation of the 13 Moons curriculum to address “education” as the top-ranking community health priority. Several projects are in process to strengthen “natural resources security,” including building the first present-day clam garden in the United States to off-set projected clam bed losses. Clam gardens are ancient Indigenous technologies from the Pacific Coast, where people built low-laying rock walls to create sheltered areas for bivalves and other important resources. Through this project, it became apparent that there were significant gaps in the knowledge of Dungeness crab biology, especially in early life-history stages. The Dungeness crab fishery is important to the Swinomish community both in terms of their traditional practices but also in economic terms. The tribe has recently initiated a long-term monitoring project to quantify the yearly fluctuation of larval crab and associated settlement and survival at sites throughout the Swinomish usual and accustomed fishing grounds. The Swinomish Fisheries Department is also continuing to investigate the decline of the native littleneck clam populations across the region.

Objective 5. Employ multi-pronged education and dissemination tools.

Project personnel engaged multiple and diverse audiences: The Swinomish community; other tribal communities; tribal organizations; nontribal citizens; academics; government agencies; and, kindergarten through post graduate school groups. The education and dissemination approaches were via several media types: Swinomish monthly newsletters; Swinomish Facebook; list serves (tribal and nontribal); talking circles with community groups and school groups; a short film; online learning modules; reports; peer-reviewed publications; professional conferences; and, presentations at peer meetings, with school students (elementary to post graduate), and nontribal community groups. A full list of presentations is attached.

Task 8. Create and disseminate educational and outreach tools for local, regional, and national use.

A short movie, titled Native Voices, provides an overview of how climate change is impacting Pacific Northwest Tribes and what tribes are doing to address climate change. The video is posted on the Swinomish youtube channel:

Based on the results of the community workshops, staff intensified Objective 5 activities to include additional work focused on education within the Swinomish community. The activities culminated in the development and publication of an informal (i.e., outside of school) community-wide curriculum called 13 Moons. The curriculum teaches about Swinomish foods and medicines using the foundation of a seasonal harvest calendar. STEM-based activities focus on the coupled health of socio-ecological systems.

Finally, Swinomish developed a climate change website:

Task 9. Present project findings at regional/national conferences and write one or more manuscripts.

Staff presented methods and results/conclusions of the project at over 60 conferences and local, regional, and international meetings and through online platforms.

Task 10. Create nearshore and community health assessment and strategies templates and workshop/webinar materials.

Dr. Donatuto led a team to develop two open access online learning modules. Module 1 provides an overview of Indigenous views of health, and how health may be affected by climate change. The first module described how to modify a conventional community health climate change impact assessment process to meaningfully incorporate Indigenous health priorities, values, and evaluation methods. Module 2 provides additional detail on how the project personnel employed the “indigenized” community health assessment methods at Swinomish. The modules are meant to provide tribes with a freely accessibly tool that is easily amended to reflect their own health priorities and values for use in climate change impact assessments.

Module 1: Overview

Module 2: Methods

Journal Articles on this Report : 1 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 42 publications 2 publications in selected types All 2 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Donatuto J, Campbell L, LeCompte J, Rohlman D, Tadlock S. The Story of 13 Moons:Developing an Environmental Health and Sustainability Curriculum Founded on Indigenous First Foods and Technologies. Environmental Education for Sustainability 2020;12(21):8913. R835595 (Final)
  • Full-text: Environmental Education for Sustainability - Full Text HTML
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    traditional foods, First Foods, community health, integrated assessment, sea-level rise, waves, flood modeling, coastal change impacts, marine science, social science, community-based, survey, decision making, Pacific Northwest, EPA Region 10

    Relevant Websites:

    Swinomish Indian Community

    U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit - Indigenous Health Indicators Tool

    U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit - The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Prepares for Climate Change Impacts

    USGS - PS-CoSMoS: Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System

    USGS - Estuaries and large river deltas in the Pacific Northwest

    USGS - Water is Life for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2014 Progress Report
  • 2015 Progress Report
  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report