The outer coast of Washington State lies within the temperate California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (Sherman 1995), the part of the northeast Pacific Ocean which borders southern British Columbia, Canada, the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, California, as well as Baja California, Mexico. Washington’s outer coast runs for over 250 km from Cape Flattery to the Columbia River (Figure 1). The northern shoreline from Cape Flattery south to Point Grenville is characterized by long stretches of rugged, rocky headlands and cliffs, high wave energy, and high species diversity (Strickland and Chasan 1989). This rocky habitat gradually merges with more gravel and sand beaches, alternating with the rocky headlands of the mid‐coastline. The southern coast from Point Grenville south to the Columbia River is characterized by long stretches of sand beaches, and includes Washington’s three largest coastal estuaries: Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and the Columbia River (Strickland and Chasan 1989). The diversity of physical habitats contributes to the richness and variety of ecological communities, which in turn sustain human communities along the coast (Washington State Ocean Policy Work Group 2006).
This document contains four sections. The “Introduction” describes the scope of the document and details how Washington State agencies classify and map coastal habitats. The second section, “Ecology of the Washington Coast,” describes physical habitats and their associated ecological communities, emphasizing intertidal (littoral) habitats found between the low and high tide lines. It also covers the pelagic zone and the sea floor below the low tide line, the subtidal (sublittoral) zone. We do not attempt to comprehensively cover the terrestrial habitats adjacent to the shore (except a brief discussion for sand dunes), nor do we address oceanic habitats beyond the edge of the continental shelf or the deeper benthic zones (except for corals). We were not able to comprehensively cover tidal freshwater ecosystems, such as freshwater scrub‐shrub or forested areas, although we do touch on tidal surge areas in the Chehalis River surge plain. We do not include river drainages except to note high areas of productivity at the mouths of major rivers and to identify anadromous fish spawning rivers, but note that terrestrial activities are known to to have strong effects on marine habitats (Halpern et al. 2008). We include information on how key threats to the coast affect each ecological habitat in this section. The third section, “Management of the Washington Coast,” explains the approaches currently in place to manage coastal ecosystem. The final section, “Research Priorities for the Washington Coast,” identifies priority areas for for research and monitoring to increase understanding of coastal stressors (including oil spills) and improve management responses.