Southeast Alaska encompasses the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest. Together with the coastal old-growth forests of British Columbia, this is the largest temperate rainforest ecosystem in the world.

The Panhandle is a complex mosaic of mountains, valleys, bays and inlets, and about 5,000 islands called the Alexander Archipelago. When the entire convoluted coast is measured, Southeast Alaska has more than 18,000 miles of shoreline.  

Cool, saturated air from the North Pacific creates a moderate maritime climate with abundant rainfall, averaging more than 100 inches per year. Remarkably, the Panhandle has over 350,000 acres of tidal estuaries, where voluminous runoff carrying nutrients from the land mixes with powerful oceanic tides that are rich in marine nutrients. Estuaries are also the ecological link for species that move between rivers and the sea. All of this adds up to an extraordinarily productive ecosystem.

Semi-enclosed by land, the whole Panhandle archipelago represents a single estuarine system that ranks among the largest and most complex in the world. This nutrient rich environment is the preeminent feature of the region, supporting an abundance of animal and plant life, including one of the planet’s most prolific wild salmon ecosystems.

The waters close to shore are also essential for commercially valuable shellfish. And few people realize that fish caught far out at sea—such as rockfish and black cod—spend their early lives growing in the nearshore waters and bays of Southeast Alaska. Eelgrass beds are an especially important part of this nursery habitat, and remarkably, the Panhandle has more eelgrass beds than Washington, Oregon, and California combined.  


Recently posted in Ecology

A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Aquatic Resources in the Tongass National Forest

This 2014 vulnerability assessment by EcoAdapt helps resource managers plan their management of snow, ice, and water features, riparian vegetation, and fish species in light of a changing climate.

FILED IN: Ecology, Reports

A Preliminary Classification of Bays and Estuaries in Southeast Alaska

A hierarchical framework and exploratory analysis by David Albert, Colin Shanley and Laura Baker. Published by the Nature Conservancy.

FILED IN: Ecology, Reports

An Estuarine Habitat Classification for a Complex Fjordal Island Archipelago

Spatial patterns of estuarine biota suggest that some nearshore ecosystems are functionally linked to interacting processes of the ocean, watershed, and coastal geomorphology. The classification of estuaries can therefore provide important information for distribution studies of nearshore biodiversity.  

FILED IN: Ecology, Reports

A Tool for Rapidly Assessing Intertidal & Nearshore Habitat in Southeaast Alaska

The purpose of this tool is to quantify the importance of different shore segments, in context of conservation (in lieu fee mitigation) and permitting of runway expansions, mining, large docks, piers, etc.

FILED IN: Ecology, Reports

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