Tag Archives: marine life

Environmental group sues California over whale-killing gear 

Olga R. Rodriguez, ASSOCIATED PRESS

An environmental group sued the state of California on Tuesday for allegedly not doing enough to keep Dungeness crab fishery gear from killing protected whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, saying the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is liable for a surge in entanglements of endangered whales and sea turtles because it authorizes and manages operation of the fishery.

California should put in place more mandatory protection measures, such as blocking fishing operations from especially important waters for whales, restricting the amount of gear in whale hotspots and reducing the amount of rope running through the water, the center said.

Read more at: Environmental group sues California over whale-killing gear | The Tribune

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Scientists find exotic life in ocean depths off Sonoma Coast

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thirteen years ago, he made history by filming the sunken RMS Titanic where it lay broken on the Atlantic seabed.Since then, he’s dived in nearly every ocean on the planet. On a good day, he can swim for 24 hours — but at 2 tons, he needs help getting out of the water.His associates call him Hercules.

And this month, the bright yellow, remotely operated diving vehicle was in the Pacific off Sonoma County to explore, for the first time, the deep-water life in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 6 miles west of Bodega Bay.

For ROV Hercules, that meant commuting an hour-and-a-half to work, driving nearly 6,000 feet beneath the rolling ocean swells. With two flexible arms, dazzling lights, video cameras and a long, long tether, Hercules was designed to go where humans cannot — to peer into the unknown.

On a clear day when the fog lifts, you can see the Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary from shore, from either Bodega Head or Point Reyes. On the surface, it’s an unremarkable patch of blue ocean. But go 115 feet down, and you’ll find a submerged rocky island, 9 miles long and 4 miles wide, teeming with fish and a riot of colorful marine life.

Fish and coral at the Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary

Fish and coral at the Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary. Joe Hoyt, CBNMS NOAA.

The shallow bank is actually the peak of an underwater mountain sitting in what scientists call a biological hotspot. Surrounded by deep, steep walled canyons, the rocky seamount perches on the very edge of the continental shelf, which falls away in a vertical cliff another 2 miles down. No sunlight can penetrate that deep, so the walls and bottom are in permanent blackness, the water is nearly as cold as ice, and the sheer weight of the ocean above creates crushing pressure, nearly 5,000 pounds per square inch. That’s equivalent to two fully loaded 747 jumbo jets sitting on your chest.

So what’s special about Cordell Bank? Jennifer Stock, the enthusiastic Outreach Coordinator for the Marine Sanctuary, answers that question a lot from her headquarters at Point Reyes. Jennifer was also one of the lucky few pulling watch on board the Nautilus during Hercules’ dives.

Read more at: Scientists find exotic life in ocean depths off Sonoma Coast | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Habitats, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Campaign seeks to defend California marine sanctuaries in face of Trump energy order 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Top political leaders are joining North Coast counties and environmentalists in supporting marine sanctuaries in the face of President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to all four of the sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and the Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino county boards of supervisors have officially called for preserving sanctuaries that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

“Californians cherish their Pacific coastline and ocean resources,” Feinstein and Harris said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week, extolling the value of the sanctuaries. “These areas are simply irreplaceable.”

The four sanctuaries cover more than 12,300 square miles — about the size of the coastal counties from Marin to Del Norte plus Napa and Lake counties — and protect places such as the Monterey Canyon, Farallon Islands and Cordell Bank, a biologically rich seamount off the Marin coast.

The pro-sanctuary campaign gained focus Friday with an announcement that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will open on Monday a 30-day public comment period on a review of recent additions to the sanctuaries ordered by Trump on April 28.

Read more at: Campaign seeks to defend California marine sanctuaries in face of Trump energy order | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

Visitors to Northern California marine sanctuaries pump $1.2 billion into economy

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PDF: North and Central Coast marine sanctuaries in NOAA study

PDF: Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank marine sanctuaries

Visitors drawn to kayaking, surfing and sightseeing along the protected waters off Northern California’s coast pumped more than $1.2 billion into the region, according to a new federal study.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at low-impact recreational visitors to the Greater Farallones and the northern portion of the Monterey Bay marine sanctuary in 2011 and their economic impact on coastal counties including Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin.

Conservationists say the data, published last week, highlights the benefits marine sanctuaries can provide for residents and the importance of protecting the coast, bolstering their push to expand the sanctuaries along a greater extent of the state’s shoreline.

“These are huge numbers,” said Richard Charter, a Sonoma Coast resident and senior fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Ocean Foundation. “(They’re) telling us without any doubt that a clean coast means a healthy economy.”

Visitors to Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary alone spent $86 million, mostly on food, drinks and lodging in surrounding counties, according to the peer-reviewed study. That, in return, provided a boost to local businesses and generated more than a thousand jobs.

Read more at: Visitors to Northern California marine sanctuaries pump $1.2 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast

Toxin in crab among impacts of warm sea that alarm scientists

 Peter Fimrite & Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The poisoning of Dungeness crab off the California coast by a mysterious algae bloom may be bad news for the seafood industry, but to marine biologists and climate scientists, it is a frightening omen of future distress to a vibrant ecosystem.

Experts say the toxin in the algae, which likely flourished in this year’s record-high ocean temperatures, is one symptom of a wholesale shift in the physical and biological makeup of the Pacific Ocean — a transformation so abrupt and merciless that it is endangering species and forcing migrations before our eyes.

“We are talking about a whole ecosystem change — including a lot of changes besides just the blooms,” said Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz. “It’s really restructuring the way California looks.”

Tissue samples of Dungeness and rock crabs last week showed contamination by domoic acid, a neurotoxin known to cause seizures, coma and even death when consumed by animals or humans. The finding prompted California wildlife officials to delay the $60 million commercial crab season, which was supposed to start Nov. 15.

The poisonous algae, multiplying since April, is now estimated to be 40 miles wide, in some places reaching down as far as two football fields, marine biologists say. It is the biggest and most toxic bloom researchers have ever seen.

Read more at: Toxin in crab among impacts of warm sea that alarm scientists – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Mike McGuire’s bill on offshore oil drilling stalls in California Assembly

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State Sen. Mike McGuire said Friday he will try again next year to pass an offshore oil drilling prohibition that failed twice in Sacramento in the face of pressure from oil industry lobbyists.

“Big Oil may have the money, but ultimately the people of California will win the fight to protect our coast,” said McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat whose North Coast district covers 40 percent of the state’s 840-mile coast.

As evidence that public sentiment is on his side, McGuire cited a Public Policy Institute of California poll in July that found 56 percent of residents oppose offshore oil drilling, the same percentage that opposes fracking.McGuire’s bill, titled the California Coastal Protection Act of 2015, would have repealed an arcane loophole in state law that could allow new offshore oil and gas development in state waters, which extend out three miles from shore.

The bill, approved by the Senate on a 23-14 vote in June, died Thursday in an Assembly committee without a vote.The Western States Petroleum Association, which has plowed $50 million into lobbying state lawmakers and regulators in the last decade, publicly opposed it, and oil industry opposition was cited in the Assembly’s rejection of a similar measure last year.

Read more at: Mike McGuire’s bill on offshore oil drilling stalls | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

North Coast marine sanctuaries formally expanded 

 Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Two North Coast national marine sanctuaries have formally been expanded to include an additional 2,769 square miles of ocean between Bodega Head to just north of Point Arena, permanently protecting the important stretch of critical habitat from oil drilling.

The expansion — the culmination of decades of effort by regulators, legislators, area residents and environmentalists — was formalized Tuesday, said Mary Jane Schramm, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which administers the nation’s underwater sanctuaries.

“We are delighted with the outcome,” she said Wednesday.The newly renamed Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary now extends from northwest of the San Francisco Bay to Point Arena. Together with the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, west of Bodega Head, they cover 4,581 square miles of ocean.

It’s the most significant expansion of ocean protection in California since 1992, when the 4,601-square-mile Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary — which stretches from Marin to Cambria — was established.

“This is a huge deal,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Ocean Foundation who has been working on getting the expansion approved since the mid-1970s. The addition means that nearly 40 percent of the California Coast is protected from oil drilling. Fishing is allowed in sanctuaries.

But the work isn’t done. Even as they celebrate reaching one goal, North Coast environmental activists are looking toward the next.

Read more at: North Coast marine sanctuaries formally expanded | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Bad news on the West Coast: Pacific sardines are collapsing

Paul Shively, THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS

The population of Pacific sardines, a crucial forage fish for marine life along the U.S. West Coast, has dwindled to the point that it can no longer sustain a commercial fishery, according to a preliminary assessment by scientists advising West Coast fishery managers.

The ongoing collapse is bad news for ocean wildlife, as well as fishermen and others who rely on a healthy ocean.

This is a major cause for concern, but it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. In 2012, two government scientists predicted we would end up in exactly this position, finding a parallel with the last major collapse in the middle of the 20th century. Three years ago, the scientists wrote that “all indicators show that the northern sardine stock off the west coast of North America is declining steeply again and that imminent collapse is likely.

”That prediction turned out to be right.

A panel of scientists advising the Pacific Fishery Management Council is reviewing the draft assessment today, March 6, in Vancouver, Washington. In April, the scientists will make a recommendation to the full council, which has already established plans for an automatic cutoff of commercial fishing for sardines when the population’s biomass estimate falls below 150,000 metric tons. In recent years, the stock size has fallen steadily, from 1.4 million metric tons in 2007 to 300,000 metric tons in the last official stock assessment in August of 2014.

Now, the new draft assessment projects that the population will be less than 150,000 metric tons as of July 1, the beginning of the new fishing season.

Sardines are small individually, but they are a big deal for the ocean food web. They form large schools known as bait balls that provide an oil-rich source of protein for many species of seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish, including salmon and tuna. The estimated size of the West Coast sardine population has fluctuated from several million tons— based on sediment records gathered on the seabed off Southern California—to less than 5,000 tons in the 1960s following the last major collapse.

If the new assessment holds up to scientific review, fishery managers should follow through in April on their harvest guideline protocols and suspend fishing on sardines for the 2015 season. Doing so would give the population a chance to recover as ocean conditions improve.

Read more at: Bad News on the West Coast: Pacific Sardines Are Collapsing

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

State considers locally based regulations for recreational red abalone

Samantha Kimmey, POINT REYES LIGHT

Regulations for recreational red abalone diving have been mostly uniform along the Northern California coast for a decade, but the state is now considering changes to allow more locally specific rules.

Through an online survey, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking divers for input about how the red abalone fishery should be managed. The department says tightening rules about when and where divers can fish could increase the likelihood of catching more abalone, while expanding diving opportunities could make it more difficult to find the mollusk. Changes could include stricter rules at some sites and more lax rules at others, based on local populations. But finely tuned regulations would also be more expensive to enforce, likely costing divers more in fees.

The survey responses and comments from public meetings held last fall will inform a forthcoming fishery management plan for red abalone, a brick red to pink-shelled mollusk that is the largest of all abalone species. (The world record is around 12.3 inches long.)

Rules for red abalone diving —such as a ban on scuba gear, annual and daily catch limits and seasonal closures—have been dictated by the state’s Abalone Recovery and Management Plan. The decade-old document outlines management and recovery efforts for all species; two kinds, white and black abalone, are endangered. But the department is developing a specific plan for red abalone, which is the only one with a robust enough population for a recreational fishery.

In California, red abalone can only be fished north of the San Francisco Bay. Divers are subject to a number of regulations; for instance, they must carry a measuring device on them while diving, so they don’t take abalone under seven inches.

Of the roughly 256,000 taken legally every year along the Northern California coast, most—about 95 percent—comes from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. There isn’t as much easy public access in Marin, and one avid diver from Point Reyes Station, Billy Wessner, said sedimentation in the county’s waters also makes the mollusk even more difficult to find. Still, over 3,000 are taken from Marin every year, according to state figures.

“There’s still plenty here. It’s alive and well,” Mr. Wessner said.

A combination of overfishing, bad management, disease and predation spurred a massive decline of abalone stocks in the 20th century. And abalone are slow growers: it can take a decade or more for one to reach seven inches in diameter, the minimum size divers can take, making recovery a slow process.

Read more via State considers locally based regulations for recreational red abalone | The Point Reyes Light.

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Bodega Bay lab at forefront of effort to save rare abalone species

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The stacks of white, water-filled troughs in a small building at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory offer a bright spot in a landscape of often-grim news about California’s marine environment.

Roughly 2,000 tiny white abalone almost a year into life here represent the promise that an all-but-extinct sea mollusk might survive.

The product of a 4-year-old program that began with 18 wild white abalone plucked from the ocean depths near the Channel Islands 15 years ago, these small shellfish — from pencil-point- to almond-sized — are proof that captive breeding can work. Already, descendant abalone produced over three spawning seasons in affiliated science labs across the state are nearly equal in number to those believed to remain in the wild, where they are scattered so widely they no longer reproduce.

But with greater success in the lab each season, and a new round of spawning planned in early March, scientists in the program say they are just a few years away from beginning to test the survival of the young abalone out at sea, in hopes of eventually restoring some portion of the wild population.

“We may not bring it back anywhere close to what it was,” said Gary Cherr, director of the Bodega Marine Lab and principal investigator for the white abalone captive breeding program. “But if we can establish some self-sustaining populations up and down the coast … that would be a first. That would be really remarkable.”

Read more via Bodega Bay lab at forefront of effort to | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife