Posted on Categories Local Organizations, Sonoma Coast, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Marty Griffin dies at 103, leaving legacy of land conservation, environmental leadership

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

Marty Griffin was among a generation of pioneering conservationists who fought off development pressure and paved the way for protection of large swaths of the Marin-Sonoma Coast.

He didn’t do it alone. But the vast, open landscape of rolling hills and coastal waterways that draws nature lovers to the Marin-Sonoma coast might have looked a whole lot different had Marty Griffin not been around.

Imagine a freeway, whole communities, housing for tens of thousands, a mall, coastal villas, even a nuclear plant on the huge swath of coastline now dominated by nature preserves, public parks and agriculture.

Griffin and other early conservationists mobilized during the 1960s and ‘70s―as intense development pressures threatened to alter the North Bay landscape profoundly―and fought to thwart that outcome, shifting the region’s culture in ways that are evident in the lands now protected.

Since his death at home in Belvedere on May 22 at the impressive age of 103, Griffin has been remembered not just for his commitment to the cause but for his passion and leadership, the “clever,” “wily” manner in which he approached each challenge and his refusal to back down.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/marty-griffin-conservation-leader-environmentalist/?pupeml=202864

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Op-Ed: Coastal protection threatened where it started

Richard Retecki, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Those of us who spent much of our lives working to protect the coast are dismayed and shocked that the Board of Supervisors would even consider overturning the well-thought-out recommendations of their own Planning Commission to benefit one particular East Coast developer whose bulldozers are aimed at sensitive natural habitat right above the oceanside bluffs near Timber Cove.

Can you imagine a four-lane freeway running from Petaluma to Jenner, built to service high-density subdivisions blanketing the scenic blufftops between Bodega Bay and the Russian River, and permanent closure of a swath of shoreline to block off access by the public?

These were just a few of the environmental threats the Sonoma Coast faced in the 1970s. Outspent financially and confronted by an aggressive billboard campaign underwritten by corporate oil and development interests, California’s voters and state Legislature simply said “enough” and set in motion an orderly process to ensure that the California coast would survive in perpetuity.

California’s voters had just adopted Proposition 20 — the statewide coastal initiative — in 1972, largely in response to a series of disastrous schemes targeting the Sonoma Coast. By 1976, state legislators had made coastal protection permanent.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/close-to-home-coastal-protection-threatened-where-it-started/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

California commercial Dungeness crab harvest again delayed

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The commercial harvest of Dungeness crab off the North Coast and Central California has once again been delayed due to large groups of federally protected humpback whales still foraging in the fishing grounds.

They’re fewer in number than in late October, when state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham first hit pause on the season’s start. But the whales still remain at concentrations high enough to raise the risk of ensnaring them in fishing gear if the fleet were to deploy the thousands of traps used each season.

The whales also exceed thresholds established three years ago to more closely manage the commercial fishery in a way that reduces entanglement of marine mammals protected under the Endangered Species Act — notably blue and humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/california-commercial-dungeness-crab-harvest-again-delayed-to-safeguard-wha/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Kelp forests surge back on parts of the North Coast, with a lesson about environmental stability

Alastair Bland, BAY NATURE

An unexpected darkness has recently fallen over the seafloor of the Northern California coast – the shadows cast by bull kelp.

The giant marine alga nearly vanished after a perfect storm of environmental and ecological events, including a marine heatwave and a population boom of seaweed-eating sea urchins, disrupted the marine ecosystem between 2013 and 2015. Kelp forests collapsed by more than 90 percent in Northern California, and with them went both scenic appeal and marine biodiversity. Red abalone, which graze on kelp, starved in droves, and fish departed for deeper waters. What was left, and which persists in much of the region, is a bleak underwater landscape dominated by purple urchins and not much else.

But this year the bull kelp forests of memory have surged back along parts of the Northern California coast. Areas that were completely devoid of kelp as recently as last winter are now marine jungles of tangled underwater stems and dense floating mats of fronds. James Ray, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and kelp researcher, says the comeback seemed to begin in 2020 “with a little bump in kelp cover.”

“Now we’re seeing a much bigger bump along much of the coast,” he says.

The rapid resurgence, possibly the result of strong springtime upwelling of cold water, has other experts both delighted and a bit mystified.

“The rebound of the forests in Sonoma and Mendocino counties has been surprising and profound considering how devastated they were just a few years ago,” says Franklin Moitoza, a graduate student at Humboldt State who, working with a team of collaborators, has closely tracked kelp forest health and recovery. He says he has seen pronounced kelp regrowth from Bodega Bay to Trinidad within the past year.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/09/13/kelp-forests-surge-back-on-the-north-coast-with-a-lesson-about-stable-environments/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=947f98b27d-BN+Newsletter+09%2F16%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-947f98b27d-199023351&mc_cid=947f98b27d&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , , , , , , , , ,

Scientists grappling with persistent and alarming collapse of North Coast’s bull kelp forests

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Five years after marine scientists first sounded the alarm about a sudden collapse of the bull kelp forest off the Northern California coast, the state of the ocean offers little prospect of recovery any time soon.

Where lush stands of leafy kelp once swayed amid the waves, providing cover to young finfish and forage for abalones and other creatures on the ocean floor, a stark new world has materialized — one dominated by millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have stripped the ocean floor down to rock in some places. Were a tender frond of new kelp to sprout, it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving long.

The barrens left behind are a stark and alarming contrast to what is typically one of the most thriving marine environments — seasonal kelp forests that support a rich ecosystem with life stretching from the sea floor to the surface, and up the food chain, supporting recreational and commercial fisheries and home to some of the North Coast’s most iconic wildlife, including abalone and sea otters.

The kelp forests also are a key barometer for the wider health of the world’s oceans, and without some recovery, their future as biodiverse stores for marine life and people hangs in the balance.

Laura Rogers-Bennett, a veteran biologist who works out of the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Lab, likened the kelp forest to a great floating woodlands stretching hundreds of miles along the coast.

“To lose 95% of your forest in a year and a half, that’s a catastrophe, an ecological disaster, and it’s had so much socioeconomic impacts, as well,” she said.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/scientists-grappling-with-persistent-and-alarming-collapse-of-north-coasts/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Underwater meadows of California seagrass found to reverse symptom of climate change

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Eelgrass, a plant that grows in “underwater meadows” along the California coast and emerges like a floating carpet at low tide, is already known to be an important habitat for fish, birds and baby Dungeness crabs. It turns out it can also reduce seawater’s acidity back to preindustrial levels, creating refuges for animals who can’t tolerate that byproduct of climate change.

That’s the conclusion of a six-year study published recently by the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. It showed eelgrass meadows in seven California locations decreased ocean acidity by up to 30%. Because acidification, the result of the ocean absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, has increased by 30% due to climate change, the plant has the ability to reverse the effects in its habitat.

The report, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the most extensive study to show seagrass’ long-term ability to ameliorate ocean acidification. Its authors say it shows the importance of protecting seagrass meadows, which have shrunk in number and size globally because of pollution and development, so they may support wildlife as well as the production of farmed oysters, mussels and abalone.

“Because these systems are on the decline in many areas around the world, I would like this research to support many seagrass restoration efforts,” said lead author Aurora M. Ricart of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, who was doing postdoctoral research at the Bodega Marine Lab during the study.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/environment/article/Underwater-meadows-of-California-seagrass-found-16065560.php

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma CoastTags ,

The coming tide: North Bay cities grapple with sea level rise

Cole Hersey, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The air was still in early January when my father and I took his kayak onto the waters of San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. Thin layers of oil floated on the water. Occasionally a plastic bottle or tennis ball bobbed by.

The sky was overcast, a drab blue-gray that nearly matched the color of the three-story apartment complex protruding out into the waters. Though it was cloudy, it was unseasonably warm and humid. It didn’t feel like a normal January day in San Rafael.

As we paddled between ducks, watching people walk around Pickleweed Park along the edge of the water, I imagined what this place might look like in 30 years. It was easy to see how a small rise in the sea could impact this community. All it would take is one big storm.

In the 1870s, tidelands in Marin County were auctioned off to developers. Over the course of more than a century, many of those plots were filled in to create space for new city infrastructure and other developments.

This scenario was not uncommon in the Bay Area. According to Baykeeper, a nonprofit focused on protecting the San Francisco Bay from pollution, 90 percent of all Bay Area wetlands have been “lost or seriously degraded” after being dyked and used for developments. However, due to rising oceans, the dykeing of wetlands now seriously threatens many wild and urban spaces across the region.

San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood is one such place; a small, yet populous, neighborhood located east of downtown where most households are low-income, and 85 percent of residents are Latinx. Built as a navigable waterway in the early 1900s, it is now mostly used for kayakers and other recreational boaters.

It is here where conservationists, community advocates and civil servants are working together to find solutions to the growing issue of sea level rise. And while this is a global issue, there is “little to no federal guidance” for addressing climate issues, the Brookings Institute recently noted. This lack of centralized guidance has left cities and states to lead the way when it comes to adapting to climate change.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/the-coming-tide-north-bay-cities-grapple-with-sea-level-rise/

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Scientists say decades are needed to rebuild California’s abalone collapsed fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It could take until at least 2032 before California reopens even the slightest season for abalone diving and hunting along the North Coast, where depleted stocks have shut the popular sport fishery since 2018.

But that’s a best-case scenario envisioned by scientists studying the beleaguered red abalone population, as nothing like the open seasons of the recent past is likely for up to three to six decades under the current range of environmental circumstances and reproductive projections that have sunk the species, the scientific team has concluded.

That rough timeline, though subject to ongoing debate and changes based on ocean conditions and population shifts in the coming years, suggests a whole generation of people could miss out on a sport that has inspired adventure and deeply held tradition for legions of families and friends across Northern California.

It also could mean die-hard divers in upper age groups may have to make peace with having bagged their last abalone.

“Some of us won’t live long enough to get back in the water, so that’s not making a lot of people happy,” said longtime ab diver Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager and chief representative in the process for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jack Likins, a 74-year-old Gualala ab hunter known for bagging trophy sized shellfish, summed up the gloom that has taken hold in the sport’s community. “I think fishermen like me are pretty discouraged,” he said.

The projections are part of a framework prepared for the state Fish and Game Commission to help guide management of the abalone fishery beginning next year, when an emergency three-year ban on the harvest of the mollusks expires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10789434-181/scientists-say-decades-are-needed

Posted on Categories Sonoma CoastTags , ,

To love the coast — we had to save it – Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan

Richard Retecki and Carol Benfell, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

It’s taken the efforts of hundreds of people, organizations and government agencies, working together for more than sixty years, to preserve our magnificent, dynamic, and unique Sonoma County coast.

Now the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan, an integral part of that decades-long preservation effort, is being revisited by county officials, and changes will be made. It will be important to be watchful and mindful that we do not lose what so many have fought to save.

Some of our coastal parks date back 90 years, to the very first days of the State Parks system — the 19-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Beach, one of the most visited state parks in California; Fort Ross Historic State Park, Kruse Rhododendron Reserve and Salt Point State Park.

In 1962, Doran Beach in Bodega Bay became the first county park to be created for public use. Gualala Point, Westside Park and Stillwater Cove followed Doran Beach as county coastal parks.

One of the biggest threats to the coast – and county residents — came when Pacific Gas & Electric in 1958 proposed a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head, right on top of the San Andreas Fault. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodega_Bay_Nuclear_Power_Plant

Bodega Bay residents fought back, led by Rose Gaffney and Hazel Mitchell, joined quickly by brothers Karl and Bill Kortum, and forestry student David Pesonen.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/to-love-the-coast-we-had-to-save-it-sonoma-county-lcp/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Why were whales increasingly caught in crab lines? Because of the climate crisis

Katharine Gammon, THE GUARDIAN

New study shows marine heat wave was causing marine life to cluster in an area that made feeding dangerous

When humpback whales began to appear in large numbers off the California coast in 2015 and 2016, people celebrated the comeback of the whales after a near-miss with extinction.

However, the excitement was quickly met with new worries – the whales increasingly got caught up in fishermen’s crab ropes. By 2016, there were more than 50 recorded entanglements that left whales injured or killed. Whales got ropes tangled around their mouths, making it difficult for them to eat. Crab lines cut through tissue and caused infections.

Although whales and fishing had coexisted for decades, this was a new problem. So what was driving it?

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications points at climate breakdown as a factor in the mass entanglements.

When the situation was unfolding in 2015 and 2016, it surprised most people, but not Jarrod Santora, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the lead author of the paper.

Santora was studying the ecosystem effects of the marine heat wave, known as “the blob”, that was happening off the coast of California at the time. Heat waves alter the ocean’s upwelling – the process in which deep, cold, nutrient-rich water rises to the surface. The upwelling in 2015 and 2016 shrunk to just a narrow band along the coast, causing organisms to cluster there. Due to a heatwave-related decline in krill, whales switched to feeding on anchovies in shallower and shallower waters. In addition, the crab fishing season – an $88m industry on the US west coast – had been delayed from November to April, and came to coincide with the whales’ presence.

Read more at