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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

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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 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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Rising ocean acidity bad news for West Coast’s $200 million Dungeness crab fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Acidification of the world’s oceans was supposed to be a distant problem — nothing to worry about until some time in the future.

But a new study of juvenile Dungeness crab collected off the Pacific Northwest coast shows the crustaceans are vulnerable to conditions that exist right now.

Published last week in the journal “Science of The Total Environment,” the study found that tiny developing crabs sampled from coastal waters off Oregon and Washington suffered damage to their shells as well as to bristly, hairlike sensory organs believed to help them orient to their surroundings.

The findings have unsettling implications for a roughly $200 million West Coast fishery — California’s most valuable ocean crop and a key economic driver for struggling fishing ports on the North and Central Coast.

The California fleet caught more than $47 million worth of Dungeness crab last year, including nearly $5 million worth of crustaceans landed in Bodega Bay.

The new research, said veteran Bodega Bay fishermen Tony Anello, sounds “very discouraging.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10644113-181/rising-ocean-acidity-bad-news

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Experts fear Trump’s weakening of environmental policy could expose North Coast to drilling

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A move by the Trump administration to roll back landmark environmental policy intended to ensure vigorous scrutiny of federal infrastructure projects has struck alarm in the hearts of California conservationists, particularly those striving to safeguard North Coast waters from offshore energy exploration and production.

Proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act would have sweeping effects nationwide, wherever there is federally built, funded or permitted construction or activity. Examples include mining on federal lands, construction of federally funded highways, or work on interstate gas pipelines or federal dams. But on the North Coast, where residents enjoy some of the most scenic and productive ocean waters on Earth, a coastline already subject to renewed drilling pressures and proposed wind generation facilities may be at greater risk if the NEPA revisions go through, experts say.

“Obviously, it’s going to have dramatic impacts on the whole offshore drilling equation,” said Richard Charter, senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a Sonoma Coast resident.

That’s especially true given increased instability in the Middle East due to tension between the United States and Iran, which could move the White House to try to fast-track plans to reopen the North Coast to oil drilling, he said.

“It’s quite frightening,” said Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk California, headquartered in Sonoma County.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10571585-181/experts-fear-trumps-weakening-of

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

Trawlers return to Pacific fishing area in rare environmental success story

Associated Press, THE GUARDIAN

A rare environmental success story is unfolding in waters off the US west coast.

After years of fear and uncertainty, bottom trawler fishermen – those who use nets to catch rockfish, bocaccio, sole, Pacific Ocean perch and other deep-dwelling fish – are making a comeback here, reinventing themselves as a sustainable industry less than two decades after authorities closed huge stretches of the Pacific Ocean because of the species’ depletion.

The ban devastated fishermen, but on 1 January, regulators will reopen an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island off Oregon and California to groundfish bottom trawling – all with the approval of environmental groups that were once the industry’s biggest foes.

The rapid turnaround features collaboration between the fishermen and environmentalists who spent years refining a long-term fishing plan that will continue to resuscitate the groundfish industry while permanently protecting thousands of square miles of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

Now, the fishermen who see their livelihood returning must solve another piece of the puzzle: drumming up consumer demand for fish that haven’t been in grocery stores or on menus for a generation.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/26/fishing-groundfish-trawlers-oregon-california-environment

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

California coastal waters rising in acidity at alarming rate, study finds

Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Waters off the California coast are acidifying twice as fast as the global average, scientists found, threatening major fisheries and sounding the alarm that the ocean can absorb only so much more of the world’s carbon emissions.

A new study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also made an unexpected connection between acidification and a climate cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — the same shifting forces that other scientists say have a played a big role in the higher and faster rates of sea level rise hitting California in recent years.

El Niño and La Niña cycles, researchers found, also add stress to these extreme changes in the ocean’s chemistry.

These findings come at a time when record amounts of emissions have already exacerbated the stress on the marine environment. When carbon dioxide mixes with seawater, it undergoes chemical reactions that increase the water’s acidity.

Across the globe, coral reefs are dying, oysters and clams are struggling to build their shells, and fish seem to be losing their sense of smell and direction. Harmful algal blooms are getting more toxic — and occurring more frequently. Researchers are barely keeping up with these new issues while still trying to understand what’s happening under the sea.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-16/ocean-acidification-california

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Why you should participate in the Local Coastal Plan process

Eric Koenigshoffer, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

If you are wondering why you should participate in the process now underway to update the Local Coastal Plan let me offer my take on the core reason. The continuation of sound public policy protecting the coast from excessive development while ensuring access to the beach and care of the environment requires commitment. That commitment comes in the form of work…that’s right, work. Doing the work of learning the issues and the process and then showing up.

Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) recently released the Draft Update of the Local Coastal Plan (LCP). Meetings seeking community input are now underway. The draft document is available on-line at the PRMD website. Hard copies are available for review in public libraries around the county. There will be public hearings as the process unfolds.

The current LCP is 270 pages. Find it here.

The draft update LCP is 424 pages. Find it here.

In addition to the main body of the document there is also an appendix of a few hundred pages.

The work of wading through hundreds of pages of (let’s face it) sometimes boring text requires tenacity (and lots of coffee!).

One very basic point to remember when reviewing the Draft LCP is that the Coastal Zone is different than any other area of the county. You will see references made to conforming the LCP and the Sonoma County General Plan. Fact is, the two documents can conform with one another in most aspects but not completely. The Coastal Zone is subject to a variety of statewide policies which do not apply to the General Plan. These policies speak to issues which are unique to the coast. Here are a few examples:
Public Access:

At the core of the 1972 Coastal Initiative and reaffirmed in the 1976 Coastal Act is the public’s right under the California Constitution to access the states shoreline. All policies within the Coastal Zone are subject to this fact. Permits issued in the Coastal Zone often have special conditions applied to implement access.
Visitor Serving facilities:

Coastal access results in visitors. Visitors need services. These services include hotel rooms and other lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gas stations, electric charging stations, etc. Implementing access to the shore includes making sure these services are available. This is state policy which does not apply elsewhere in the county. Of course, implementing this policy should be mindful of impacts on local coastal residents and communities while meeting state law.
Coastal Dependent use priority:

Use of land in the Coastal zone is subject to policy which sets priorities by type of use. Protecting environmental values and unique natural features is a high priority. Preserving coastal agriculture is too. Housing to meet local community needs is recognized as also important. A notable specific point is that “coastal dependent” uses are preferred over general commercial uses. For example, visitor serving use such as lodging is preferred over a non-coastal-dependent commercial use.

Update of the LCP and General Plan take place every 20 years to so. This is equivalent to the generally accepted definition of a generation as being 20-years. It is important that each update cycle engage each new generation and explore the policies at issue and the history of how these important policies came to be.

I’m confident Supervisor Hopkins will make sure the public engagement process is truly open and transparent she’s good about such things!

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/changes-to-our-coast-the-local-coastal-plan-lcp