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The world’s oceans are in danger, major climate change report warns

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Climate change is heating the oceans and altering their chemistry so dramatically that it is threatening seafood supplies, fueling cyclones and floods and posing profound risks to the hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued Wednesday.

The report concludes that the world’s oceans and ice sheets are under such severe stress that the fallout could prove difficult for humans to contain without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Fish populations are already declining in many regions as warming waters throw marine ecosystems into disarray, according to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders in policymaking.

“The oceans are sending us so many warning signals that we need to get emissions under control,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and a lead author of the report. “Ecosystems are changing, food webs are changing, fish stocks are changing, and this turmoil is affecting humans.”

Hotter ocean temperatures, combined with rising sea levels, further imperil coastal regions, the report says, worsening a phenomenon that is already contributing to storms like Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston two years ago.
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For decades, the oceans have served as a crucial buffer against global warming, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans emit from power plants, factories and cars, and absorbing more than 90 percent of the excess heat trapped on Earth by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Without that protection, the land would be heating much more rapidly.

But the oceans themselves are becoming hotter, more acidic and less oxygen-rich as a result, according to the report. If humans keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an increasing rate,marine ecosystems already facing threats from seaborne plastic waste, unsustainable fishing practices and other man-made stresses will be further strained.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/25/climate/climate-change-oceans-united-nations.html

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Why toxic algae is especially dangerous for California sea lions this year

Carrie Schuman, SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

A 2012 overview of trends in toxic algae along the West Coast — published in the journal Harmful Algae — notes a body of evidence suggesting toxic blooms off of California have been worsening in the past 10 to 15 years. A 2018 study published in the same journal further identifies Southern California as a domoic acid hotspot.

On a beautiful Friday in July, a dehydrated young sea lion was rescued from the Harford Pier by the Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo County rescue team.

Pier visitors noticed the curious sea lion had been lounging on a floating dock for a suspiciously long time.

This California sea lion, later dubbed “Landing,” represents one of the hundreds the center cares for every year, including a large number suffering poisoning from an algal toxin called domoic acid.

Dr. Cara Field, one of the center’s veterinarians, said this year is especially alarming because the algal blooms responsible for producing domoic acid have started earlier than usual — just in time to target “adult female sea lions making their way to the Channel Islands to give birth” and “a whole second generation” of unborn sea lion pups.

The source of domoic acid — a potent neurotoxin — is a microscopic plant-like organism called phytoplankton.

When one particular species called Pseudo-nitzschia finds just the right sweet spot of conditions, it can rapidly reproduce and form a “ bloom.”

People unfortunate enough to be exposed to domoic acid by eating tainted shellfish can develop amnesic shellfish poisoning. Severe cases of the condition, as described by the California Poison Control Network website, includes “short-term memory loss, seizures, coma or shock” — although these cases are rare thanks to precautions taken by the state Department of Public Health.

Marine mammals are also susceptible to poisoning but don’t have a warning system in place like we do.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9845544-181/why-toxic-algae-is-especially?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

California fights US plan to drop rat poison on Farallon Islands

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Federal wildlife officials were urged Wednesday to withdraw a proposal to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison on remote islands off the coast of California to kill a mice infestation until they address questions on the impact to wildlife.

The California Coastal Commission heard public comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan, which has drawn criticism from local conservation groups. The commission is seeking to determine whether the plan complies with state coastal management rules.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report presented to the commission in March that a massive house mice population is threatening the whole ecosystem on the rugged Farallon Islands, 27 miles (44 kilometers) off the coast of San Francisco.

The archipelago is home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the contiguous United States, with approximately 300,000 to 350,000 birds of 13 species, including the rare ashy storm petrels. The islands are also used by marine mammal species for resting and breeding and by migratory birds.

Federal wildlife officials proposed using helicopters to dump 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) of cereal grain pellets laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that causes rodents to bleed to death. The substance is banned in California.

Officials acknowledged the plan will kill some seagulls and other species but argue that the benefits of eliminating the invasive species will heal the whole ecosystem.
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Coastal seabird die-off puzzles experts

“The only way to protect these species and allow the ecosystem to recover is 100% eradication of the mice,” said Pete Warzibok, a biologist who has worked on the Farallon Islands for more than 20 years. “Anything else is simply a stopgap measure that will not adequately address the problem.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9786599-181/california-fights-us-plan-to

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

California’s early June heat wave cooked coastal mussels in place

Eric Simons, BAY NATURE

Bodega Marine Reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones has worked in or walked on the rocky shores of the North Coast almost every day for the last 15 years. But while she was surveying the reserve for sea stars in mid-June, she saw something new: strips of bleached algae draped across the rocks, like frost, and a swath of dead mussels, hundreds or maybe thousands of them, black shells agape, orange tissue shining in the sun, stretching across 500 feet of rocky tidepools.

“It’s one of the first things you see, coming down the rocks into the middle of the intertidal zone,” she said. “They were very visibly dead.”

In all her time in Bodega Bay, she wrote in her blog The Natural History of Bodega Head, she’d never seen a mussel die-off that size, or affecting so many individual mussels.

She suspected immediately that the algae had bleached and the mussels had overheated earlier in the month. While many Bay Area residents fled toward fans or movie theaters or air-conditioned libraries to escape the record-breaking early June heat wave, the mussels, which attach themselves to rocks with super-strong threads and never look back, would have just roasted in place. The air temperature in Bodega Bay on June 11 hit an unusually warm 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal June sea breeze disappeared. A series of mid-day low tides stranded the tidepool animals out of the water for hours while the sun beat down from high overhead.

“In the past we’ve seen patches die, but in this case it was everywhere,” Sones said. “Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died.”

She went back to the lab and talked to BML marine biologist Eric Sanford, who had seen the same thing in the part of the reserve where he’d been working. The next day Sones walked a longer stretch of shoreline, covering about a quarter-mile, and still saw the same pattern of mussel death. Further reports came in of die-offs around Bodega Bay at Dillon Beach and Pinnacle Gulch, at Sea Ranch, and at Kibesillah Hill north of Fort Bragg.

Northeastern University marine ecologist Brian Helmuth, who studies the effects of air temperature on marine creatures, said that on a 75 degree Fahrenheit day, the tissues inside a marine creature glued to a rock out of the water might rise to 105 degrees. The animals try to vent the heat building up inside of them but can’t without a breeze to carry it away. The mussels’ black shells trap even more heat. “They were just literally cooking out there,” Helmuth said. “Unfortunately this was the worst possible time.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/2019/06/26/californias-early-june-heat-wave-cooked-coastal-mussels-in-place/

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

House approves measures that would block offshore drilling on all but Arctic coast

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The House of Representatives passed three amendments on Thursday imposing one-year bans on offshore oil drilling on the Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico coasts, potentially restoring the safeguard that protected California’s coast for more than a quarter century.

The three bipartisan votes came on amendments to the funding bill for the Department of Interior and other agencies and are protected from a line-item veto by President Donald Trump, who has proposed an aggressive expansion of oil and gas development in the nation’s offshore waters.

It also may not need approval in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will produce its own Interior Department appropriations bill.

“This is the congressional moratorium coming back,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-oil drilling activist. “Today’s been a miracle, big time.”

The House amendments would prevent the Secretary of Interior from spending any money on pre-leasing or leasing activities related to selling offshore drilling rights to energy developers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9724004-181/house-approves-measures-that-would

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Dozens of West Coast gray whale deaths prompt federal investigation

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prompted by the fatal stranding of 70 gray whales on the U.S. West Coast this year, federal scientists have launched a major scientific investigation aimed at identifying the cause or causes of the die-off among the migrating mammals that number about 27,000 and are a popular North Coast attraction in places like Bodega Bay.

A young gray whale that washed up last week on Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore was the 15th recorded stranding in the greater Bay Area.

An additional 78 strandings have occurred in Mexico and Canada, bringing the five-month total to 148 deaths of Eastern North Pacific gray whales.

NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency charged with protection and conservation of marine mammals, said the trend warranted declaration of an “unusual mortality event,” unleashing funding and resources for an investigation that could take months or years to find answers.

Deborah Fauquier, a NOAA veterinary medical officer, said Friday the declaration was justified by an unexpected and significant die-off that “demands an immediate response.”

An investigative team of experts from the United States, Canada, Mexico and possibly worldwide will be formed to “determine what might be causing the die-off, such as environmental conditions, disease or human activities” and “make informed decisions to protect this important marine species,” she said in a teleconference with reporters.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9655458-181/dozens-of-west-coast-gray

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

Shorter season imposed on California’s Dungeness crab fleet to safeguard whales

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California’s commercial crabbing fleet will be fishing significantly shorter seasons going forward and with greater safeguards in place to avoid ensnaring endangered marine life in potentially deadly gear under a legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The deal, reached between state regulators, environmentalists and representatives of the crab fleet, is meant especially to protect whales, some of them endangered, that feed in abundance during the spring off the Central and North Coast.

The framework unveiled Tuesday will cut the current season and future seasons by as much as 2½ months and mandate a near-constant watch on the entanglement risks posed to sealife. If those risks are too high, regulators could trigger mid-season closures of some areas.

“It’s been my view almost always we can do right by our natural resources and do right by Californians, and do it better together than in a courtroom,” state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said during a media call on the settlement.

Other parties to the deal included the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the state in 2017 over a sharp rise in the number of whale entanglements, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

To a large extent, the complex settlement reinforces and formalizes efforts already being developed by wildlife regulators and partners to ensure that imperiled wildlife and the crab fishery can thrive.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, whose North Coast district accounts for most of the state’s crab catch, one of California’s most lucrative fisheries, said the cooperation was a sign of the “extremely proactive” posture the state has adopted “to ensure California’s majestic whale population and our crabbing fleet can co-exist.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9433839-181/shorter-season-imposed-on-californias

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Ocean heat wave brought 67 rare, warm-water species to North Coast

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An extended ocean heat wave that spurred a series of ecological anomalies off the Northern California coast — including toxic algae, mass sea lion strandings and the collapse of the bull kelp forest — also promoted the northward migration of an unprecedented number of southern, warm-water species.

Sixty-seven rare, warm-water creatures, including 37 whose presence has never been documented so far north, were found in the region and points poleward, according to a UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory study published Tuesday in “Scientific Reports.” Everything from bottlenose dolphins to two kinds of sea turtles to barnacles and small sea snails were present during the study period between 2014 and early 2017.

One colorless, tiny snail cousin, the striated sea butterfly, hadn’t previously been seen north of the tip of Baja California. It turned up in sampling nets collecting whatever critters might be floating past the Bodega Bay lab, said lead author Eric Sanford, a UC Davis professor of ecology and evolution.

Similarly, pelagic red crabs — four still alive at the lab — that came ashore at Salmon Creek Beach in January 2017 normally would have been closer to Baja, he said. Also found in the bay was the molted shell of a spiny lobster more commonplace in Baja.

With the planet and the ocean warming, the recent, extended marine heat wave “provides a glimpse of what the Northern California coast might look like in the future,” as species move toward cooler environments to survive, Sanford said.

“We’re basically seeing these communities change before our eyes as more southern species become part of these communities,” he said. “That’s pretty dramatic.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9376990-181/ocean-heat-wave-brought-67

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags

Plant smugglers take ‘massive’ toll on California’s Dudleya farinosa succulent species

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ohis belly in the bushes in a camouflage ghillie suit, California game warden Patrick Freeling came across a bulging backpack resting on a blufftop and knew he was onto something big.

California Fish and Wildlife Warden Pat Freeling trained his K9 partner Cali to sniff out wild Dudleya farinosa after discovering the underground trade in the succulent last year. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
In the preceding months, he had seen evidence of some illicit activity having to do with coastal succulents — a large shipment of boxes to Asia from the Mendocino post office; a man stealing plants from a Caltrans right-of-way.

But it was the expedition pack he discovered on the ground that March day last year near Point Arena that crystallized the caper in his mind. The sack was stuffed with native succulents called Dudleya farinosa that only grow along the Central and North Coast. Smugglers were coming to these shores to poach the plants and send them in bulk overseas for profit on the black market.

Investigators now believe several hundred thousands plants worth tens of millions of dollars on the Asian black market have been torn illegally from bluffs along the Northern California coast over the past several years, in some cases stripping whole areas of the plant species, said Adrian Foss, a captain with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9327697-181/plant-smugglers-take-massive-toll

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Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

Extreme temperatures destroy kelp, seagrass and corals – with alarming impacts for humanity

The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”.

The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say.

Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more.

The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954.

As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/heatwaves-sweeping-oceans-like-wildfires-scientists-reveal