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

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

Posted on Categories Sonoma CoastTags , ,

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

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

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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“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