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.
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 –
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Citizens, environmental groups and lawmakers from coast to coast are calling for a barrage of public comments opposing President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to the four marine sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.
More than 43,000 comments had been officially recorded at a government website Monday in a nationwide effort to protect 11 national sanctuaries and monuments, including four that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.
Other sanctuaries and monuments stretch from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Samoa.
The comment deadline — barring a last-minute extension — is 8:59 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday.
“This is an all-out fight for the future of the California coast,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s.
His organization, The Ocean Foundation, has formed a “spontaneous coalition” with 40 other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Russian Riverkeeper and Sonoma Coast Surfrider.
Read more at: Environmentalists, officials push back on Trump offshore oil move | The Press Democrat
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
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
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.
Kathleen Willett, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
Walking Sonoma and Marin county beaches recently has yielded some unusual sights and smells.
According to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 12 dead whales have washed up on Northern California beaches in the last three months, including two along the Sonoma County coast and one in Marin County. The carcass of a young gray whale showed up on Portuguese Beach on May 23, with another gray whale washing ashore near Jenner around May 28. In Marin, a headless whale came ashore on South Beach along the Point Reyes National Seashore on May 26.
Other than the fact that they are all whales, what do the carcasses share in common?
“There is no unifying factor,” says Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Marine scientists have identified four species among the dozen dead whales: orca, humpback, sperm and gray, which are commonly seen heading north along the coast this time of year. Their ages, along with their causes of death, have varied.
According to Schramm, one of the dead whales found in Pacifica was mature and possibly died of “old age,” given the condition and apparent wear on various body parts. Several others were young, possibly calves from the winter birthing season in Mexico, and may have been victims of predation by orcas.
One humpback was a victim of shipping traffic, while other whale carcasses have shown signs of possible “fishery interactions” such as net entanglements, which can mortally wound the immense animals.
In a typical year, one or two gray whale carcasses wash ashore. So what is different this year?
Read more at: Whale Mystery | News | North Bay Bohemian
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Last-minute details related to expansion plans for two adjoining marine sanctuaries off the North Coast were still being hammered out between federal agencies Tuesday, delaying publication of a final rule, officials said.
There was no indication of a hitch significant enough to derail the expansion proposal, which was developed over the past two years under the direction of President Barack Obama.
It was unclear, however, just what was holding up the process, representatives with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
A spokesman for the National Marine Sanctuaries program said last week that the legal consultations underway between various agencies are typically privileged, though there have been reports that some of the delay, at least, relates to discussions over U.S. Coast Guard operations within sanctuary boundaries.
But most parties following developments said they doubted there was any cause for alarm.
Read more via Hitch in North Coast marine sanctuary plans delays | The Press Democrat.
The expansion plan would turn into reality decades of work aimed at preventing oil drilling offshore of the Sonoma Coast and would help protect critical feeding grounds created by the existence of an ocean upwelling offshore from the southern Mendocino Coast that pumps nutrient-rich water upward and southward toward existing marine sanctuaries. Sanctuary designation does not limit fishing.
The proposed expansion of adjoining national marine sanctuaries that would extend environmental and wildlife protections to the Sonoma and southern Mendocino coasts is on track for agency approval this winter, with suggested revisions that reflect public input, a sanctuary official said Wednesday.
Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, said she hopes by spring to celebrate completion of a process that would more than double the combined area of the Farallones and neighboring Cordell Bank marine sanctuaries, prohibiting energy exploration and development in an additional 2,769 square miles of ocean and granting federal stewardship to environmentally rich waters that are brimming with sea life.
Read more via Sonoma, Mendocino coast sanctuaries expansion on track | The Press Democrat.
This Sept. 6, 2014 photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a new species of deep-sea white coral found by NOAA researchers off the coast of Sonoma County, Calif. The research team also found a “highly unusual” nursery area for catsharks and skates in the underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.
Scientists surveying the sea floor off the Sonoma Coast have discovered a new species of coral in an area proposed for a national marine sanctuary extension, highlighting the still-unexplored, biologically diverse habitat that would be protected if the expansion goes forward.
The white coral specimen under examination at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is one of two key findings made by a research team during a six-day trip through two deep sea zones north of Bodega Head. Scientists also found underwater areas where hundreds of skate egg cases, or “mermaid purses,” were scattered among catshark nests in a rare, possibly unique case of nurseries for those species overlapping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.
The discoveries underscore the rich, productive habitat at stake in the debate over marine sanctuary boundaries, with particularly profound implications for fish and fisheries, as well as the potential for future revelations, scientists said.
“It’s exciting in that we’ve never really looked at the sea bottom off the San Francisco Coast in this detail,” said Academy of Sciences zoologist Gary Williams, invertebrates curator for the facility. “Before this, we really didn’t have an idea of what the bottom looked like, and it’s not just a uniform plain. It’s highly varied, with highly diversified habitats.”
A series of public hearings on the North Coast last week unsurprisingly revealed overwhelming support for extending national marine sanctuary protections to the Sonoma and southern Mendocino coasts, federal officials said.
But with long-sought, permanent bans that would forbid oil drilling and other potentially harmful human activity in coastal waters within reach, many conservationists are looking to the details. They are seeking refinements in federal plans that would optimize conditions for wildlife in newly protected waters.
Reservations expressed during public hearings in Point Arena, Gualala and Bodega Bay are not enough to dampen enthusiasm for a proposal to more than double the combined size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones marine sanctuaries. The plan would extend sanctuary designation to 2,771 square miles of ocean, creating a band of protected waters along about 350 miles of California coastline. Protections would extend from Cambria to Manchester Beach, when combined with the Monterey Bay sanctuary.
But several concerns have come to light in recent weeks that advocates hope can be ironed out to the advantage of marine wildlife.