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.
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.
“We’re seeing swarms of purple urchins absolutely eating anything alive,” said Jon Holcomb, a commercial urchin diver from Fort Bragg who has worked closely with state the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Watermen’s Alliance on the issue. “Urchins, abalone, anything. It’s dramatic.”
Abalone hunters and other recreational divers forced to stand by idly for years as tiny purple urchins overran the ocean floor off the North Coast are scheduled to converge en masse over Memorial Day weekend to try their hand at resetting nature.
At least 100 participants are expected to gather at Ocean Cove on the Sonoma Coast for a two-day blitz aimed at clearing as many of the dollar-sized urchins from the cove as possible. They hope it will give some of the region’s ravaged bull kelp and the beleaguered red abalone that feed on it a fighting chance at recovery.
The event is one of several in the works by the Watermen’s Alliance, a coalition of spearfishing clubs claiming more than 1,000 members throughout California. The campaign, involving public and private partners, aims to try to restore the kelp forest that once dominated offshore waters in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Four suspected poachers believed to have removed hundreds of red abalone illegally from the beleaguered North Coast fishery were arrested this week at their Bay Area homes at the conclusion of a five-month investigation, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The suspects are part of a larger crew used to collect abalone offshore of Sonoma and Mendocino counties for black market sales to a network of individuals, officials said. It does not appear the shellfish were sold to markets or restaurants.
The suspects — Thepbangon Nonnarath of Oakley, Dennis Nonnarath of El Sobrante and Thu Thi Tran and Cuong Huu Tran, both of San Jose — were arrested on a variety of charges that included conspiracy to commit a crime, as well as illegal commercial sales, falsification of abalone tags and exceeding the season limit of abalone.
Their arrests come as fishery regulators are grappling with a rapid decline in red abalone populations, thanks to shifting ocean conditions that have prompted significant starvation of the prized mollusks, due in part to exploding purple urchin populations that have grazed much of the ocean floor clean.
Read more at: Four Bay Area residents arrested on suspicion of abalone poaching, black market sales | The Press Democrat –
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 –
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Aerial surveys conducted each year to gauge abundance in the iconic kelp forests off the North Coast showed a slight improvement last fall, offering a glimmer of hope for the recovery of the coastal marine habitat, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported.
But conditions for the “bull kelp,” an annual type of seaweed — especially off Sonoma County — have become so bleak in recent years that even a reported doubling of the forest canopy during last year’s growing season has done little to bring the underwater habitat back to full strength, scientists said.
Despite patches that resemble the historic ecosystem in some ways, large swaths of ocean floor off the North Coast remain devoid of bull kelp and other fleshy algal species, prompting continued starvation among common marine herbivores like red abalone and urchins, they said.
Even with growth in the overall canopy last year, data indicates the kelp off Sonoma and Mendocino counties covered at least 95 percent less surface area in 2016 than it did in the banner year of 2008, said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with the state wildlife agency.
The apparent expansion of the kelp canopy “is deceptive,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the agency’s invertebrate program, “because 2016 is still way below anything we would consider normal.”
Read more at: Along the North Coast, mixed news about the health of the undersea kelp forest | The Press Democrat
Earth Sciences, PHYS.ORG
A reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large regions of the oceans between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.
“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said NCAR scientist Matthew Long, lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”
The study is published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.
Read more at: Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s