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Archive for the ‘Marine Mammal Plan’ Category

DAN BACHER, IndyBay.org, September 1, 2010

In a great show of unity between Tribal members, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and environmentalists, the 33 members of the Regional Stakeholder Group for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative on August 31 adopted one unified proposal for marine protected areas (MPAs) stretching from Point Arena in Mendocino County to the Oregon border.

The North Coast stakeholders were the first ever to develop a single consensus proposal under the controversial, privately funded process. In the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions, environmental NGOs and fishing groups supported separate proposals.

The proposal will be submitted to the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for review at before their October 25-27 meeting at the Fortuna River Lodge. The final proposal will then go to the Fish and Game Commission for final approval at their meeting in Sacramento in December.

“Everyone talked about a unified community proposal at the beginning of the MLPA process, but I wasn’t expecting to pull it off,” said Adam Wagschal, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreational and Conservation District Conservation Director, in a news release from Cal Oceans, a coalition of three environmental NGOs. “Sure enough though, everyone came together and we did it. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Tribal representatives also applauded the adoption of a unified proposal that allows for traditional tribal fishing and gathering rights. The stakeholders meeting was preceded by a historic protest in Fort Bragg on July 21 where over 300 Tribal members from 50 Indian nations, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, immigrant seafood industry workers and environmentalists peacefully took over an MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force meeting in defense of tribal fishing and gathering rights.

“There was significant progress by the stakeholders in coming together to create a unified proposal that protects tribal rights,” said Megan Rocha, Acting Self-Governance Officer of the Yurok Tribe. “The stakeholders did the best they could in respecting tribal gathering and fishing rights. Now this issue will go to the state of California and tribes to work it out at the next level.”

Rocha emphasized that every MPA proposal includes language to allow continued tribal uses in marine protected areas. In certain areas, the stakeholders also included language allowing for co-management between the tribes and the state.

Over the past few months, the initial set of MPA eight proposals was whittled down to four. The Regional Stakeholder Group (RSG), including Tribal leaders, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, harbormasters, divers, seaweed harvesters, business leaders and conservation representatives found enough common ground to develop one final proposal.

“The stakeholders took a strong position affirming tribal rights,” said Rocha. “It was unbelievable how committed the stakeholders were to making sure that tribal rights were respected. All of the tribes really appreciated that support.”

The proposal will result in about 13% of the North Coast region being restricted or closed to fishing and gathering, versus 16-20% in other regions of the state.

Representatives of conservation groups applauded the effort, despite some concerns that the plan may not fully meet the scientific guidelines laid out for the MLPA process.

“Everyone made sacrifices to get to this point,” said Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy’s North Coast Program Coordinator. “We started out with a number of significant differences regarding needs and desires, but ultimately our respect for each other and willingness to work together enabled us to develop a plan we can all send forward.”’

The plan includes three “State Marine Reserves,” zones completely closed to all fishing, just south of Cape Mendocino, about a mile offshore of the Mattole River and along an area west of Petrolia. Another MPA along Samoa allows for Dungeness crab, chinook salmon and smelt fishing. The MPAs include two areas to the south of Redding Rock, one allowing fishing and the other a no-take zone.

Recreational and commercial fishermen also praised the development of a single proposal.

“I’m happy that we came up with a single proposal,” Tim Klassen, captain of the Reel Steel charter boat out of Humboldt Bay, told the Eureka Times Standard on August 31, “and hopefully we’ll keep our fate in our own hands.”

Despite the adoption of a unified proposal for the North Coast, significant concerns about the overall MLPA process remain.

Fishermen, Tribal members and environmentalists are concerned that the MLPA process under Schwarzenegger has taken oil drilling, water pollution, wave energy development, habitat destruction and other human uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering off the table. The MLPA would do nothing to stop another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil disaster from devastating the California coast.

MLPA critics have also blasted the Governor for appointing an oil industry lobbyist, a marina developer, a real estate executive and people with conflicts of interest on the Blue Ribbon Task Forces that develop the marine reserves.

Many are puzzled whey Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, is allowed to make decisions as the chair of the BRTF for the South Coast and as a member of the BRTF for the North Coast, panels that are supposedly designed to “protect” the ocean, when she has called for new oil drilling off the California coast.

Many fishermen and environmentalists are also concerned that a private corporation, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, is privatizing ocean resource management in California through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DFG.

Nonetheless, the development of a unified marine protected area (MLPA) proposal on the North Coast is a great victory for fishermen, Tribes, seaweed harvesters, environmentalists and other stakeholders in the MLPA process. Rather than being “divided and conquered” by the Schwarzenegger administration as has happened elsewhere in the MLPA study regions, they chose to work together and overcome their differences to develop a consensus proposal.

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MARSHA WALTON, MNN.com, June 8, 2010

The last thing that supporters of a promising renewable energy source want is a technology that harms wildlife.

So before wave energy buoys are deployed off the Oregon coast, scientists and developers want to make sure that 18,000 migrating gray whales are not put in jeopardy.

These whales, weighing 30 to 40 tons each, make a twice-yearly journey, heading south to breed off Baja, Mexico, in winter, and back up to the Pacific Northwest in spring.

Biologist Bruce Mate wants to find out if a low power underwater noise can be used effectively to nudge the whales away from wave energy devices.

“We want them to turn their headlights on,” says Mate, director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute.

Mate says the “whoop-whoop-whoop” sound being tested “is designed to be something unnatural. We don’t want them to think of it as background noise, as a wave, or as another animal. We want it to be something that is disconcerting,” he says.

Disconcerting enough so that the animals would move a few hundred yards away from the energy-capturing buoys, expected to weigh about 200 tons.

The underwater cables on these wave buoys are solid, 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Mate says a gray whale swimming 3 to 4 mph could be seriously hurt if it collided with a cable.

Mate has a grant from the Department of Energy to test whether the acoustic device is the right strategy to keep whales and buoys away from each other. Tests will begin in late December, and end before mothers and calves migrate north in May.

The noise-making device, about the size of a cantaloupe, will be located about 75 feet below the ocean surface, moored in about 140 feet of water. During the testing, it will make noise for three seconds a minute, six hours a day.

Gray whales stick close to shore, about 2.5 to 3 miles away. Swimming farther out, they can become lunch for killer whales.

During the tests, researchers will use theodolites, surveying instruments that measure horizontal and vertical angles. Mate says the animals’ actions should be fairly easy to observe as they encounter the noise.

“These animals track very straight lines during migration. They are motivated to get to the other end,” he says.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses wave energy technologies, and dozens of agencies oversee how this technology will affect ocean life.

“Wave energy developers are required to undergo a rigorous permitting process to install both commercial-scale and pilot projects,” says Thomas Welch of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Ocean Power Technologies is set to deploy the first of 10 energy-generating buoys off Reedsport, Ore., later this year.

Wave energy developers say they have worked with conservation groups from the start, dealing with everything from whales to erosion.

“As an untapped renewable resource there is tremendous potential,” says Justin Klure, a partner at Pacific Energy Ventures, a company that advances the ocean energy industry.

A believer in clean energy, Klure says it is imperative that the technology be the least disruptive.

“Nobody knows if a large buoy or any other technology is going to have an impact on an ecosystem. A misstep early could set back the industry. This is hard work, it’s expensive, if you don’t have a solid foundation, we feel, that is going to cost you later,” he says.

Klure says the industry has studied how other energy development, including wind and solar, have dealt with environmental challenges.

“I think the lesson here is how critical project siting is. It’s the same concept as land use planning for the ocean. Where are the most sensitive ecosystems? Where are areas that need to be preserved for recreation, or commercial fishing?” Klure says.

It will likely be five to 10 years before wave energy provides significant electricity production. But the acoustics research by Mate could provide help to animals, reaching beyond the Pacific coast.

“We certainly hope it has broader uses,” Mate says. If the sounds do move animals to safety, similar devices could be used to lure whales back from shallow waters if they are in danger of stranding — or even help whales or other marine mammals skirt the poisons of a large oil spill.

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TIM STELLOH, North Coast Journal, January 28, 2010

“Consensus” isn’t a word that comes to mind with the Marine Life Protection Act, Mendocino County branch.

Consider a Monday night meeting in Fort Bragg, where fishermen, seaweeders and enviros convened at St. Micheal’s Episcopal Church to do one thing: figure out which areas along the Mendocino Coast to “protect” — that is, which coastline to turn into no-take reserves and protected areas that limit or block fishing and harvesting, as required under MLPA.

Brevity was important. So was compromise, as the deadline is Feb. 1 for Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties — together the North Coast region of the MLPA — to officially make their choices as a single, unified group. If the coalition blows the deadline, the state will have a whole lot more power to make those decisions for them — particularly for Mendocino, said Jennifer Savage of the Ocean Conservancy. (Ed. note: Savage is the Journal’s art and poverty columnist.)

This process, of course, has been mired in conflict. Fishermen, seafood harvesters and other critics have called the science behind those protected zones — which the state says should be about nine square miles every 30 to 60 miles — bogus. They’ve described the process as an unfair, underfunded burden on communities, as obfuscatory and hostile to public input. Some have described the entire premise of MLPA as, at best, misguided and, at worst, a conspiracy to wrest control of California’s coast. On the flip side, enviros say the process has been transparent, and the protected areas are necessary to safeguard against overfishing and other harmful activities.

Del Norte has done just fine in deciding which parts of its coast to protect. Humboldt has slogged through. Then there’s Mendocino, which, let’s just say, has had a few problems.

It was about about two and a half hours into the Monday meeting when the mood soured. Bill Lemos, a local teacher who’s working with National Resources Defense Council (or “Big Green,” as MLPA foes call it) and Conservation First!, had, using a computer model map and projector, just cataloged all the areas he thought suitable for protection — areas near Cape Vizcaino and Pt. Cabrillo, among others.

A group of fishermen from the Salmon Trollers Marketing Association weren’t having it. Until now, most of them had, well, been fishing, and unable to attend any of the create-your-own map meetings that recently began, said Ben Platt, a salmon and crab fisherman. No longer. Were the state to implement one of Lemos’s suggestions near Usal Beach, he said, they’d lose 80% of their crab.

“That would gut the crabbing area,” another fisherman said. “I don’t know why you’d even put that up there.”

Another fisherman chimed in: “We’ve got to take in the economic value of our community. Commercial, recreational, everyone here. We’re supposed to be doing adaptive management not protective management — ”

Lemos had had enough.

“Folks, we’ve been through this before. We walked out of this meeting before saying, ‘We are not here to take your negative input,'” Lemos said, referring to a meeting earlier this month that ended on less than cordial terms. “We’re here to share with you what our ideas are. We understand that these [changes] will cause you to be less active in the ocean and cause you some economic hardship. We understand that part of it. But folks, these are coming from somewhere, and we are trying to adapt them to places that would have the least impact. Thank you for your input, but I really don’t want to be here all night arguing with you. We’ve done the best we can.”

Another debate followed — one that shows how bewildering the process is: Just how much coastline does the state require that the North Coast region set aside in order to comply with MLPA rules? And just how important is that rule anyway? According to Dave Wright, a recreational fisherman, it’s not a top priority.

Lemos disagreed.

Even though there’s not a strict number, for the next echelon of scientists to even consider the map of protected coastline — the one that’s due in under a week — 15% of the North Coast should be protected, he said, adding that even that would be on the low end. In other parts of the California coast where MLPA has been implemented, between 16% and 22% of coastline has been turned into reserves and protected areas.

“I thought they were re-evaluating that for the North Coast,” Wright said. “Aren’t they re-evaluating that?”

“I don’t know,” Lemos said.

And that’s pretty much where the meeting ended — almost an hour past the scheduled end time, with no apparent compromise and no single, unified map.

Which gives Mendocino’s many coastal stakeholders even less time. If they don’t pull an all-nighter between now and next Monday and come up with that map, several maps will have to be submitted to begin the slow slog through the MLPA bureaucracy toward the final destination: a blue-ribbon panel appointed by the state, and the Department of Fish and Game, which the MLPA is officially part of.

With that last-gasp, non-public effort just days away, Jeanine Pfeiffer, the UC Davis scientist who’s been moderating the discussions, had a stern warning to Mendocino’s enviros: “If we fail to protect our cultural heritage — which in this region means small-scale fisheries, coastal towns and Native American tribes — if we fail to protect our cultural heritage with the same passion and attention as our biological heritage, then we’re not doing our best,” she said.

Ladies and gents, get your NoDoz.

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JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 2010

Tracking gray whales as they migrate past the San Francisco shoreline will help provide key information for a proposed plan to for a wave energy farm.

The mammals — which can grow up to 50 feet long, weigh up to 40 tons and are considered endangered on the West Coast — migrate between the Alaskan coast to the shores off Mexico, where they give birth to their young.

During their travels, the whales pass near Ocean Beach — but there is a lack of information about exactly where.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researchers will partner with San Francisco and track the mammals’ depth and distance from the shoreline using visual surveys and satellite tracking devices. A review of existing scientific literature will also be undertaken.

“There’s a fair amount of data on gray whales down around Monterey,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Randall Smith said. “But there’s a data gap off the San Francisco coastline.”

The study will help city officials decide how and where to safely place an array of potentially-revolutionary underwater devices that might eventually deliver power as cheaply as solar panels.

The farm would capture and convert into electricity the power of arctic storm-generated waves as they pulse toward Ocean Beach.

A wide variety of devices are being developed worldwide that could help capture the wave power: Some bob near the surface, others float midwater like balloons, and a third type undulates like kelp along the seafloor.

Learning about gray whale migration patterns will help officials determine which devices would minimize the risk of whale collisions and decide where they should be located.

Research by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung previously identified Ocean Beach as having strong potential for the nascent form of energy generation.

A wave study completed by San Francisco city contractors in December confirmed the site’s potential, according to Smith.

“Potentially, we could do a 30-megawatt wave farm out there,” Smith said.

The timelines and investment structure of the wave project are unclear, largely because the U.S. Minerals Management Service — which historically managed gas and oil deposits — was recently charged with regulating offshore renewable energy projects.

While the SFPUC waits for the service to finalize its permit application procedures, it’s forging ahead with an environmental review of the project required by California law, which includes the whale study.

Gray whales – the giant mammals are an endangered species.

Annual migration: 10,000 miles
Length: Up to 50 feet
Weight: Up to 80,000 pounds
Lifespan: In excess of 75 years
Maturity: Six to 12 years
Gestation: 12 to 13 months
Newborn calves: 14 to 16 feet long; 2,000 pounds

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

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Editor’s Note: In late December 2009, the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco vacated their home on the floating piers. This article may shed some light on what’s happening on the SF coast and the reasons for their leaving.  Like many others, we wonder where they went and for what reasons.

PETER FIMRITE, San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2009

By Bierstadt AlbertA humpback whale that suddenly rose out of the water and splashed down near the Farallon Islands provided a research vessel full of scientists with a surprising bonanza of research data.

“Whale poop!” shouted several researchers in unison, as biologists scrambled to collect the floating reddish specimens Saturday as part of a comprehensive study of the ocean’s ecology off the Northern California coast.

The color of the whale excrement meant that the huge creature had been feeding mostly on a tiny shrimp-like crustacean called krill instead of fish and anchovies, its preferred food in recent decades. It is a change in diet that several bird species at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge are unable to make, according to researchers in a joint ocean survey by the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and PRBO Conservation Science.

As a result, colonies of fish-eating cormorants, seagulls and murres failed to breed this year on the Farallon Islands. Over the past few months, dozens of dead birds and even sea lions have been found on local beaches.

Anchovies have disappeared, and scientists don’t know why. The researchers on the vessel believe that, in their absence, birds and mammals like humpback whales that eat krill are thriving while the ones that are eating only fish are in trouble, and the whale excrement served as evidence.

“We’ve had an extraordinary number of dead animals,” said Jan Roletto, the research coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “It seems to be that the animals that suffered the most were the animals that forage on anchovies.”

Brandt’s cormorants, a black bird with white plumes that can dive as deep as 300 feet for its prey, did not produce any chicks this year on the Farallones or on Alcatraz. That’s compared with 15,000 chicks in 2007.

Breeding fails

For the anchovy-loving bird, it was the first complete breeding failure in 40 years during a year without El Niño conditions so far, according to scientists at PRBO, formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Western gulls and common murres produced about one-seventh of the number of chicks they normally hatch. Researchers on the Farallones reported an increase in predation on the chicks that were produced, mainly because the parents were too far away looking for food.

Beachgoers probably noticed the death toll. Six to eight times the normal number of dead cormorants and sea lions were found on Bay Area beaches in May, June and July, according to researchers. The death toll in each case involves birds and marine mammals that prey on anchovies and other fish.

The deaths and breeding failures are all the more troubling because there appears to be plenty of krill, rockfish and other prey species to feed the seagoing birds and mammals.

Jaime Jahncke, the director of marine ecology for PRBO, said common murres had previous breeding failures in 1982-83 and in 1991-92, but both times the problems were linked to El Niño, a weather condition associated with warmer ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions that cause heavy storms. Although forecasters say an El Niño is forming in the tropics, it has not yet hit California, Jahncke said.

No explanation

“I don’t know what it means, but it’s not good,” Jahncke said. “There are a lot of changes happening, and none of them have a clear explanation.”

Seagoing birds and mammals near the Farallon Islands depend on krill, anchovies and other prey that are attracted to conditions produced when cold, deep ocean currents bounce off the underwater outcropping called the Cordell Bank, forcing nutrients upward. The nutrients are most abundant during the transition from winter to spring.

Spring arrives an average of 20 days earlier than it did in 1970, Jahncke said. There has also been an increase in the strength of the upwellings over the past two decades, he said.

Apart from the lack of anchovies, that is probably a good thing.

The team of scientists on the boat spotted several blue whales before the humpback put on its show.

The abundance of blue whales, which feed almost exclusively on krill, and the evidence provided by the humpback made it clear that there is plenty of krill in the ocean.

“Whales primarily over the last decade have been feeding on fish,” said Lisa Etherington, the research coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The last couple of years they’ve been feeding on krill. We don’t know why.”

Wild fluctuations

Jahncke said salmon smolt also feed on krill, a fact that may or may not help the beleaguered Central Coast chinook. The Cassin’s auklet, a small, chunky seabird that feeds on krill, had above-average nesting success this year.

But wild fluctuations are now almost normal, according to the researchers, who are concerned that the El Niño predicted for next year will cause a further decline in the numbers of birds.

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Fire Earth, December 28, 2009

Photo by Sally & Doug Morrison

Image by Sally & Doug Morrison

About 30 pilot whales died after they became stranded on Coromandel peninsula yesterday and will be buried by the local Maori.

Meanwhile, up to 120 long-finned pilot whales, both calves and adults, were found dead  at the Farewell Spit on Boxing Day.

“More offshore wells have been drilled in the last two years than the rest of the decade combined: 35 on and offshore wells were drilled between January 2008 and July 2009 alone,” said a report.

Each year about 2.5 million tourists visit New Zealand, straining its fragile ecosystems to the breaking point, creating a massive litany of different types of pollution, including noise.

Mendo Coast Current wrote: “Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.”

“The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90% of its range over the past 40 years.”

Environmental experts are studying numerous cases of beached whales and dolphins that are believed to have been caused by sound pollution, according to Simmonds.

Just two weeks ago at least five whales died after nine were beached in Mediterranean off the southern coast off Italy, an unusual place for whales to beach themselves.

‘A massive beaching is extremely rare in the Mediterranean,’ biologist Maurizio Wurtz at the University of Genoa said.

Noise pollution from seismic surveys for oil and gas as well as naval activities are believed to have confused whales by interfering  with their communication, thus leaving them stranded and ultimately dead,  many  Conservationists and biologists say.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says man-made ocean noise inhibits cetaceans’ communication and disrupts their feeding.

The level of ocean noise in some regions is doubling each decade, according to IFAW.  “Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals.”

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