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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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May 22, 2010

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the State of California have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate procedures and schedules for review of hydrokinetic energy projects off the California coast.

This marks the fourth hydrokinetics MOU that FERC has signed with other states, following agreements signed last year with Washington and Maine, and with Oregon in 2008. Today’s agreement ensures that FERC and California will undertake all permitting and licensing efforts in an environmentally sensitive manner, taking into account economic and cultural concerns.

“This agreement with California shows FERC’s continuing commitment to work with the states to ensure American consumers can enjoy the environmental and financial benefits of clean, renewable hydrokinetic energy,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

“I am delighted the State of California has signed an MOU with the Commission on developing hydrokinetic projects off the California coast,” Commissioner Philip Moeller said. “This completes a sweep of the West Coast which, along with Maine, is showing its commitment to bringing the benefits of clean hydrokinetic energy to the consumers of the United States.”

FERC and California have agreed to the following with respect to hydrokinetics:

  • Each will notify the other when one becomes aware of a potential applicant for a preliminary permit, pilot project license or license;
  • When considering a license application, each will agree as early as possible on a schedule for processing. The schedule will include milestones, and FERC and California will encourage other federal agencies and stakeholders to comply with the schedules;
  • They will coordinate the environmental reviews of any proposed projects in California state waters. FERC and California also will consult with stakeholders, including project developers, on the design of studies and environmental matters; and
  • They will encourage applicants to seek pilot project licenses prior to a full commercial license, to allow for testing of devices before commercial deployment.

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DAVID HELVARG, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010

President Obama’s decision to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar open vast new areas of federal ocean waters to offshore oil drilling is no surprise. In his State of the Union address, the president explained that his vision for a clean energy future included offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal. Unfortunately, that’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast-food snacking, amphetamines and low-tar cigarettes.

If the arguments you hear in the coming days for expanded drilling sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been repeated for generations. We’ve been hearing promises about safer drilling technologies since before Union Oil began drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. And if you don’t remember what happened that time, you should. Soon after the wells were bored, one of them blew out in January 1969, causing a massive oil slick that slimed beaches and killed birds, fish and marine mammals. The resulting catastrophe helped spark the modern environmental movement.

The president has promised no new drilling off the West Coast, and it’s no wonder. Opposition was unified and vociferous during Salazar’s public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco in April 2009. More than 500 people – including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, California’s lieutenant governor and four House members – testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new oil drilling.

Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 jobs.

Still, in the new Department of Interior announcement, one can hear echoes of President Reagan’s Interior secretary, Don Hodel, who warned us in the 1980s that if we didn’t expand offshore drilling, we’d be “putting ourselves at the tender mercies of OPEC.”

We did expand offshore drilling then, not off the stunning redwood coastline of Mendocino, Calif., as Hodel wanted, but where the oil industry knew most of the oil and gas actually was and is: in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We even created a royalty moratorium for the oil companies that went after those huge deep-water fields.

But offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either.

The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.

Nor is it likely that oil-friendly politicians in Louisiana, Alaska and Virginia, where new drilling will take place under the Obama plan, are going to embrace administration-backed climate legislation that recognizes drilling as a temporary bridge to a post-fossil-fuel world.

The only real difference in the drilling debate from 30 years ago is that back then the issue was energy versus marine pollution. Today we know it’s even more urgent. Oil, used as directed, overheats the planet.

Plus, any new platform drilled is a structural commitment to at least 30 more years of fossil fuel extraction – assuming it’s not taken out by a big storm like the jack-up rig I saw washed onto the beach at Alabama’s Dauphin Island after Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve visited offshore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gulf of Mexico and was impressed by the oil patch workers I met there. The innovative technologies they use for extracting ever more inaccessible reserves of oil and gas are also impressive.

But now we need to direct that can-do spirit of innovation to large-scale carbon-free energy systems, including photovoltaics, wind turbines, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells and marine tidal, wave, current and thermal energy. The difficulties of producing energy with those technologies will make today’s drilling challenges seem simple.

I respect the roughnecks and roustabouts I’ve met who continue to practice a dangerous and challenging craft, and the contribution they’ve made to our nation’s maritime history. But I believe it’s time for them to exit the energy stage. Apparently the president does not.

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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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Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

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.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

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 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

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MendoCoastCurrent, October 27, 2009

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks there have been numerous Blue Whales showing up dead on the coast of California and a cause of the recent Blue Whale washing up on the Mendocino coast has been the topic of great discussion and mystery here. Actual cause of death has been identified by propeller of a NOAA research ship. Additionally, here’s a new theory based on noise pollution and new research: Blue whales are forced to make more noise to compete with man-made noise pollution like ship sounds and sonar. More specifically: Blue whales increase their ‘singing’ to cope with noise pollution. And: Man-made noise such as ships’ engines has caused hearing loss in whales.

LOUISE GRAY, Telegraph UK, September 23, 2009

Whale-460_980418cIt has also caused other behavioural changes, including forcing the creatures to strand on beaches because they are unable to navigate.

The endangered blue whale uses sonar to navigate, locate prey, avoid predators and communicate.

However in recent years the increasing use of hi-tech sonar by ships, the noise of propellers, seismic surveys, sea-floor drilling, and low-frequency radio transmissions have made oceans noisier.

New research has shown that the whales are having to ‘chatter’ more often and for longer periods to communicate the location of prey and to mate.

Zoologist Lucia Di Iorio, of the University of Zurich, analysed the song of blue whales recorded by microphones during seismic explorations in the St Lawrence estuary off Canada’s north east coast over an eleven day period in August 2004.

“We found that blue whales called consistently more on seismic exploration days than on non-exploration days as well as during periods within a seismic survey day when the sparker was operating,” she said.

“This increase was observed for the discrete, audible calls that are emitted during social encounters and feeding.”

The study, published in Biology Letters, provides the first evidence that blue whales change their calling behaviour when exposed to sounds from seismic surveys.

“This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales. This is particularly relevant when the species is at high risk of extinction as is the blue whale,” added Dr Di Iorio.

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EMILY AVILES, Ode Magazine, October 26, 2009

mainLately, the shores of San Francisco, California have been attracting more than wet-suit clad surfers and their boards.

A site five miles off the city’s western beach is being considered for a new Oceanside Wave Energy project.

Australian energy company BioPower Systems is collaborating with the City of San Francisco to investigate wave energy generation from the Pacific Ocean.

Wave power, not to be confused with tidal power, takes advantage of energy from the actual surface waves of the ocean. People have attempted to harness this power since 1890, but with little success. However, that may change thanks to BioPower Systems application of biomimicry.

The ideas underlying the company’s novel technologies reap the full benefit of billions of years of underwater evolution. The proposed bioWAVE ocean wave power system will sway like sea plants in ocean waves. Each lightweight unit—developed for 250kW, 500kW, 1000kW capacities—will then connect to a utility-size power grid via subsea cables. It’s now predicted that the same Californian waves that propel sundry surfers could generate between 10MW and 100MW of power. That’s enough energy to power between 3,000 to 30,000 homes annually.

If this project is indeed determined feasible—and it does look hopeful—BioPower Systems and the City of San Francisco will begin to develop a way to deliver clean renewable electricity to the city’s power grid. By 2012 that “hella rad swell” could be something electrifying.

Click here to view a full animation of the bioWAVE farm in action.

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