The Blog Aquatic » Paul Hobi News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:00:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Slideshow: Yesterday’s Ocean: A History of Marine Life on California’s Central Coast Mon, 19 Aug 2013 15:00:24 +0000 Paul Hobi

Prolific underwater photographer Marc Shargel has released a new publication on California’s sea life: “Yesterday’s Ocean: A History of Marine Life on California’s Central Coast.” Using present-day images and archival photographs, this booklet tells the story of Central California’s boom-and-bust relationship with ocean fisheries over the past three centuries.

As fishermen in the past discovered, the ocean is not without its limits. In “Yesterday’s Ocean,” Shargel shows that after short, intense periods of exploitation, stocks of otters, abalone and sardines became much harder to find. As one species was depleted, another was targeted.

This pattern came to characterize many of California’s Central Coast fisheries, eventually leading to the spectacular crash of the sardine fishery in the late 1940s. The story told in “Yesterday’s Ocean” perfectly illustrates the tragedy of the commons: left unchecked, fishermen exploited species after species until each had collapsed.

Ocean Conservancy has made great strides to ensure that Pacific Ocean ecosystems receive the protection they need. In California, after years of hard work, the state finished implementing a statewide network of 124 marine protected areas in 2012.

Taking it one step further, at our urging, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council recently adopted an informal Fisheries Ecosystem Plan to manage fish stocks using ecosystem-based management. This is a critical first step in improving fisheries management in the region because the plan looks at entire ecosystems instead of just one fish at a time.

If there is one thing we can learn from the boom-and-bust cycles of the Central Coast’s fisheries, it is the time-honored lesson that those who do not learn from the past are bound to repeat it.

Fisheries managers are facing tough decisions now that will determine the future health of our local marine life, from tiny herring to giant white sharks. The history lesson found in “Yesterday’s Ocean” can serve as motivation for getting it right.

For more on “Yesterday’s Ocean,” check out this Thank You Ocean interview with Marc Shargel:

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Good News: Protecting the Ocean Pays Off Tue, 23 Apr 2013 12:29:37 +0000 Paul Hobi

Bait ball around kelp in Channel Islands

Around the world, people are discovering that protection of the ocean in coastal areas makes sense both for the environment and the economy. Marine reserves, much like the network that was just completed off of the coast of California have been highly beneficial to local economies, sometimes in as little as five years.

Evidence of these positive results was recently published by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and Ocean Conservancy Board Member, Enric Sala and seven colleagues in a study entitled, “A General Business Model for Marine Reserves.” The study shows that protecting biodiversity can create economic benefits through increased tourism, enhanced fisheries value and/or maintenance of ecosystem services.

Among the numerous findings, Sala noted that “what we showed with the modeling is that a reserve’s value can be greater than its pre-reserve value in as little as five years. So reserves not only have ecological benefits in terms of protecting biodiversity, but they are also a good business.”

Such conservation – conservation that’s good for business – should be replicated elsewhere. With that in mind, Sala proposes a general framework that can be adapted to local contexts. In his interview with Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic, Sala recommends that communities considering marine reserves should:

Ask what are the costs of a reserve, which are costs of management and opportunity cost (typically, loss of fishing revenue). Then you expect to have some increased revenue in fishing in the area in a few years and increase in tourism. So you can put together a business plan with projected cash flows.

Though Sala did not use California’s marine reserves as part of his study, similar research here has shown that reserves have benefitted both fisheries and tourism throughout the California coast. For Example, the Channel Islands’ fully protected marine reserves cover 21 percent of the Islands’ waters and were established in 2003.  Researchers found the value of tourism and recreational fishing has increased each year in the Islands since the reserves were created. Meanwhile, commercial landings for some of the largest fisheries in Islands waters – squid, urchin, lobster and crab – also increased.

Further north at the marine protected areas (MPAs) on the Central Coast, researchers found that after five years, protected areas have seen an increase in both total and average individual revenue for the region’s commercial fishermen, in conjunction with an increase in economically important species like cabezon, lingcod and black rockfish. Such increases in fishing revenue following the creation of these reserves are highly encouraging whether they can be attributed to the completion of the MPAs or not.

The tourism industry on the Central coast has seen economic benefits as well. For instance, charter boat operators conducting non-fishing activities in the region report that MPAs are having a positive impact on their businesses, through increased recreational diving and research charters.

Around the world, numerous studies of marine reserves echo the results that are being seen on the Central Coast: no-take reserves benefit protected ecosystems in terms of increased species size, density and diversity.  With these results in mind, Sala is right to say that the time has come that we “move away from the view that it is either conservation or development. Actually, we show that they go hand in hand.” Instead, we should start viewing protection of ocean ecosystems as smart for both the environment and the economy.


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Fishing for Data: How a Day on the Water is Aiding Scientific Success Thu, 28 Feb 2013 21:29:40 +0000 Paul Hobi

Credit — Kip Evans

When volunteer anglers aboard the Huli Cat bait a hook trying to catch a rockfish, they’re not just fishing – they’re helping researchers learn more about California’s underwater parks. Recreational fishermen, SCUBA divers, PhD scientists and graduate students are working together to study California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), and results from their studies are being presented this week in Monterey.

Five years ago, California completed its network of MPAs on California’s central coast. This anniversary is being marked with the State of the California Central Coast Symposium, which brings together scientists, resource managers, policy makers, fishermen and conservationists to learn about new findings from dozens of monitoring efforts and discuss perspectives on MPA management.

Early results suggest that the reserves are on track, allowing fish like cabezon and lingcod to grow larger and more abundant inside MPAs, with habitats that are more biologically productive. This, along with steadily increasing revenues for fishermen, is good news for the Central Coast MPAs. However, researchers stress that these first five years of study are meant to create a baseline: a barometer of ecological health against which future MPA performance can be measured. So, how exactly are these reserves being studied? It turns out that monitoring is both sophisticated and wonderfully simple.

One great example of this is Dr. Rick Starr’s California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP), which uses local charter fishing boats to monitor four MPAs. Volunteer anglers from the local fishing community team up with graduate students by fishing for rockfish while painstakingly recording the weight and species of every fish they catch and release. They’ve caught over 40,000 fish in the past five years, and have noted how great the fishing is by the relative abundance of some species inside the MPAs.

Another monitoring project is Reef Check, which teams PhD researchers up with citizen scientists who strap on SCUBA gear to survey shallow and deep rocky habitats, kelp forests, rocky shores, estuaries, beaches and other key ecosystems along the central coast. They monitor ecologically and economically important species of fishes and invertebrates, and human activities including fishing and recreational use.

One consistent theme in these studies is that citizens of the coast are vital to the success of the marine reserves. Volunteers have been involved in scores of monitoring and outreach projects. Citizen science efforts like MPA Watch have trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor beach and coastal use in and around protected areas like Natural Bridges and Año Nuevo.

Save Our Shores’ Dockwalker program is another great example of an organization working with coastal citizens to help the MPAs. The Dockwalker program shares information with boaters and fishermen about MPAs, and conducts ocean protection workshops in local schools. In turn, schools are making visits to the underwater parks part of their outdoor education program, because in addition to enabling kids to watch wildlife in nature, many now feature full-color educational interpretive displays and instructor programs.

From school children looking to learn more about marine life to fishermen looking to catch more fish, California’s new marine protected areas are an investment in the future. By studying them with the assistance of citizen volunteers, we are learning about the full range of benefits they provide to marine ecosystems, and becoming better stewards of these places in the process.

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California Underwater Parks Day is January 19th Thu, 17 Jan 2013 16:00:50 +0000 Paul Hobi

Credit: NOAA

The first month of the year is perhaps the best time to experience California’s ocean at its finest – which is why the 5th Annual Underwater Parks Day on Saturday, January 19th is a great reason to hit the coast and enjoy one of over 100 new underwater parks, which protect entire ecosystems at iconic coastal areas such as La Jolla, Point Reyes, and Point Lobos. To find an event near you, we’ve included a full schedule of events by region linked below.

It’s already been a busy month for California’s new underwater parks. Grey whales are traveling south along the coast to lagoons in Baja, California where they will give birth to calves. Some preemies and their mothers are already showing up off the coast of Los Angeles and San Diego, delighting whale watchers.

Further north, in Piedras Blancas and Año Nuevo State Park’s marine protected areas, male elephant seals are engaging in their spectacular, violent mating rituals, while females are giving birth to a new generation of pups. Friends of the Elephant Seal and Año Nuevo State Park docents offer guided tours of the action to visitors, who should use extreme caution and approach seals only with the assistance of a guide. Can’t make it to the beach to see the action? Check out a slideshow of mothers and their new pups at Año Nuevo.

Stewards of the state’s underwater parks have planned activities and celebrations throughout the California coast at state beaches, aquaria, and nature centers, which are perfect for kids and adults to enjoy a day surrounded by sea life and learn more about the benefits of protecting California’s prime ocean habitats. Before you head out, don’t forget to check out our tips for watching wildlife to make sure everyone (including the animals!) stay safe.

Southern California Events
(San Diego to Santa Barbara)
Central California Events (Morro Bay to Santa Cruz)
Northern California Events (San Francisco to Arcata).

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Slide Show: Exploring California’s New Underwater Parks Thu, 20 Dec 2012 20:32:00 +0000 Paul Hobi

Dive in above for a closer look at California’s recently completed statewide network of underwater parks, some of the species they protect, and the people that are enjoying them.

Over 120 new parks now dot the California coast, protecting habitat-rich areas and iconic locations like Point Reyes, La Jolla, Point Lobos, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. These parks have the potential to restore abundance to depleted areas, and ensure a healthy ocean full of fish for the future.

Read our in-depth look at the nation’s first statewide network of underwater parks here.

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Researchers Find Resilience Inside Marine Reserves Fri, 27 Jul 2012 18:12:57 +0000 Paul Hobi

After a die-off, pink abalone populations inside of the Isla Natividad marine reserve in Mexico bounced back faster than abalone outside of the marine reserve. Credit: Channel Islands NMS

An exciting new study of pink abalone in Isla Natividad, Mexico sheds light on the ability of marine reserves to make the ocean more resilient to disasters.

Scientists from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station teamed up with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad to study a patch of ocean that was hard hit by two large die-offs related to recent hypoxic events, periods of low dissolved oxygen in the water. They compared fished areas to nearby marine reserves, with startling results:

“The study revealed that after a mass mortality of marine life in the waters off Baja California, Mexico, egg production of pink abalones in the marine reserves increased 40 percent while being cut in half in fished areas…a significant amount of larvae spilled over into unprotected areas open to fishing, which helped them rebound more quickly.”

So, not only did the marine reserve help the recovery of abalone inside the reserve, it helped abalone outside the reserve as well. Marine reserves provide a refuge for species to grow larger, and more abundant.  This proved crucial to the ability of the abalone population to recover from the die-off:

“Both the large size of the protected abalones and the population density were key to resilience,” noted (Stanford Professor Fiorenza) Micheli. “Marine reserves are vital to jumpstart the recovery of species following a mass mortality.”

While scientists have recommended marine reserves to communities looking to protect future reserves of fish, their ability to help ecosystems recover from disasters has been less well understood – which makes this study truly groundbreaking.

Ocean Conservancy has successfully advocated for marine protected areas in Florida, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and California. Check out a slide show of diving opportunities inside of California’s marine protected areas.

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Momentum builds for shark conservation Tue, 03 Jul 2012 20:02:52 +0000 Paul Hobi

Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year to fuel the global fin trade, but recent developments suggest momentum is building for shark conservation. Credit: hermanusbackpackers flickr stream

This week has been full of good news for sharks. Today, the Chinese government announced a prohibition on serving shark fin soup at official state banquets. Though the ban will take up to three years to implement, it marks China’s first official proclamation against the delicacy that claims tens of millions of sharks annually.

Yesterday, Illinois became the first inland state in the US to prohibit the shark fin trade. Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and California have all recently enacted bans on the fin trade, showing that attitudes towards shark fin are quickly changing. Far from protesting this shift, Illinois’ Chinese community is embracing it:

Tony Hu, owner of five restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood…is one of many people in the restaurant industry that are in favor of the Illinois General Assembly’s move to ban the possession of shark fins. Hu only serves it at one of his five Chinatown restaurants, but has already prepared new menus that leave the dish off.

These two recent developments show a crucial shift in consciousness, coming after a string of victories for shark conservation in 2011. We will continue to keep you updated as the fight against shark finning continues.

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