Ocean Currents » california http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 George Leonard: I am a Scientist http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:26:57 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13913

As the buzz around alternative facts gets louder and research budgets are slashed, the importance of highlighting the role of science in our lives and the people behind it becomes even more important. Ocean Conservancy is proud to introduce you to our best and brightest scientists through the “I am scientist” series. We hope you will be inspired by people that have an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, a sharp mind that is dogged in its pursuit of facts and a tenacity to find solutions to tackle some of the biggest ocean challenges of our time.

In this kickoff interview, we invite you to get to know George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s Chief Scientist, who spoke to Erin Spencer.

Erin: What science experiment most fascinated you as a kid?

George:  As I kid in the 70’s, I watched every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that came out. One of the most memorable experiments for me took place in the “Sleeping Sharks of Yucatan” where 6-foot-long sharks appeared to sleep in underwater caves with no apparent water flow. Scientists knew at the time that sharks generally had to swim to stay alive. Cousteau and his crew released nontoxic dye in the water near the sharks and observed that these sharks could actually pump water across their gills where no apparent current was present. I thought it was so cool that scientists could do simple experiments like this to learn something new about how the natural undersea world worked. I was hooked by bedtime! And I vowed to get my scuba license as soon as possible, one year later at the age of 13.

Erin:  Who is your scientific hero and why?

George: Nowadays my scientific heroes are marine biologists who play an active and impactful role in society to help people understand and tackle the challenges that our ocean faces.

In many respects, Dr. Jane Lubchenco (former NOAA Administrator) is solely responsible for giving academic scientists the confidence to play leadership roles outside the classroom. She realized that coastal communities and ocean-dependent industries could benefit from a closer relationship between scientists and the people whose livelihoods depend on the very ecosystems that scientists study every day. Seventeen years ago, I worked with her to launch an effort called COMPASS. It was a novel partnership between scientists, a communication agency, a book publisher, and a public aquarium to help scientists step out of what is often called the “ivory tower.” It played a critical role in making marine science more accessible and relevant to people’s lives.

Erin: When did you decide you want to be a scientist?

George: I was always interested in math and science but it took me until I was 23, two years out of college, and working at a financial company in Boston to get to that realization. One day I was at New England Aquarium, looking up at the giant ocean tank when I whispered to myself “This is what I really want to do—I want to study the ocean, how it works, and why it matters.” I went home that night and started looking up information on graduate programs. Within a year, I had moved to California and was diving in the kelp forests off Cannery Row in Monterey, learning how these incredibly beautiful ecosystems functioned and uncovering why a healthy Monterey Bay remains so important to the coastal communities of California today.

Erin: Why, personally, does science matter to you?

George: Science is personal because I see it in nearly everything.  I am writing this from the doctor’s office, where I am picking up a prescription for antibiotics that will beat back an infection which generations ago might have killed me. I drive a car smart enough to sense an impending collision and avert disaster, an engineering marvel founded on a deep appreciation of the fundamental laws of physics. I am able to buy sustainable wild-caught fish at my local fishmonger. Its availability is a direct result of resource managers adhering to a scientifically-determined estimate of how many fish are in the sea and how many can be sustainably caught. I live in a state that is prone to natural disasters, from drought and fire to flood and landslides. Over 200,000 of my fellow residents narrowly averted disaster when flood control engineers took emergency measures to reduce water levels in the Oroville dam last month. High level math and engineering was needed to keep my neighbors safe. And I am proud to say I am part of a community of thoughtful and committed scientists across the West Coast that is working to understand how our changing climate will impact our communities, from residents high in the Sierra Nevada, to farm workers in the agricultural fields of the central valley to the fishermen and coastal residents along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Many aspects of my life wouldn’t be the same without the hard, honest, committed work of scientists. For them, I am deeply grateful.

Erin: What’s the hardest thing about choosing science as a profession?

George: Choosing a career in science isn’t easy but it can deeply rewarding. You need to have a passion for learning and applying that learning from school and through research to solve problems to make the world a better place for all of us. This takes drive, diligence and perseverance. You likely won’t get rich doing it but in many ways, you will live a life of service, which is pretty noble.

Erin: How does your science help people and communities?

George: As Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, I work with a team of experts to develop new knowledge and insights on problems that matter to the oceans and to people and use this information to develop actions that improve the ocean and people at the same time. Everything we do at Ocean Conservancy is founded on a deep understanding of science and respect for the independence of the scientific process, for if we don’t understand the problem objectively, we can’t develop solutions that will work for the long haul.  One of the best examples for me is our work on the establishment of a 1,000 mile long string of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California that is the envy of the rest of the world. Science was the foundation of this work, but it was designed to improve people’s lives too, whether they were a commercial fisherman or a recreational scuba diver. Ten years in the making, California’s MPAs are now delivering: the fish and fishermen are more abundant than ever.

Erin: What is the one thing you would tell a kid interested in science as a career?

George: Ask questions: science is a journey of discovery and the only way to learn new things is to ask questions.  If you find out asking (and answering) questions related to the natural world is fun, then science just might be a career path to you.

Erin: What is your favorite science joke?

George: There isn’t just one; there are books and books of them published by the one and only Gary Larson, who wrote The Far Side for 15 years from 1980 to 1995. You can flip to any page of his books and find yourself having laughed yourself right out of your chair. I didn’t generally think science was humorous until I came across his cartoons in the mid 1980’s when I was in college. While Gary Larson hasn’t published a Far Side cartoon for over 20 years, his work still causes scientists everywhere—including me—to laugh right alongside him.

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State and International Governments, Tribal Nations, Businesses Join Forces to Combat Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/14/state-and-international-governments-tribal-nations-businesses-join-forces-to-combat-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 21:29:21 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13504

How often have you gotten information you can really use from a friend, neighbor or family member? The kind that makes you say, “Ohhhhh…. That is SO helpful!” The key to these “aha moments” is often simply being well-connected with others having the same experience.

Yesterday a new initiative launched that will increase the number of aha moments about ways to take action on ocean acidification, raising awareness across the country and around the world of this threat at a time when it is clearly needed. The International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, organized by the Pacific Coast Collaborative and supported by Ocean Conservancy, brings together nations, including Tribal nations, states, cities, businesses and organizations from around the world to combat ocean acidification caused by increasing carbon emissions. These are immediate and critical threats to coastal economies and ocean ecosystems, but sometimes it’s not obvious where a specific community can dive in and take direct action.

California Governor Jerry Brown said at yesterday’s launch, “We’re not waiting for anyone—we’ll partner with cities, states, nations, businesses,” to take action on ocean acidification. California is a founding member of the Alliance, along with Oregon, Washington, France, Chile, the Quileute Tribe, Quinault Nation, and Suquamish Tribe, the City of Imperial Beach, California, Cross River State, Nigeria and a number of affiliate members (including Ocean Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and many others).

California Governor Jerry Brown announces the launch of the International Ocean Acidification Alliance during a recent press conference in San Diego, California

There’s a place for everyone in the Alliance—groups and governments that have already taken sustained action, and those considering how best to jump in. Alliance members will be able to exchange information on what has worked and what is known. The Alliance will work to ensure that the highest levels of political leadership understand that taking action on ocean acidification means protecting coastal communities and livelihoods. It will also advance the science of ocean acidification, take meaningful actions to reduce its causes, protect the environment and coastal communities from acidification, expand public awareness and build sustained support for taking more action to protect communities, businesses and our coastal way of life.

Conversations late in the day turned to discussing how Alliance members will put together action plans to describe how they intend to make progress. They will work together with other Alliance members to trade ideas and best practices.  The day concluded with a sense of optimism and excitement about the potential that the Alliance represents a way to link the best available science and stories from communities impacted by acidification to the highest levels of political leadership—to ensure that this issue gets the attention and resources it needs.

For more information on the Alliance, check www.oaalliance.org or email Jessie@oaalliance.org.

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4 Reasons the California Bag Ban Makes Us Smile http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/16/4-reasons-the-california-bag-ban-makes-us-smile/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/16/4-reasons-the-california-bag-ban-makes-us-smile/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2016 15:17:37 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13348

Last week was a tough one for many around the nation. The 2016 election season reached a stressful conclusion last Tuesday night and considerable uncertainty remains about where our nation is headed and what the future holds. Last week my home state of sunny California gave me something to celebrate: voters approved Proposition 67, the statewide ban on carry-out plastic bags, 52 percent to 48 percent. Here are four reasons I’m smiling over this news!

  1. California voters are setting a ‘blue’ example for the rest of the nation by speaking up for the ocean and voting for a future where the ocean is free of trash. Californians strongly said NO to effort by out-of-state plastic manufacturers to undermine the ban that had already been approved by California legislators.
  2. Environmental groups led a very successful grassroots organizing effort statewide. Amazing groups like, Californians Against Waste, the California Coastkeeper Alliance, and my local Save Our Shores paved the way to this victory and showed that people really can make a difference!
  3. Proposition 67 will help eliminate the 25 million plastic bags polluting our beaches and waterways. Plastic and marine debris—makes its way from the land to our shores and eventually the ocean—choking and entangling dolphins, endangering sea turtles, spoiling our beaches and depressing our local economies. In fact, my colleagues and I published a study earlier this year that showed that plastic bags were the most impactful consumer goods plastic item polluting the ocean.
  4. And, finally… the ban takes effect immediately—stores will no longer provide single-use plastic carry-out bags to customers across the state. If customers forget to bring their own bag to the store, they will end up paying around 10 cents for a recycled paper bag or reusable alternative. This fee structure has been shown to be extremely effective in reducing plastic pollution.

My home state continues to be a leader on a range of environmental policy, from climate change to marine protected areas. The voter’s collective decision this week to ban disposable plastic bags will go a long way to ensuring a healthy California ocean well into the future.



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Eelgrass and Ocean Acidification: California Takes Action http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/03/eelgrass-and-ocean-acidification-california-takes-action/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/03/eelgrass-and-ocean-acidification-california-takes-action/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2016 15:26:23 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12961

What do eelgrass, the California state legislature, crabbers, and Ocean Conservancy have in common? They are all part of the solution in California’s remarkable actions this past week to address the threats that ocean acidification presents to California’s healthy fisheries, marine habitat and coastal jobs.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a pair of bills that will address the concerns over ocean acidification raised by oyster growers, crabbers and others who make a living off of the ocean.

The two pieces of state legislation were crafted by Assemblymember Das Williams and Senator Bill Monning, as tailored place-based solutions to what amounts to a global problem. SB 1363 will protect and restore eelgrass habitats, increasing carbon sequestration amongst the roots of this coastal vegetation. AB 2139 will establish an ongoing task force to ensure that state decision making is informed by the latest science, identify areas of our coast that are vulnerable to ocean acidification and hypoxia, develop water quality standards to protect coastal water health, and address gaps in ocean acidification monitoring and management needs.

The elected officials and their colleagues heard from scientists’ predictions of the ever-increasing impact of ocean acidification and that species like Dungeness crab, squid and other fish upon which fishermen and seafood lovers alike depend will be harmed if it goes unchecked. At the request of the Ocean Protection Council, the California Ocean Science Trust convened the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel in 2013 to synthesize the science behind ocean acidification (and the related issue of hypoxia) and to recommend concrete policies that can address the problem in both the short and long term. This novel collaboration between OPC and OST led to a first-of-its-kind report by this multidisciplinary science panel. Released this past spring, the OAH panel puts forth a vision for how California can address ocean acidification and hypoxia, including 14 major recommendations.

Senator Monning and Assemblymember Williams authored complementary pieces of legislation, informed heavily by the panel’s recommendations. Ocean Conservancy is proud to have supported the scientific panel and the resultant legislation by Assemblymember Williams and Senator Monning, together with a large coalition of ocean champions to ensure these bills got to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Governor Brown continues to be a global role model for tackling ocean change head-on. His approval of AB 2139 and SB 1363 this session is an important first step to ensure the state has the tools necessary to fight back against climate impacts in its coastal ocean. Ocean Conservancy looks forward to working with Governor Brown and other leaders throughout the state to ensure our future ocean continues to provide the vital services upon which all Californians depend.

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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Crabbing http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/20/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-crabbing/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/20/when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-crabbing/#comments Tue, 20 Sep 2016 17:00:36 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12897

What happens when feisty, tough Dungeness crabs meet an even tougher bunch of fishermen? We’ll find out this fall in Discovery Channel’s new series, Dungeon Cove. The show highlights how the Newport, Oregon Dungeness crab fleet and the local community handle the dangers, victories and worries of the fishing season.

It’s clear that Dungeness fishing isn’t for the weak. Not only are the crabs often hard to find, hiding cleverly from fishermen or avoiding cunningly placed traps, but the working conditions are also dangerous. Simply exiting the Newport harbor is difficult at times, when wind and sea state cause waves to pile up and challenge the best helmsmen. Family members on land worry about their seagoing loved ones every day. Layer physical danger on top of economic concerns—many Dungeness fishermen are owner-operators, or essentially small business owners—and you have one tough job.

This thriving fishery currently supports communities from California to Alaska. In 2014, the fishery brought in $212 million, even though the season is short, only lasting a few months per year. Those crabbing communities were hard hit last year when a toxic bloom of Pseudonitschia algae postponed the fishery opening for one month in Oregon and Washington, but five months in California. Dungeness crab and other West Coast shellfish had feasted on these algae, and domoic acid, an algal toxin, built up in the shellfish meats. Domoic acid does not harm shellfish, but it sickens people and other marine life. The fishing season delay put crabbers on uncertain hold, straining their bank accounts and chilling their business purchases.

The fishery is recovering today, but scientists and fishermen wonder what the future will bring. Early research shows that ocean acidification, a growing challenge facing West Coast fisheries and hatcheries, could affect the Dungeness fishery in a few ways. Ocean acidification may cause Pseudonitschia to produce more domoic acid. It also may cause fewer young Dungeness crabs to survive to adulthood, or it could force them to grow more slowly. In fisheries like this, where time is money, ocean acidification could cost coastal communities dearly.

West Coast states are mounting an aggressive response, though. Members of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, including California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, have developed a Call to Action on ocean acidification that invites new signatories to commit to taking actions that improve understanding of ocean acidification in their marine waters, to mitigate causes, and to adapt to unavoidable changes. Other nations, states, tribes and organizations are encouraged to sign the Call to Action and demonstrate their own commitment to meaningful actions that address ocean acidification. Members will be a part of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, a network poised to share action plans, knowledge and expand awareness on acidification. We are hopeful that this will lead to even more widespread and urgent action on acidification.

Josh Churchman, a San Francisco Bay area crabber explained recently that Dungeness crabs, too, are “really aggressive.” They’re so aggressive that “if they were 4 feet across, nobody would go swimming. You wouldn’t go wading! They would grab you by the leg and drag you out.” Sounds like it’ll be a fair fight between the crabbers and the crabs! Join us as we tune in to watch the action in Dungeon Cove on the Discovery Channel this fall!

Learn more with our video below:

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This is How the Government is Preparing for Climate Change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/28/this-is-how-the-government-is-preparing-for-climate-change/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/28/this-is-how-the-government-is-preparing-for-climate-change/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:00:35 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12374

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) just took a huge step in preparing our ocean, fisheries and coastal communities for climate change. This type of foresight and required coordination is difficult, and hasn’t happened as often as it should in the past. The Western Regional Action Plan (WRAP) lays out why and how NFMS will develop, use, and apply science that helps West Coast fishery managers prepare for climate change.

In recent years, the California Current experienced a “climate change stress test.” Extremes such as rapidly warming waters contributed to a downturn in forage species like sardine, a northern shift of some fish stocks, and concerning mortality events for predator species like sea lions. These events are early signs of how more fundamental and permanent change will manifest themselves. Long-term changes cascade through the food web, affecting marine life as small as plankton at the base of the food chain, to top predators such as sharks. Humans are not immune; the shape of economically and culturally important fish stocks will shift (see an example from the Atlantic Ocean), and we’ll be forced to change the way we fish and eat.

The WRAP takes us further than ever before in addressing approaching ocean changes. NMFS identifies a better understanding of climate variability as critical to fulfilling their mission, and recognizes the significant impacts environmental change has on public trust resources. Ocean Conservancy, Wild Oceans, and others have asked NMFS to follow-through on their plan, and provided recommendations that will help move the plan forward. Help us thank NMFS and let them know their work matters.

According to Dr. John Stein and Dr. Cisco Werner, Directors of the Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers:

Climate variability drives the ecosystems of the California Current. Our multi-pronged WRAP approach will help us anticipate likely changes in distribution and abundance of our West Coast marine species and guide our response.  This effort complements our existing ecosystem management approaches, including NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment and Climate Vulnerability and Analysis to meet the demands for climate-related information and support NMFS and regional decisions.“ 

In implementing the WRAP, we urge NMFS to prioritize science that draws clear lines to management; science in and of itself will not prepare our fisheries and dependent communities for climate change. This process is not linear, but an iterative conversation between NMFS scientists, managers, and the public. In order to accomplish this, NMFS must also better understand the social and economic underpinnings of a healthy ecosystem. That means better incorporating humans into the way we think about ecosystem and fisheries science.

We look forward to implementation of the WRAP, and realizing a more robust ecosystem and healthy fisheries as a result. We also recognize this is just one part of a larger vision for managing our fisheries as part of a resilient and thriving California Current – more coordinated strategies are needed from NMFS as well as other federal agencies, state governments, and concerned citizens.

This blog was co-authored by Ocean Conservancy’s Corey Ridings and Wild Oceans’ Theresa Labriola.

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Update: Forage Fish Protection Begins on the West Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/04/update-forage-fish-protection-begins-on-the-west-coast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/04/update-forage-fish-protection-begins-on-the-west-coast/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 12:00:55 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12008

I have another fin-tastic update for you, from the West Coast!

If you recall, about five weeks ago I wrote in gratitude over the outpouring of support from Ocean Conservancy activists, who together with other conservation supporters sent nearly 100,000 letters to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) asking them to finalize protection for West Coast forage fish.

We said we’d get back to you on the final outcome and I’m happy to tell you about this victory! As of today, the final rule is complete and these fish will now be protected, and their immense importance to a range of predators from rockfish to whales to seabirds sustained.

The final rule will prohibit fishing for a list of 11 types of small, schooling marine species—including one that accounts for more than half of all deep-sea fish biomass—unless first reviewed and determined sustainable by federal fisheries managers.

In addition to the tremendous positive impact on the marine ecosystem, NMFS provided a big shout-out in support of the role of our activists in their decision, saying

Several letters from environmental organizations included petitions supporting the action, with signatures or comments from 91,966 people supporting the action… NMFS appreciates the broad public interest in this rulemaking and has taken the strong public support it received during the comment period into account in its approval of this final rule.

We’ll keep swimming forward to support corresponding forage protection in other West Coast areas such as California state waters, and keep you posted. Thanks again for helping make this historic conservation achievement possible!

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