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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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9 Great California Coastal Birding Sites

Posted On September 16, 2013 by

This article originally appeared at Audubonmagazine.org.

Whether novice or expert, birdwatchers in California delight in the avian abundance along the state’s coast. California also boasts the nation’s only statewide network of marine protected areas, providing not only gorgeous places to seek out a stunning diversity of birds but insurance that their most important breeding and feeding grounds have extra protection.

Below is a list of the top bird-watching spots at these “ocean parks,” plus highlights. Additionally, there is information about visiting, plus a link to where you can learn more.

1. Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area

Crescent City
Viewing site, interpretive panel on Pebble Beach Drive, just south of Point St. George

Originally inhabited by the Tolowa Dee-ni’, California’s northernmost coast boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the state and is dotted with Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. A wide range of bird species live and migrate around nearby Lake Earl, and the profusion continues at sea, where exposed rocks and underwater ledges make up the St. George Reef. Reaching the protected area requires a boat, but visitors can experience similar conditions from the safety of the shoreline just south of the point, where Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge sits.

The refuge is a modest 14 acres, yet it supports several hundred thousand seabirds each year. Take a spotting scope to Pebble Drive from February to mid-April to catch the dawn fly-off of Aleutian cackling geese. Observe one of the largest breeding populations—100,000—of common murres making their nests along the island’s cliffs. Castle Rock is also home to three species of cormorants, pigeon guillemots, Cassin’s and rhinoceros auklets, Leach’s and fork-tailed storm-petrels, and tufted puffins.

More info: fws.gov/humboldtbay/castlerock.html

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A Season of Hope for Progress on Ocean Acidification

Posted On September 5, 2013 by

Harvesting oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company in Marshall, California

Photo: Kathleen Hennessy / Ocean Conservancy

Fall is upon us, and with it comes a new season, new beginnings and new opportunities. The saying “hope springs eternal” evokes an entirely different season, but this autumn I’m feeling particularly excited and optimistic—and it has nothing to do with football. Great things are happening on ocean acidification, and this is an issue that I’m always happy to have something good to talk about.

Just last week, California announced a groundbreaking science panel comprised of world-class scientists from California, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Long a leader on environmental issues, California is taking a page from Washington state’s excellent playbook in tackling ocean acidification at the state and local level.

State efforts to address this issue are essential. Ocean acidification is a global ocean health problem, caused by our increasing carbon emissions from factories, cars and power plants being absorbed by the ocean—but its impacts are local. Ocean acidification is putting American jobs and livelihoods at risk.

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Slideshow: Yesterday’s Ocean: A History of Marine Life on California’s Central Coast

Posted On August 19, 2013 by

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.

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When Facing Ocean Acidification it’s Location, Location, Location

Posted On March 7, 2013 by

© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All RIghts Reserved

For us landlubbers, it is obvious that place matters.  My home town in central California is a pretty different place than say, Washington DC, where I often travel to advocate on behalf of ocean conservation.  The weather is different, the food is different, and the culture – not to mention the politics – is certainly different.

It turns out that place really matters in the ocean too, especially as it relates to ocean acidification.  Never heard of ocean acidification?  Check out some of my earlier posts to learn more about the basics.  But what we learned from scientists last week is that the chemical characteristics of the ocean vary greatly from place to place, and as a result some areas may be especially sensitive to increases in carbon dioxide and other drivers of acidification.  A team of oceanographers led by Dr. Aleck Wang sampled seawater from Texas to New Hampshire and measured the total amount of carbon in the water as well as what scientists call “alkalinity.” The ratio of alkalinity to total carbon is a measure of the buffering capacity of the ocean, or in layman’s terms, the ocean’s ability to resist acidification. What the scientists found was that the Gulf of Maine is much more susceptible to acidification than the Gulf of Mexico or the southeastern coast.  Continue reading »

Fishing for Data: How a Day on the Water is Aiding Scientific Success

Posted On February 28, 2013 by

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.

Protecting Fish is Good for Business: How a Florida Study Bodes Well for California

Posted On February 11, 2013 by

A school of blue tang — NOAA

According to NOAA’s new study on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, protecting fish is in everyone’s best interest.

The 151-square nautical mile reserve was established in 2001 to protect overfished species. According to Science Daily, the protections have boosted fish populations, with bigger and more abundant yellowtail, mutton snapper and black and red grouper appearing within the reserve. These results are consistent with findings marine reserves around the world, which find again and again that the size, abundance and diversity of marine life increase inside fully protected marine reserves.

The biggest news for resource managers, however, is the socioeconomic implications. The new study finds that commercial catches of reef fish in the region have increased along with the fish population increases, and that neither commercial nor recreational fishermen have experienced financial loss as a result of the reserve.

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California Underwater Parks Day is January 19th

Posted On January 17, 2013 by

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. Continue reading »