Topsail beach renourishment project begins – WECT

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Reported by Lindsay Curtin bio | email

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Most people go to the beach to have fun without realizing the work it takes to keep it beautiful.

A $7.3 million project is finally underway for the town of Topsail Beach.

Over the next couple months, dredging companies will be pumping 900,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach. The extra sand will provide added protection against beach erosion and home damage in the event of a hurricane.

“It flattens out the beach, stops the wave action and slows the erosion of the beach, so it basically helps protect from beach erosion in hurricanes and offers a higher level of protection for structures,” said Topsail Town Manager Tim Holloman.

No matter how expensive the project might be, most residents agree it is worth it, considering almost all of Topsail Island sits in aFEMA declared flood zone. The project is expected to be finished at the end of March.

Copyright 2010 WECT. All rights reserved.

Endangered species’ top 10 list: Save these ecosystems

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, yesterday released a new report that identifies vital habitats in need of protection, if key endangered species are to have a chance to survive climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world’s species will be at increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5 C (3 to 5 F) above pre-industrial levels. The climate threats to species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, habitat loss, and declining food supply.

For species that are already struggling on the brink of extinction, global climate change threatens to push them over the edge, said Huta. We certainly need to reduce global warming pollution, but we also need to act now to prioritize and protect some of the most important ecosystems for imperiled wildlife. Endangered species don’t have the luxury of waiting for political leaders to act to slow the pace of climate change.

List of top 10 ecosystems to save for endangered species featured in the report:

1. Arctic sea ice, home to the polar bear, Pacific walrus and at least six species of seal

2. Shallow water coral reefs, home to the critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals

3. The Hawaiian Islands, home to more than a dozen imperiled birds, and 319 threatened and endangered plants

4. Southwest deserts, home to numerous imperiled plants, fish and mammals

5. The San Francisco Bay-Delta, home to the imperiled Pacific salmon, Swainsons hawk, tiger salamander and Delta smelt

6. California Sierra Mountains, home to 30 native amphibian species, including the Yellow-legged frog

7. The Snake River Basin, home to four imperiled runs of salmon and steelhead

8. Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to the imperiled Whitebark pine, an important food source for the threatened Grizzly bear and other animals

9. The Gulf Coasts flatlands and wetlands, home to the Piping and Snowy plovers, Mississippi sandhill crane, and numerous species of sea turtles

10. The Greater Everglades, home to 67 threatened and endangered species, including the manatee and the red cockcaded woodpecker

Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon, said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. It has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable.

Seven additional ecosystems were nominated but did not make the Top 10. They nonetheless contain important habitat for imperiled species. These ecosystems include Glacier National Park, the Jemez Mountains, Sagebrush Steppe, U.S. West Coast, the Maine Woods, the Grasslands of the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

The new report, which includes information about each ecosystem, as well as recommended conservation measures, is available online at

Scientists ranked Arctic sea ice and shallow water corals as two of the highest priority ecosystems threatened by climate change in an Endangered Species Coalition report demonstrating the urgency of saving habitat for endangered species. The report, entitled Its Getting Hot Out There: Top 10 Places to Save for Endangered Species in a Warming World was released January 5th, and examines how the changing climate is increasing extinction risk for imperiled fish, plants and wildlife.

Have your say: Is the reality of climate change still in question?

California’s Marine Life Gets New Protections

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Californias marine habitats have received a big boost from new regulations which have banned or restricted fishing across a range of about 350 square miles. The new regulations come ten years after the creation of the California Marine Life Protection Act. This law was passed because of the degradation of various marine habitats, to the point where life might not have been sustainable in those habitats. What follows is an interview about the new conservation regulations with Zack Bradford, an ocean policy analyst with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The California Fish and Game Commission recently restricted fishing in 49 areas of Californias coastal waters. Why did they do this?

The Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that have now been designated along the Central Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast regions of California are not a blanket ban on fishing; only some of these MPAs are fully-protected marine reserves where fishing is prohibited. These MPAs are designated depending on the degree of restrictions as either State Marine Reserves (SMRs), which prohibit commercial and recreational fishing; State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs), which generally allow some form of commercial or recreational take; State Marine Parks (SMPs), which may allow recreational fishing but generally do not permit commercial fishing; and State Marine Recreational Management Areas (SMRMAs), which may limit or restrict take of marine resources.

The MPAs along Californias coast were created in order to protect Californias living marine resources its fish, shellfish, kelp, and other marine life in perpetuity, not only to allow the recovery of certain fish populations, but to also protect entire ecosystems for future generations of Californians.

What species live in these now protected areas, and why do they need protection?

The number of species living in these protected areas is almost too many to count. But its not the individual species that were the driver for creating these MPAs; these MPAs were designed to protect the entire ecosystem. Thats why these areas restrict take of all marine life, not just certain species. That being said, there are a number of fish species in California, most notably many species of rockfish, that have been depleted over the years, and which will benefit from these protected areas. Setting aside areas where these fish are safe from fishing will allow populations to rebound as they will allow fish to get older and larger, and thus produce more young young which will spread to areas outside the reserves.

What are some of the worst threats to Californias marine life?

The threats facing our ocean today are almost too many to count; they include things like overfishing, coastal development, pollution, habitat damage, and of course climate change. Of these, climate change may prove to be the worst threat to Californias coastal waters and oceans around the world.

How significant is the ban, and how will it be enforced?

For the South Coast Study Region, the Marine Protected Areas cover approximately 8 percent of the regions state waters (not including the MPAs around the Channel Islands with those MPAs the total percentage is 15 percent). About 4.9 percent of state waters in the region are now no-take areas (11.7 percent with the Channel Islands MPAs). Compliance with the restrictions of each MPA will be enforced by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Sustainability of Antarctic toothfish fishery, legitimacy of Marine Stewardship Council Called into Question

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Sustainability of Antarctic toothfish fishery, legitimacy of Marine Stewardship Council called into question

By Morgan Erickson-Davis and Jeremy Hance,

January 05, 2011

Patagonian toothfish, also called Chilean sea bass. Photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In November of 2010, the Antarctic toothfish fishery was deemed sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. This certification goes against the advice of many marine scientists who claim that insufficient research has been done to determine the full impact of commercial fishing on this enigmatic species.

Topping out at 300lbs, the Antarctic toothfish is one of the biggest fish in the Southern Ocean. With its ability to produce an antifreeze glycoprotein and a heart that beats just once every six seconds, it is superbly adapted to its Southern Ocean habitat. Unfortunately, it’s also delicious.

Referred to as “white gold” by fishermen, Antarctic toothfish fetches upwards of $35 per pound on the U.S. market where it’s often called “Chilean sea bass”, even though it’s not at all related to sea bass and lives nowhere near Chile. However, even its exorbitant price can’t make up for the costs incurred by fishing vessels when they venture out into the Ross Sea, the habitat of the Antarctic toothfish and one of the few marine safehouses remaining in the world today. Unpredictable sea ice, turbulent waters, and the vast distance from port make the Antarctic toothfishery financially unviable. Yet there is a safety net for the Antarctic toothfish fishery, allowing them to supply “Chilean sea bass” for people wealthy enough to afford it and employ fishermen at “slave wages” in extremely hazardous working conditions – a sustainability certificate from the Marine Stewardship Council which will let the fishery hike up prices.

“Management of this fishery follows precautionary and ecosystem-based principles. Strict harvest control rules, annual stock assessments, mandatory observation of fishing activities and controls on gear to avoid by-catch of seabirds are just some of the practical outcomes of that approach, recognized and rewarded by this certification.” said Chris Ninnes, MSC Deputy Chief Executive, in a November statement congratulating the Antarctic toothfish fishery on its certification.

Antarctic toothfish. Courtesy of NOAA

The certification will allow a harvest of 3000 tons of toothfish per year, with a target reduction of 50 percent of total regional spawning biomass. While MSC maintains that these numbers are obtained through rigorous population analysis, many marine scientists say that they have no real basis.

“We actually know very little about the ecology of Antarctic toothfish, despite MSCs reasoning otherwise.” David Ainley, a marine ecologist who conducts research in the Antarctic, told “Because of the challenges of conducting science in the ice-choked Ross Sea, we know only vaguely where or when these fish spawn (sometime in winter, and maybe around the sea mounts well north of the Ross Sea), have no idea about natural mortality, a cursory idea of what predators eat them at the early stages, etc. We do know, though, that larger fish are important to sperm whales, killer whales and seals.”

“The lack of insight about what is really going on is the most true for the Antarctic toothfish, which lives in a really harsh area making fishery science difficult at best, and in which all model inputs are educated guesses, i.e. drawn from inputs for fish species elsewhere in other systems. As the head of fishery science for NZs NIWA (John McCoy) recently said in a public speech, fishery science is based on guesses and more and more these days more fish species become fished with fewer and fewer data.”

Ainley explains that the management of many fisheries operate on the belief that removing large fish is good for a population because it encourages the growth of smaller fish, when actually it’s the largest, oldest females that produce the most eggs. This is especially true for long-lived species like the Antarctic toothfish which doesn’t spawn until 16 and can live 50 years. Even agencies which know better may not enforce a policy requiring the release of large fish. In the tuna industry, meat quality significantly increases with size, giving a fish over 100lbs a possibly market value in the many thousands of dollars. Since many captains and crew members work on commission, it would be difficult, perhaps even dangerous, to enforce the release of fish which could make or break a fishing trip.

As Ainley sees it, it’s all about the money.

“The Ross Sea toothfish longline certification cost the industry (paid by the NZ government) $77,000 for the certification.” he says, “The consulting firms that do the certifications live on these fees; there is no way that theyll be turning anyone down and thus lose market share to other consulting firms.”

In addition to its ecological impact, the toothfish industry threatens the lives of many fishermen who brave the huge swells and unpredictable weather of the Southern Ocean.

In December, 22 people were killed when the South Korean trawler Insung No. 1 sank in New Zealand waters while pursuing the Antarctic toothfish. The men were paid very little, $200 to $1030 for up to three months of intense, physical labor aboard the vessel.

The pursuit of the Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea can be even more hazardous.

“These are dangerous, ice-covered seas 2500km from nearest port.” says Ainley, ” In the past few years theres been at least one vessel sinking (S Korea), two having to return to port prematurely owing to cracked hulls or other difficulty (NZ), and another that required the US Air Force to airlift, and drop, engine parts for a disabled vessel (UK).”

Many scientists and conservation organizations say that in order to stop unsustainable fishing, consumer habits need to be changed.

“I would recommend that consumers, if they want to make ecologically wise choices, go by the recommendations of Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Marine Aquarium. Those people have no financial interests at stake in what they recommend and are keenly interested in protecting the oceans, and the ecofriendly consumers.”

Deep-sea coral reefs off Fla. coast a new frontier for marine scientists

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

In the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast, at 1,500 feet and deeper, the water is 45 degrees and pitch-black. Yet life thrives there.

Scientists are just beginning to explore this vast secret of the deep sea: extensive coral reefs and the marine creatures that live there because of them.

A scientific mission last month explored more than 800 square miles of ocean, from Jacksonville to the Keys, confirming the existence of several deep-water reefs and charting new sites. One of the scientists involved in the study of the deep-water coral reefs is John Reed of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce.

Like the corals found in shallow, tropical reefs, deep-sea corals help form habitat for crabs, shrimp, fish and other marine life. Growing from the seafloor, the corals have produced massive cliffs through the centuries as new generations of coral grow atop the old.

Scientists already know that deep-water corals attract commercially important fish, offering protection for the young and places to reproduce for sea bass, snapper, porgy and rock shrimp.

Unlike the easily accessible tropical coral reefs, however, these deeper corals have many unknowns. Scientists suspect massive mounds of the corals are still undiscovered and that the habitats are vital to the overall health of marine life. Exactly what role the reefs play for the survival of fish populations and the benefit of people is unknown.

There are a few tantalizing possibilities, though. Early studies indicate that some species found only on deep-sea coral reefs have possible medical uses. A unique sponge, for example, is being used in cancer-treatment studies.

But first, researchers are still trying to answer basic questions such as: What is down there? And what lives there?

“With every expedition, every time we dive, we find more and more coral,” said Steve Ross, a University of North Carolina-Wilmington professor and the expedition’s chief scientist. “These coral reefs are extremely diverse and abundant and widely distributed.”

Research about the deep reefs off the Southeastern U.S. started in earnest only a decade ago, but the reefs are already federally protected. Officials declared more than 23,000 square miles of ocean off-limits to bottom trawling, a fishing practice that has destroyed similar reef systems off the European coast.

Only one commercial-fishing group, a small outfit that catches golden crab, continues to trap the crustacean among the deep-sea corals, and it works with federal managers to limit the impact on the reefs.

For scientists, just reaching the reefs is a big obstacle because the corals thrive in depths of 1,300 feet to 3,200 feet, well beyond diving range for humans.

This year’s expeditions depended on the Jason II, a 9,000-pound, remotely operated vehicle from the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Equipped with several cameras and robotic arms to collect samples, the Jason II was dispatched to the ocean floor for days at a time, exploring seven key reefs.

Carrying the vehicle, 56 researchers and crew for the 15-day expedition was the Ronald H. Brown, the largest ship of the fleet for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s coral-reef-conservation program sponsored the trip, which included researchers from seven academic and scientific organizations.

Ross and Andrew David, a research-fishery biologist with NOAA Fisheries, said the Jason II proved invaluable in helping scientists advance their research into the corals.

“Sonar had suggested there was more coral, and we were able to confirm that,” David said. “There are several ongoing studies trying to age the corals using radioactive-carbon dating, which suggests some of these reefs are 2,000 years old.”

Reed, of Harbor Branch, is continuing some studies of a unique sponge with compounds that have shown promise in fighting pancreatic cancer.

“One might ask the basic question of ‘Who cares what is living in the deep ocean a mile down?’ but there are many reasons why that we are just beginning to understand,” David said.

This year’s research will help federal managers refine the protected area and include some of the new reefs that were discovered, Ross said.

But with many hours of video and other data collected, and with rare samples taken from the reef, Ross said some of the greatest insights are yet to come.

“It may be years before the data can be analyzed and some of the big picture comes out,” Ross said. “But it’s so difficult to study these reefs that every cruise we can take, we learn a lot.”

Opening US Areas for Oil More Lucrative Than Taxes, Group Say

January 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

Opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to oil exploration would generate more revenue for the U.S. than increasing taxes on the energy industry, a trade group said.

Offshore production from areas closed to development would generate $149 billion for government through 2025, while higher taxes would cut output and reduce employment and investment, trimming revenue by $128 billion, the American Petroleum Institute said today in a report.

The Obama administration last year excluded the waters west of Florida and the Atlantic coast south of Delaware from
drilling after BP Plcs well ruptured in the Gulf of Mexico. These areas hold about 7.6 billion barrels of oil, according to API, which represents more than 450 energy companies.

Our leaders must pursue a thoughtful, common-sense energy agenda that promotes U.S. job creation, economic growth and energy security, the Washington-based group said in the report. We encourage policy makers to increase energy production.

Among APIs members are the largest U.S. oil companies, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

The National Wildlife Federation, based in Reston, Virginia, and the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy said regions such as Floridas Gulf Coast or Alaska have qualities that should preclude them from being exposed to an oil-drilling catastrophe such as BPs spill, which spewed crude for 87 days and closed a third of the Gulf to fishing.

Drill or Import

Our nation will require more oil and natural gas for decades to come, API President Jack Gerard said today at a conference in Washington. A lot of it will come from deep-sea wells. And if it doesn’t come from here, then well import it.

Opening the eastern Gulf, Atlantic coastline, the Rocky Mountains and Alaska to more drilling would create 160,000 jobs by 2030, according to API.

The American people sent a message last November, Gerard said. They want lawmakers focused on an agenda that promotes growth. And they want job creation at the forefront.

API failed to note the growing U.S. supplies of natural gas from shale developments, billionaire oil investor T. Boone Pickens said today in an e-mailed statement. Natural gas should be used to reduce the nations dependence on imported diesel, Pickens said.

This is, after all, a group that includes and represents foreign oil companies, Pickens said about API. No one should be fooled by this report.

API members include London-based BP and the U.S. subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, the worlds largest state-owned oil company.

Climate-Change Rules

The trade group, which also represents oil refineries, said Congress should take a thoughtful and balanced approach to climate-change polices, rather than proceeding with Environmental Protection Agency rules. The EPA began regulating carbon-dioxide pollution from electric power plants and refineries on Jan. 2.

The oil and gas industries spent over $135 million on lobbying and campaign contributions last year, Jeremy Symons, National Wildlife Federation senior vice president for conservation and education, said in an e-mail. Now theyre clearly sending a message to Congress that its time to cash in.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Katarzyna Klimasinska in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Larry Liebert at

The BP Oil Spill’s Long-Term Threat to Bluefin Tuna

December 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Toxic Spills

Bluefin tuna

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most pressing questions was how the environmental disaster would affect the area’s other major industry: fishing, and in particular, the highly prized bluefin tuna.

In the short term, Gulf fishing was crippled, as thousands of square miles were immediately closed. But even after some of these areas reopened, scientists and fishermen alike worried about the long-term effect of contamination on the area’s bountiful aquatic life. Recently, evidence has emerged to suggest that the oil spill may have an impact far beyond the Gulf, threatening one of the world’s most lucrative fishing species.

The controversy surrounds dispersants, the chemical compounds that BP (BP) used to break up the spilled oil. Basically a form of detergent, dispersants make it possible for oil to interact with water, transforming huge oil slicks into microscopic droplets that could seemingly disappear into the Gulf. In theory, at least, this would make it easier for bacteria and weather to further break down the oil, allowing it to dissolve into the environment.

Ignoring a Key Issue?

When BP began using dispersants, many environmentalists fretted that the compounds might harm the area’s fragile ecosystem. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a two-pronged study to measure the toxicity of various dispersants. Their ultimate conclusion was that the eight dispersants tested — including Corexit 9500A, the main compound used in the Gulf — were generally less toxic than crude oil. What’s more, the EPA detected little or no increase in toxicity when dispersants were combined with oil. That is, the action of breaking down an oil slick generally did not add more toxins to the Gulf.

According to Peter Hodson, an aquatic toxicologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the EPA study ignored a key issue. While dispersants don’t increase the toxicity of petroleum, they can vastly increase the chances that a fish will interact with oil, and that the oil’s toxicity will affect sea life.

“After all,” Hodson points out, “Oil toxicity isn’t an issue until fish are exposed to it. Unfortunately, as minuscule dispersed oil droplets combine with water, the volume of the oil spill vastly expands. This can increase the risk to fish by 100- to 1,000-fold.”

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

One of the big problems, Hodson notes, is a matter of perspective. While oil dispersants make a spill disappear from the water’s surface, they don’t actually make it go away. For people, who naturally view a spill from above the surface of the water, it’s easy to see the effect of oil on birds, people and beaches, but harder to see the effect on fishes and other underwater organisms. That effect that may be increased as dispersants cause oil to combine with the water instead of float on the surface.

Hodson emphasizes that “This can lead to a blind approach when assessing risk, a process that is already difficult in an oil spill. If you are convinced that dispersants are not an issue because they aren’t more toxic than oil, then a lot less attention will be paid to what’s under the water, and we’re a lot more likely to endanger aquatic resources.”

This is particularly problematic for the Gulf’s sea life, especially eggs and embryos, which, Hodson says, “can’t move out of the way of oil.” Consequently, they’re likely to absorb dispersed oil and the chemicals that it releases. To make things worse, Hodson continues, “embryos and baby fish have thin skins, which makes them more susceptible to chemical contamination. This can lead to ‘teratogenic effects,’ or deformities.”

Bluefin Tuna in the Crosshairs

For the most part, attention has focused on the oysters and shrimp for which the Gulf is known. However, its waters are also home to a wide variety of sea life, including northern bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish species in the world. The tuna, which conservationists claim is on track to become an endangered species, spawns in only two areas: the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

While many fish may die because of the contamination, an even bigger problem may be the long-term impact on bluefin breeding. Hodson notes that “petroleum contamination could cause embryos to develop deformities, which can make it impossible for the young fish to grow old enough to reproduce.” This, in turn, could leave a major hole in breeding populations over the next few years.

To make things worse, bluefin tuna is already experiencing major problems. Exceedingly popular for sushi, the price of bluefin has skyrocketed over the past few years: In January 2010, a 510-pound bluefin tuna sold in Tokyo’s fish market for $175,000. With prices like that, fishermen are eager to reel in the fish.

Hammered at Both Ends

Fearing the bluefin’s extinction, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna set a 2010 quota of 13,500 tons, a 38% drop from 2009. In some regard, however, the ICCAT’s quota is largely irrelevant: Because of poaching and overfishing, the actual annual tuna yield is likely closer to 60,000 tons.

With so much money on the line, the pressure is tremendous to keep the bluefin tuna industry chugging along. Last month, fishing advocates successfully tabled a European Union plan to radically cut quotas aimed at allowing bluefin stocks to recover. Meanwhile, U.N. attempts to scale back or limit the industry have been blocked by several countries, notably Japan, which has lobbied aggressively to keep fishing quotas high.

Unfortunately, it will likely be years before scientists can fully measure the impact of the BP spill on the fish. During the initial cleanup efforts, it was impossible to directly observe the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil on bluefin tuna embryos, though Hodson emphasizes that the long-term effect will be a decline in breeding stocks.

However, he warns, with overfishing threatening older bluefin tuna and oil contamination threatening embryos, humans are “hammering the bluefin population at both ends,” a process that is likely to lead to a devastating conclusion.

Tagged: bluefin tuna, bluefin-tuna-sushi, Deepwater Horizon, deepwater horizon oil spill, deepwater horizon spill, endangered, endangered animals, endangered species, endangered-species, EndangeredAnimals, extinct species

Commission approves creation of ocean reserves, fishing limits

December 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

At the end of a long process called momentous, unprecedented and tortuous, a state commission Wednesday narrowly approved the creation of ocean habitat reserves where fishing will be limited, including nearly 20 square miles off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to approve 36 marine protected areas in coastal waters along a region that stretches from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the Mexico border.

The closures are expected to go into effect the middle of next year.

“This is truly a historic day for California,” said Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica-based advocacy group Heal the Bay.

The commission vote, which came after five hours of public comment and debate at a Santa Barbara meeting attended by hundreds, finalized a plan that has been called a compromise between fishing and environmental interests.

“The best negotiation is where neither party comes away happy, and that is the proposal you have before you today,” Stefanie Sekich of the Surfrider Foundation told the commission.

The plan – labeled the “integrated preferred alternative” because it combined elements of three plans drafted over dozens of meetings – limits or halts fishing in about 16.5 percent of the so-called South Coast region.

The vote brings to a conclusion a process that began in summer of 2008 to implement the 11-year-old Marine Life Protection Act, or MLPA, which calls for the creation of a

science-based, statewide network of ocean preserves. The goal is to protect marine ecosystems and sustain and rebuild fish stocks.

Meetings with more than 60 stakeholders sometimes pitted environmentalists who wanted strong protections for the best habitat against fisherman who often wanted to maintain access to those same productive waters. The stakeholders drew and re-drew the boundaries of the proposed reserves, sometimes arguing over just a few hundred feet of beachfront.


California is the third of five regions along the state’s 1,100-mile coastline that have undergone the process. Still awaiting completion are the North Coast and San Francisco Bay regions.

The most densely populated and heavily used of the five regions, Southern California has proved especially contentious for state officials overseeing the MLPA initiative, which was funded largely by private foundations.

Locally, the plan protects about 15 square miles of ocean southwest of Point Vicente, where fishing will be completely prohibited.

In an adjacent conservation area of about 5 square miles at Abalone Cove, “take” of marine life will be allowed by only some fishing methods. The Abalone Cove conservation area would replace a much smaller, existing state marine park.

The vote leaves open to fishing some of the most pristine and bounteous waters in Southern California – the Rocky Point area of the northern Palos Verdes Peninsula, which was the subject of a passionate tug-of-war won between local fishermen and environmental groups.

Featuring cold, deep canyons, kelp forests and a productive fish nursery, Rocky Point is popular with sportfishing boats coming from the Redondo Beach harbor and with local recreational fishermen.

The plan before the commission omitted Rocky Point after the Blue Ribbon Task Force – the initial gatekeeper for this process – instead chose to give greater protection to Point Dume in Malibu. The trade-off was made because of concern about the economic impact on local fishing businesses.

Multiple reserves and conservation areas on Catalina Island were also approved, as were fishing closures in Santa Barbara County, Laguna Beach and the San Diego area.

Overall, many fishermen remained staunchly opposed to the initiative, which they said was flawed from the start. Some were critical both of the science that was used to craft the protected-area boundaries and of peer-reviewed studies that have shown the efficacy of closures in improving fish stocks.

“Proponents of the MLPA will have you believe that California marine resources are in dire straits. … This is simply untrue,” said George Osborn, who was representing the Partnership for Sustainable Oceans, a fishing group formed to respond to the process. “There is not one marine fish stock experiencing overfishing in California’s waters.”

Osborn and attorneys representing the fishing group said the process had not been transparent or public enough. They referred to documents – obtained through a public records lawsuit – that they said showed members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force had held private meetings.

Commissioner Richard Rogers responded later to the skepticism about the science by saying that the debate should have long since moved on. As for the possibility of a legal challenge, he was similarly defiant.

“In my world, you hear something like that and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘bring it,'” Rogers said.

Rogers was joined by Commissioners Michael Sutton and Jack Baylis, a former Heal the Bay board member, in supporting the marine protected areas. The majority vote was to approve an environmental review of the plan, as well as new regulatory language that state wardens will enforce.

Sutton, a staunch supporter of the MLPA, compared the new marine reserves to existing terrestrial parks that hunters have supported.

“You don’t have to be a wildlife biologist to see that if we protect essential habitat, wildlife populations tend to do pretty well,” Sutton said.

Commissioners Jim Kellogg and Dan Richards opposed the plan. Both cited the financial impacts to fishing businesses, particularly during troubled economic times, as well as the lack of state funds to implement marine protected areas.

Find out more

Two state marine conservation areas have been approved for local waters. A complete map of the closures is at

In the 15.1-square-mile Point Vicente area, no fishing will be permitted.

In the neighboring 4.8-square-mile Abalone Cove area, some fishing will be allowed: recreational take of pelagic finfish, white seabass by spearfishing only, and market squid by hand-held dip net; and commercial take of coastal pelagic species and Pacific bonito by round haul net, and swordfish by harpoon.

Outside CancĂșn climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

December 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Global Warming, Protecting Habitats

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

This summers extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancn, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are bleaching, a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures.

The last major bleaching, in 2005, resulted in the death of 40 percent of corals in parts of eastern Caribbean. When full results are in, this year is likely to be worse, scientists said.

When we average out the net bleaching events and severity across the Caribbean basin, 2010 (and more than likely 2011) will go down in the record books as having the most severe bleaching and coral mortality in over 20 years, says Rick MacPherson, conservation programs director of the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL).

Coral feels heat

Under normal conditions, algae live symbiotically within the coral, giving it color and providing it with a source of food. But under stress, the coral expels the algae, leaving it whitened, or bleached. The longer the coral remains bleached, the more likely it is to die, according to marine biologists.

Following a hot summer the fourth hottest on record for the US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) nearly the entire Caribbean was at risk for bleaching. While some bleaching occurs every year, this year stands out.

Temperatures are high in the Caribbean, and we expect this to continue. This season has the potential to be one of the worst bleaching seasons for some reefs, Mark Eakin, coordinator of NOAAs Coral Reef Watch, said in a statement in late September.

The phenomenon is not confined to the Caribbean. Coral reefs in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean are experiencing their worst bleaching since 1998. Scientists expect similar results for the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Reefs worth $375 billion a year

The environmental and economic impacts are potentially enormous.

Coral covers less than 1 percent of the ocean floor but provides habitat and supports as much as 25 percent of all marine life. Coral reefs are home to more than 1 million aquatic species. And barrier reefs knock down waves before they reach shore, cutting down on the rate of coastal erosion, according to coral reef conservation groups.

Beach Cleanups Phase Out Plastic Bag Usage

October 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats

by Nichole Richez

Many clean up organizations are setting wonderful examples and really getting with the program by considering their contribution to the planet’s pollution and waste problem in the materials they use for cleanups. San Diego’s Surfrider Foundation Chapter has posted on their site a new policy for cleanups (from

PLASTIC BAGS PHASED OUT AT BEACH CLEANUPS. In an effort to send less extra stuff to the landfill we are asking that beach cleanup volunteers bring their own reusable bucket, reusable bag or a bag(s) from home that you would throw out anyway. Also, please bring work or garden gloves to use rather then then latex/disposable ones if possible. We will continue to have gloves and a small supply of bags on hand until we can fully get the word out and look to provide reusable supplies in the future.

To help out at an already coordinated cleanup, all you have to do is show up. For all beach cleanups, please wear comfortable clothes, closed toed shoes and sunscreen. Bring gardening or work gloves if you have them. If not, we would be happy to provide you with latex gloves if needed. We also provide the bags, hand sanitizer and other essentials for cleaning up trash. (Feel free to bring you own reusable bag, used bag or bucket to help limit what ends up at the garbage dump.)

While this may seem like a no brainer for some of us purists, most cleanup efforts involve using plastic bags, latex gloves, bottled water for refreshment, among other now becoming-taboo polluting products. One might have noticed this on TV watching the BP oil spill cleanup efforts in the gulf: teams of volunteers scooping up tarball-tainted sand into very large clear plastic bags, which could only hold a small amount and be easily carried. So after a few scoops, bam!, time for a new one. I couldn’t help but ask how much pertroleum was being wasted by the use of so much plastics during cleanup and that maybe there was a better solution given the scope and breadth of this disaster.

So, evidently others are getting the idea. The California Coastal Commission’s Coastal Clean Up Day advertised “BYO for CCD” and fruther stated on their website (

For example, in 2009, Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers used more than 130,000 plastic bags and 135,000 plastic gloves during Coastal Cleanup Day. Countless cleanup sites held barbeques, lunches or snacks for volunteers, and many of these generated additional packaging and food-related waste. Thousands of volunteers drove cars to their cleanup sites around the state.

The Coastal Commission is committed to reducing the environmental footprint of Coastal Cleanup Day, but we need your help to do so! Please join our efforts this year by turning out to the Cleanup with a “Bring Your Own” philosophy.

The Kailua Beach Clean Up Day ( further stated that their event was “followed by a low-impact potluck.” Taking the green and sustainability movement all the way is the way to go, in our daily life, in our activism and clean up efforts and in the actions of our organizations. Kudos to those pushing forward the next step in our evolution of responsible living.

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