Your Week in Ocean: Talking #HealthyOcean in Sactown

Jennifer Savage / Thursday, Aug. 28 @ 9:06 a.m. / Government , Ocean , Sacramento

You can’t see the ocean from Sacramento, but much of California’s coastal fate is decided there.

Under most conditions, it’s budget that dominates any and all Sacramento strategy discussions. Constraints of. Debates about. Wednesday’s Ocean Protection Council and Ocean Science Trust workshop, “Sharing Your Perspective on Envisioning California’s Ocean Health,” deviated from the theme as Natural Resources Agency Secretary (and OPC chair) John Laird made clear from the beginning. “Today we’re going to talk about priorities without regard to funding,” he explained. And talk they did. The topic at hand: How should the state of California define a “healthy ocean”?

The effort to do so is more progressive than it might seem to those uninitiated in the ways of bureaucracy. Bringing together scientists, policymakers, tribal representatives and constituents from across the state to share perspectives on legislation, regulations and enforcement represents a shift from the default of agencies working independently, sometimes redundantly and sometimes at odds. The long-term vision shared by those at the workshop includes not only a healthy ocean – definition to be determined – but also a simplified, collaborative relationship between those charged with making rules and the various people charged with carrying them out.

To that end, the workshop featured a panel boasting North Coast ocean issues leaders such as Smith River Rancheria Self Governance Director Briannon Fraley, Yurok Tribe Senior Attorney John Corbett, and Tom Weseloh, consultant for the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture from Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro‘s office. The panel also included Louise Bedsworth, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, Brendan Kelly, director of conservation and chief scientist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Linda Sheehan, executive director or the Earth Law Center.

Ocean Protection Council Executive Director Catherine Kuhlman noted in her introduction that for Californians, the ocean is the resource that “defines us as who we are.” The question at hand, she continued, is how to impel stewardship and foster resiliency.

Cat Kuhlman, OPC 

Part of the answer involves conveying science to “decisionmakers” – elected officials and others charged with telling the population how things should be done – in such a way that the threats facing the ocean can be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Or, failing swift and effective action (as in the case of climate change), agreeing on the best remaining course possible.

Sheehan, a longtime rock star of the environmental scene, illustrated current ocean protection difficulties by comparing how the visible problem of her childhood, sewage on the beaches, to the chronic, creeping problems of ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change, depletion of predators, disappearing flows in our natural waterways and other threats that build up less obviously.

Linda Sheehan, Earth Law Institute 

She pointed to the Marine Life Protection Act’s emphasis on intrinsic well-being as a potential model for success. “We’re seeing a lot of really great work being done by scientists right now to start to think across different variables, different metrics – water quality, fish populations, habitat, etc. – and try to integrate these into single signals that allow us to assess the health and well-being [of the ocean].”

Corbett emphasized the role of California tribes in creating and maintaining a healthy ocean. “Tribal management is key to achieving the goal of a healthy ocean,” he said. He brought up specific challenges for the tribes when trying to work with the state on ocean regulations.

John Corbett, Yurok Tribe 

There are nine separate agencies that have primary responsibility, then you move on to the regional groups,” he said. “It is an overwhelming task to present and give you the time.” Nonetheless, inclusion is appreciated. Another sticking point is the terminology debate, Corbett added. “Our number one fear is a fight over the science definitions of what is a ‘healty ocean’ will delay progress.”

“My presentation is going to be a little bit different,” Fraley began, “spoken from the heart, not specific to California policy.” She spoke of the “two worlds” the tribes must live in, the one they’ve inhabited since time immemorial and the newer one full of regulations at odds with the traditional way of life.

Progress has been made, Fraley said. “The MLPA gave us the opportunity to interact with several people in the room who are now friends.” For her, the key to a healthy ocean lies in education, teaching the youth the proper way to interact with the ocean. “Ocean health will fall into place,” she said, “when we’re taught to care for the ocean as individuals.” 

Briannon Fraley, Smith River Rancheria 

Kelly, who served as assistant director for polar sciences in the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy prior to his position at the aquarium, also warned of potential conflicts. Creating a “completely satisfying definition of ‘ocean health’ isn’t possible,” he said – what makes sense is to speak about the living organisms, communities and ecosystems. A danger exists in neglecting the intrinsic value, he finished, but we can’t get away from the importance of human uses.

“Who wants an unhealthy ocean?” Weseloh asked. “Raise your hand.” He paused a beat before observing the unanimous support for a healthy ocean. “It’s kind of a no-brainer… Then we really get into the question, what is it?” Familiarity with the various uses and traditions can help, but a big question – perhaps the biggest – is defining “where the ocean starts and where it stops.” A lot of the problems in the ocean stem from on-the-land issues, he said. “We have to include the health of everything.”

Additionally, Americans are importing 90 percent of our seafood. “Do we want our neck of the woods to help produce that food base or transfer those effects to elsewhere?” Weseloh discerned the lack of fishermen in attendance, suggesting that engaging people who tend to be independent and often out fishing will be helped by streamlining the multiple-agency approach to issues.

Bedworth wrapped up the presentations by explaining that a common definition can help the state meet stewardship goals.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, disagreed during public input, however. “Fishermen are not interested in discussion,” he said, but “want to see something done.” Enough laws exist, Grader continued. The problem is lack of enforcement. As far as defining a healthy ocean, “I would not get too hung up about it.” Much like the famous definition of pornography, he continued, “I know it when I see it. … Let’s get something done.”

Environmental activists in the room applauded the conversation but pressed for concrete action. California Coastkeeper Alliance Executive Director Sara Aminzadeh noted the running theme of climate change concern among panelists and how similar conversations are taking place in other state meetings and emphasized the importance – and opportunity – to integrate those discussions.

“People view the ocean as a luxury,” said Sarah Sikich, science and policy director of Coastal Resources, Heal the Bay. “If we can’t shift that thinking, we’re going to have a difficult time.”

Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay 

MPA Collaborative Implementation Project Community Coordinator Paul Hobi brought up the ongoing benefits marine protected area monitoring can provide through utilizing “folks on the ground” as communicators for providing information about what’s happening in and around the ocean to the agency staff responsible for knowing it. For example, he shared, a kayak business operator on the North Coast noticed invasive snails in the lagoons long before any state wildlife employees did –- but her efforts to share that fact fell through bureaucratic cracks.

The anecdote summed up the ultimate goals of the workshop: improving connection, collaboration, shared understanding and specific actions to ensure California has a healthy ocean, whatever that turns out to mean.

The conversation is expected to continue. Add your voice to it.

Full workshop video archive.

Jennifer Savage is the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Coastal Programs Director.


Your Week in Ocean: Oh, Buoy! Plus Our Radioactive Ocean

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, Aug. 20 @ 11:23 a.m. / Ocean

Image courtesy California Coastal Commission

Less litter!

 Let’s start local. None of us like trash on the beach. We’ve talked about this. Please be happy to know that Coastal Cleanup Day is only one month away, but you still have time to sponsor (if you are a business or organization), be a site captain (you leader-type, you!) and/or join the largest volunteer event in California by being part of a trash-collecting team (yay!).

Sponsors, email Jennifer Savage (me!) at

Captains and volunteers, email Brandon Drucker at

Image courtesy NOAA

Swell announcement

In other optimism-inspiring news, if you, like me, have despaired over the longstanding defunctness of NOAA’s National Buoy Data Center Station 46022, take heart!

Senior Meteorologist Brian Garcia reported from the National Weather Service office on Woodley Island that things are “looking good” regarding getting both the “22” and the Scripps North Spit buoy back online by the end of next week. He emphasized the tentative expectations, however, noting, “These are very weather-dependent operations, so let’s hope for light winds and low seas next week.” Here’s to that!

How ‘bout that radioactivity?

Expanding out to a West Coast-wide view, Our Radioactive Ocean’s Ken Buesseler and Colleen Durkin have been busy sharing the project’s initial success and statistics. Over 30 sampling sites have been launched from Southern California up to Alaska and including the Hawaiian islands. Here’s what the citizen-science submissions have shown so far:

Using the most sensitive methods to measure your water samples, we have detected only cesium-137, the “legacy” cesium that remains from 1960s atmospheric weapons testing. This isotope is still in all ocean basins because of its relatively long 30-year half-life, which means it takes a long time to decay away.  Levels of cesium-137 in all 43 samples analyzed thus far average 1.5 Bequerels per cubic meter of water, which is equivalent to one-and-a-half decay events per second per metric ton of water. This is a very small number if we compare it to the 7,400 Bq/m3 used by U.S. EPA as the drinking water limit, and the millions of Bq/m3 of cesium detected in the ocean off Japan in 2011 at the peak of the accident, which at that level are of considerable concern for direct negative impacts on marine biota and human health. Keep reading…

Acidification, f’reals

Regular ocean-news devourers already know our ocean is getting more acidic due to atmospheric carbon pollution – but might have missed NPR’s thought-provoking article last month discussing the potential role of marine protected areas as a way to understand and mitigate ocean acidification. Special attention is given to eelgrass beds – a focal habitat used in selecting sites for protection under the Marine Life Protection Act and found in Humboldt Bay – and how they may actually buffer and sustain our ocean resources in the face of a changing ocean climate.

Many West Coast elected officials are taking ocean acidification seriously, convening a groundbreaking panel with leadership support from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Panel is working to improve knowledge on this issue to guide better decisions for the future of our oceans. Explore the Panel’s work and vision – and find participating scientists – on the Panel’s website, created by the California Ocean Science Trust. Stay informed by signing up for the Panel newsletter.

Photo courtesy Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples

‘Release the dam water!’

In other take-this-seriously news, a coalition of tribes and other concerned citizens (including Northcoast Environmental Center staff) marched in Sacramento yesterday, demanding the Board of Reclamation take the threat of a 2014 fish kill seriously, calling for the BOR to “Free the Klamath!” and more. Good coverage via KCRA.

Get deep

Let’s circle all the way back home. Remember Humboldt State’s new submarine? Tune into Coastal Currents today at noon (KHUM 104.7 FM or to find out more about the ROV’s missions, plus additional science and fun happening at the HSU Marine Lab. 

Jennifer Savage is the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Coastal Programs Director.

Otter-ly Dead: South Spit Gets New Dead Otter

Jennifer Savage / Monday, Aug. 18 @ 8:44 a.m. / Animals , Ocean

People often confuse the river otters frolicking around Trinidad as sea otters – understandable since they’re in the ocean. Sea otters, however, have long been gone from these parts after being hunted to near extinction. The recent discovery of a (sadly) dead sea otter on the South Spit is “darn rare,” according to marine mammal biologist and whale chaser Jeff Jacobsen.

Jacobsen reported that while counting snowy plovers, Grayson Sandy noticed the otter just above the high tide line. He called Jacobsen, who rustled up HSU students David Orluck and Eloy Lopez to help him drive out and collect it.

“It’s a male, 1.5 meters long, probably from the Monterey Bay population, a wandering dude who apparently got lost and hungry,” Jacobsen said. “no obvious signs of external trauma.”

The carcass will be sent via FedEx to the California Fish and Wildlife Department specialists, who will examine and dissect it to determine cause of death. “These critters are so special only a few folk have the permit to do a necropsy,” Jacobsen noted.  The skeleton will eventually be returned for the HSU Vertebrate Museum collection.

He finished with this thought: “Put this together with the green sea turtle and the shark sightings and the Risso’s dolphin stranding and you get… coincidence, not the end-of-the-world climate change scenario, yet.”

Your Week in Ocean: Shark Week, Humboldt-Style

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, Aug. 6 @ 11:19 a.m. / Ocean , Survival

TRIGGER WARNING: If you’ve experienced a traumatic encounter with a great white, please skip past the below video.

(If you’re new to the area and considering surfing around here, please commit it – and this – to memory.)

That comes to us courtesy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, from a field trip to Guadalupe Island in Mexico – a fair preview for those of you gripped in the throes of Shark Week anticipation. Now, the Discovery Channel could do a much better job portraying these fascinating creatures than it does*, but nonetheless, I thought it was an opportune moment to review some of LoCO’s shark-related blasts from the past.


* More on what the Discovery Channel’s original goal was, how that’s changed and what’s wrong (and right) about the current Shark Week presentation here.

But let’s keep this all in perspective:




(UPDATES) Your Week in Ocean: More Dead Things, Live Things, Things to Do

Jennifer Savage / Thursday, July 31 @ 6 a.m. / Ocean

People send pictures!

Friend of LoCO Stacey emailed the photo above, particularly intrigued by the blue tag attached to the carcass. Jeff Jacobsen, our go-to guy for this sort of thing, ID’d the remains as belonging to “…some young pinniped, most likely a California sea lion. The blue plastic tie wrap on it likely is to tag it as already counted, like they do with birds for the COASST surveys.”

UPDATE: HSU prof Dawn Goley confirmed, “Yep – they are part of the protocol for the HSU Marine Mammal Stranding Program. We mark the carcasses so we don’t recount during subsequent surveys.”

Botanist extraordinaire Jen Kalt emailed, “Look what I found in Hollow Tree Creek, behind timber company gates at least five miles from the windy part of Highway 1, laying on the mossy streambank next to the rare plants we were mapping. My field partner informed me that this is Princess Sophie Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, a Disney character she is hoping her three-year-old isn’t going to identify with.”

(Do we need to point out the senseless environmental harm caused by releasing balloons into the wild blue yonder?)

Gary Lester wondered if he’d found sea turtle tracks at Crannell Beach…

… but they’re just your average ol’harbor seal tracks according to marine mammal experts. But, wait! Just after he wrote the update, Gary said, he heard about a injured green sea turtle was found in Trinidad! Sadly, attempts to save the turtle failed as it died en route to the Sausalito Marine Life Care facility.

UPDATE: HSU Marine Lab Director Brian Tissot confirmed the sea turtle story and sent a link to the Facebook photos below.


From left, Lynda Stockton from the North Coast Marine Mammal Center and Dan Hobby, Olivia Barry and Heather Clyma from The HSU Marine Lab.

People often think they’ve stumbled upon “a baby great white” when finding a dead guy like the one above. White sharks are typically at least five feet long at birth, however, and that guy is most likely a mako pup, not typically seen so close to shore here, due to the cold water, but with ocean temps bumping up to 60 degrees, that’s our guess. In less-dead shark news, check out the photo, below, Jenna Kilby snapped while kayaking out off Trinidad.

“Hey, there!” Salmon? Mako? Porbeagle? What do you think, readers?


Saturday, Aug. 2: Explore Humboldt Bay: Hike the Hikshari Trail.Free, docent-led natural history tour of the Hikshari Trail in Eureka in Spanish and English, 9:30 to 11 a.m.

Saturday, Aug. 2: Support Friends of the Dunes by visiting the Sewell Gallery, 423 F St., during Arts Alive! from 6 to 9 p.m. featuring internationally known wire sculptor Elizabeth Berrien Tuesday, Aug. 5: (Re)Debris workshop at SCRAP Humboldt, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Help build a sea creature out of trash!

Thursday, Aug. 7: Ocean Night! At Arcata Theatre Lounge, 6:30 p.m., showing Angel Azul and What the Sea Gives Me, featuring local artist Matt Beard. Get a sneak preview via KHUM’s Coastal Currents. (Bonus question: Can you guess which one is Matt Beard?)

Jennifer Savage is the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Coastal Programs Director and chairs the Humboldt chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.