Questions of International Flow

Cross-border challenges and protection for the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR)

After storm events, the Tijuana River, which flows along the US-Mexico border, carries trash downstream, depositing it along the river bed as the river dries. Although several collection basins at the bottom of the Tijuana River catch most debris and sediment, containing it from flowing into the Estuary and the ocean, the basins must be cleared periodically by TRNERR, which creates an enormous cost burden.

After storm events, the Tijuana River, which flows along the US-Mexico border, carries trash downstream. Some trash is deposited along the river bed as the river dries (above). The rest flows into several collection basins at the bottom of the Tijuana River. Although the basins catch most debris and excess sediment, containing it from entering the Reserve and the ocean, the basins must be periodically cleared, and the waste trucked off-site, which creates an enormous cost burden for TRNERR. And not all trash gets stopped.

The Tijuana River Valley, winding along the US-Mexico border south of San Diego, California, is a verdant plain scattered with fluffy swaths of willows and sprawling ranches. Past the edges of development, the plain opens onto a wide marsh – the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR), an unexpected spot of calm tucked amid the chaos of development and civilization encroaching from all sides. But despite the urban growth sprawling south from San Diego, and north to the border fence from Tijuana, TRNERR enjoys a protection status that keeps it open and undeveloped, as one of the last remaining intact estuarine systems in California.

The collection basins at the bottom of the Tijuana River are currently mostly clear of debris, but after major storm events they fill up with trash and sediment washing down from upstream urban areas, and must be cleared periodically by TRNERR.

The collection basins at the bottom of the Tijuana River are currently clear of debris, but after major storm events they fill with trash and sediment from upstream urban areas, and must be cleared by TRNERR.

TRNERR was founded in 1981 as part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). This country-wide system of 28 coastal and Great Lakes estuarine reserves is a federal-state partnership, in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collaborates with state agencies to manage each reserve. TRNERR is jointly operated by the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the cities of San Diego and Imperial Beach, San Diego County and the U.S. Navy providing additional resources and protection. The site was also designated a “Wetland of International Importance” by the International Ramsar Convention of 2005, bringing it global recognition as a vital natural ecosystem.

The US-Mexico border zone provides a buffer to help shield the TRNERR from urban expansion on all sides, but the effects of booming development still make their way into the Reserve, in the form of increased debris, sediment and pollution run-off. Above, the border fence curves along the mesas, with Tijuana visible in the background.

The US-Mexico border zone provides a buffer to help shield TRNERR from urban expansion on all sides, but the effects of booming development still make their way into the Reserve, in the form of increased debris, sediment and pollution run-off. Above, the border fence curves along the mesas, with Tijuana visible in the background.

TRNERR’s unique position along an international border presents it with challenges beyond its own ecology and surroundings. Booming urban development in and around Tijuana has driven increasing levels of sediment and trash run-off into the Tijuana River. One of the main problems is the amount of sediment and loose debris that washes down the Tijuana River after large rain events. Although two large catchment basins near the bottom of the river capture most of this excess sediment and debris, preventing it from flooding the reserve and clogging natural habitats, TRNERR must invest in costly removal and transport measures to keep the basins from overflowing. Dr. Jeff Crooks, the TRNERR manager, notes that because most of the Tijuana River watershed is in Mexico, where skyrocketing development and paving frees sediment and increases surface run-off, the Reserve must work across borders and socio-economic barriers to deal with sewage problems and high levels of debris flowing down the river and into the estuary.

Map of San Diego, CA (upper left) and Tijuana, Mexico (lower right), with the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve outlined in red (center). The inset map shows the region's location in California.

Map of San Diego, CA (upper left) and Tijuana, Mexico (lower right), with the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve outlined in red (center). The inset map shows the region’s location in California.

TRNERR also conducts in-depth monitoring, in order to track the system’s health and study its functionality. The Reserve’s diverse habitats and long history of protection make it an important source of long-term information on marshland ecology, as well as a reference site for other local estuarine restoration projects.

And although TRNERR is the largest intact estuarine-marsh system remaining in Southern California, and enjoys coveted protection status, it still faces threats from sea level rise and climate change. Additional effects of climate change could soon make themselves felt in estuaries around the U.S., although researchers aren’t yet certain how these systems will respond to ocean-related climate effects (the South Slough Estuarine Reserve in Oregon, a NERRS sister to TRNERR, has observed increasing pH levels from 2002-2010, and no strong correlations between estuarine pH and nearshore ocean pH trends, although its estuarine-scale processes still aren’t clearly understood). Regardless, coastal and estuarine ecosystems will likely feel the effects of multiple stressors in coming years, so understanding current baseline levels and fluxes can cue us into these changes. A little extra breathing room from long-term national protection doesn’t hurt, either

Although surrounded on all sides by urban development, TRNERR still provides much open space for walking, bird-watching and research. The Reserve is a combination of mudflats, shoregrass and high marsh transition zones.

Although surrounded by urban development, TRNERR still provides much open space for walking, bird-watching and research. The Reserve is a combination of mudflats, shoregrass and high marsh transition zones.

In addition to its status as a valuable estuarine system, TRNERR is also a beautiful recreation area open to the public, and includes Border Field State Park. Although vehicle access roads can be closed after heavy rains, there are ample trails for hiking, bird-watching (we spotted a roadrunner and red-tailed hawks on our visit there!) and horseback riding, as well as access to California’s beautiful southernmost beach.

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Thank you very much to Jeff Crooks, manager of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, for an insightful, information-packed and unique tour of TRNERR! 

Tracking Ocean Acidification down the West Coast

Lines of grey, barrel-shaped buoys (left) and black, spherical buoys (right) provide flotation for underwater support structures that house growing oysters and mussels at the Carlsbad Aquafarm in North San Diego County, CA

Lines of grey, barrel-shaped buoys (left) and black, spherical buoys (right) provide flotation for underwater support structures that house growing oysters and mussels at the Carlsbad Aquafarm in North San Diego County, CA

As a Californian, I had only heard snippets about ocean acidification (OA) before I started my Sea Grant Fellowship. Unlike the Mississippi River Delta, California isn’t infamous for large hypoxic “dead zones” created by agricultural nutrient run-off. And unlike Washington and Oregon, California isn’t known worldwide for its oyster hatcheries and shellfish farms, which have been heavily impacted by OA in the last several years. In fact, I didn’t know shellfish farms existed in Southern California until I visited the Carlsbad Aquafarm, which is located just north of San Diego.

Carlsbad Aquafarm is a low-key shellfish operation tucked into the same lagoon that houses the Carlsbad Nuclear Power Plant, right across the road from North San Diego County’s beautiful beaches. But the single-story sheds, and neat rows of unassuming black and grey buoys suspending underwater growth structures stretched across the lagoon, belie the fact that the farm sustains an impressive shellfish business, with 0.5-1 million oysters alone currently growing in the water.

(left) Growing tanks house green abalone, one of the numerous shellfish species produced by Carlsbad Aquafarm. (right) A fully-grown green abalone (Haliotis fulgens)

(left) Growing tanks house green abalone, one of the numerous shellfish species produced by Carlsbad Aquafarm. (right) A fully-grown green abalone (Haliotis fulgens)

Carlsbad Aquafarm, started in 1990, raises oysters, mussels, clams, abalone, scallops and seaweed to sell to Southern California farmer’s markets and wholesale seafood dealers, such as Santa Monica Seafood. Although several other shellfish aquafarms exist throughout California, including Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales Bay and the emerging Catalina Sea Ranch (which so far only grows mussels) off Huntington Beach, Carlsbad Aquafarm is currently Southern California’s only multi-species shellfish aquaculture farm.

One of my Fellowship mentor organizations, SCCOOS, is currently working with Professors Burke Hales (Oregon State University), and Todd Martz (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), to install a new partial/total CO2 (pCO2/TCO2) sensor at the Carlsbad Aquafarm. Monitoring the waters off Southern California will provide important ocean baseline comparisons for the low-pH, OA events that our northern neighbors are experiencing, as well as a general picture of how the southern part of the California Current Ecosystem is changing over time. It will also allow Carlsbad Aquafarm to track potential future OA events in its own waters, as the West Coast continues to be impacted by increasing global CO2 emissions and decreasing pH levels.

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Ocean acidification events, and associated shellfish hatchery larvae die-offs, have been a growing problem in Washington and Oregon for the past several years. The British Columbia-based hatchery Island Scallops, which represents about 16 percent of British Columbia’s shellfish production, recently closed its processing plant and laid off a third of its workers because it couldn’t sustain production levels in the face of the deleterious effects that  increasingly low-pH waters were having on its shellfish. Because of the immediacy and substantial, far-reaching economic impacts of OA events on these hatcheries, Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia have implemented extensive systems of pH/pCO2 monitoring sensors to detect these events in real-time, in order to proactively protect shellfish stocks.

In addition to shellfish, the Carlsbad Aquafarm grows several species of algae to sell for fish food and human consumption.

In addition to shellfish, the Carlsbad Aquafarm grows several species of algae to sell for fish food and human consumption.

So far, California, and especially Southern California, has experienced fewer noticeable low-pH events than have its northern neighbors. This is partly because Oregon and Washington have experienced stronger wind-driven upwelling of low-pH waters, and partly because California has a smaller-scale shellfish industry than do Oregon and Washington, so potential OA events haven’t been as urgent of a concern. And although Carlsbad Aquafarm has been unaffected overall by OA influences so far, the growers have noticed mussels sloughing off their byssal threads (the proteinaceous biomaterials that they produce to attach themselves to rocks, chains or other substrates) more during periodic lower-pH influxes, a phenomenon that has also been noted by recent research studies.

The West Coast is predicted to face continued decreases in ocean pH levels in coming decades. Models even estimate that by the year 2050, aragonite saturation levels will be permanently below those that can sustain healthy shellfish growth. So California must be as prepared as the rest of the west coast, and begin monitoring now in order to mitigate and avoid harmful effects in the future.

Thank you to Dennis Peterson, head aquaculturist at the Carlsbad Aquafarm, for a fascinating and informative tour!

Seas of Trash – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A sampling of the types of plastic trash scattered around the oceans. One of the challenges of plastic debris is that it is continuously breaking down into smaller pieces, leaching toxic chemicals to ocean and making large-scale clean-ups very difficult.

A sampling of the types of plastic trash scattered around the oceans. One of the challenges of plastic debris is that it is continuously breaking down into smaller pieces, leaching toxic chemicals to ocean and making large-scale clean-ups very difficult (Image courtesy of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program).

One of the first questions people ask me when they hear that I’m working with marine debris (“ocean trash”) is What’s up with that giant garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific? The question is understandable, given the evocative name – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – coined for the floating debris congregating in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Descriptions such as “an island of garbage the size of Texas” convey the idea of a giant conglomeration of plastic bottles, cast-off fishing nets, tennis shoes, food wrappers and other worthless treasures, with a couple of palm trees rooted on top.

The truth is actually (and maybe unfortunately) rather different. Instead of a clump of trash sitting on the ocean surface, easily identifiable and perhaps even scoopable and removable, the trash in the North Pacific often floats slightly below the ocean surface in miniscule pieces that are constantly breaking down into even smaller bits (You may have heard of “nurdles”, the term scientists use to describe the tiny bits of plastic that have broken down from larger plastic sources, or have been released directly from products such as face wash cleansing beads). Although we don’t know the exact extent of plastic in the world’s oceans, the debris doesn’t sit as a separate entity from the surrounding water – it has made its way into the very ecosystem.There’s no “one-scoop-cleans-all” for ocean trash.

This map shows the locations of two “Garbage Patches” in the North Pacific Ocean, as well as an emerging confluence of debris along the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Although ocean debris is described as “an island of trash the size of Texas”, the problem is actually much more dispersed throughout the North Pacific (image courtesy of the NOAA Marine Debris “Garbage Patches” poster)

This map shows the locations of two “Garbage Patches” in the North Pacific Ocean, as well as an emerging confluence of debris along the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Although ocean debris is described as “an island of trash the size of Texas”, the problem is actually much more dispersed throughout the North Pacific (image courtesy of this NOAA Marine Debris “Garbage Patches” poster)

An additional caveat is that there are actually multiple “Garbage Patches” in the North Pacific. While the congregation in the Eastern North Pacific is probably the most well-known marine debris field to people in the U.S., there are at least two other congregations, one in the Western North Pacific off the coast of Japan, and another along the Subtropical Convergence Zone (STCZ). The STCZ, a band of the North Pacific at approximately 35ºN latitude, produces high chlorophyll concentrations, making it a popular feeding and migration track for marine life, and increasing the risk of plastic ingestion.

So why should we care about whether plastics are flowing into the oceans? Most people I talk to agree that we can no longer treat our oceans as black-hole dumping grounds that will magically absorb our waste. Among other things, plastics never fully degrade and disappear (that’s the whole point – the material was developed to be light but hardy). As plastics swirl their way into the oceans, fish, birds, turtles and whales ingest them, suffering serious health problems and often death. But in addition to bringing harm to marine life through ingestion, plastic breakdown in the ocean may be leaching dangerous chemicals back into the marine environment, as this recent LA Times article on the “Plastisphere” reports.

Hundreds of feet of abandoned fishing net washed up on the Pacific side of Baja California in July 2007. Abandoned fishing nets are often called “ghost nets” because after they have broken loose from fishing boats, they continue to wander the ocean, trapping and killing marine organisms as unintentional bycatch.

Hundreds of feet of abandoned fishing net washed up on the Pacific side of Baja California in July 2007. Abandoned fishing nets are often called “ghost nets” because after they have broken loose from fishing boats, they continue to wander the ocean, trapping and killing marine organisms as unintentional bycatch.

Cleaning up the oceans is an enormous challenge. Monitoring beaches for trash is an important step, and is an area where I am working to tie in oceanographic data, to help managers determine how water flow may move trash along the shore. The more we can catch debris on the beach (or better yet, before it reaches the beach), the less waste we will have to try to sift out of the oceans later. But all of us who work with marine debris acknowledge that trash monitoring and cleanup isn’t the long-term solution.

In order to reduce debris going into the oceans, we must reduce our single-use consumption in the first place. Non-profit agencies (CA Coastal Conservancy, Heal the Bay and 5 Gyres, to name a few in California) and West Coast state governors are working together and making hopeful strides toward reducing plastic production, starting with the promise of a California state-wide plastic bag ban. It all comes back to on-the-ground actions by consumers, though, especially through reducing plastic use in the first place.

So invest in a safe reusable water bottle, coffee mug and grocery bags, and make a conscious effort to bring them with you wherever you go. Soon you won’t think of leaving the house without them! Consider supporting local and state-wide movements to ban plastic bags, and speak up in your local stores about reducing excessive plastic wrapping.

And if you see trash lying around, pick it up. Even if it’s only a temporary solution, it’s a tangible step toward breaking the chain of plastics migrating to the sea.

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Thank you to the NOAA Marine Debris Program website for providing excellent information on the North Pacific Garbage Problem. For terrific information on the extent of garbage concentration areas in the North Pacific, see this excellent NOAA Marine Debris information sheet).

A New Porthole to the Oceans

The WCODP aims to be a link of continuity between the numerous "fronds" of oceanographic data collected along the West Coast.

The WCODP aims to link the numerous “fronds” of oceanographic data collected along the West Coast.

As someone working extensively with ocean-related data sets, I’m thrilled to announce the launch of a new West Coast marine data website, the WCGA West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP)! The Portal aims to aggregate the highest-quality West Coast ocean-related data available, to enable researchers, policymakers, coastal managers and community members to more easily find sources and information relevant to their marine data needs.

The front page (above) of the West Coast Ocean Data Portal is designed to provide easy access to various categories of marine-related data.

The front page (above) of the West Coast Ocean Data Portal is designed to provide easy access to various categories of marine-related dataThe WCODP provides a unique level of data access, in that it covers information at a West Coast-wide scale, as well as across a range of data types, human use, and physical and biological oceanography.

The WCODP aggregates marine-related data from several state-based data portals along the West Coast, including the California Coastal Geoportal, which provides comprehensive access to data ranging from public safety and state health to education and natural resources; and the Oregon Coastal Atlas and the Washington State Coastal Atlas, both of which provide various mapped ocean and coastal datasets for their respective states. The WCODP also compiles additional resources from federal agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, among others. This approach attempts to mirror the extent of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME), the physical ocean current and corresponding biology that function offshore along California, Oregon, Washington. The WCODP so far boasts nearly 200 resources covering human use, biological, and physical ocean-related data.

My fellowship work will take advantage of the Portal space as the discovery venue for data inventories that I create or update. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my main fellowship goals is to update the West Coast OOS Ocean Acidification (OA) Assets Inventory to reflect current monitoring assets. As we reframe the OA Assets Inventory to become a real-time assets portal, we hope to use the WCODP site to make it more widely available as a source of OA monitoring information.

The Portal will also soon present a map-viewer feature, in collaboration with data from the WCGA Marine Debris Database. This map-viewer will allow enhanced visualization of marine debris data. One of my other main projects will be to contribute oceanographic data layers (surface currents, winds, wave movements) to this map viewer, and to the Portal in general.

Although the Portal was launched last week, it continues to accumulate sources and expand its categories and issues. If you have an idea of a data source or category that you think should be included in the Portal, feel free to leave a comment on this blog, or to contact the Portal manager, Todd Hallenbeck (Todd.r.hallenbeck@westcoastoceans.org) directly. Help us expand this Portal to be the most comprehensive west coast data aggregation possible!

Chasing Waves and Navigating West Coast Ocean Policy

    Greetings from a new face on the team! My name is Laura Lilly and I am thrilled to have been selected as one of the 2013-2014 California Sea Grant Fellows! I recently began a one-year fellowship through the California Sea Grant Program, in which I will be working with the west coast regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) and the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health (WCGA). Throughout my fellowship, I will be blogging about these experiences and our combined progress, as an opportunity to reflect on the work I am doing and the ways in which it may help our marine ecosystems.

Setting my course - I’m ready to dive into my Sea Grant Fellowship work and navigate the seas of west coast marine policy and ocean data integration!

Setting course – I’m ready to dive into my Sea Grant Fellowship work and navigate the seas of west coast marine policy and ocean data integration!

My fellowship entails tying the extensive oceanographic data collected by the three OOS Regional Associations (NANOOS, CeNCOOS and SCCOOS) into globally-relevant issues of marine debris and ocean acidification. Marine debris and ocean acidification are growing problems along the U.S. west coast, as shellfish industries suffer from the effects of increasingly acidic upwelled waters, and more land-based debris washes into the oceans and is scattered by current movements. State, local and nonprofit agencies have been working together to reduce these on-going issues, but they are realizing the importance of better understanding how ocean processes interact with and affect marine debris and ocean acidification.

Tracking the Ocean's Current Movements - Example CORDC HF Radar current tracking data that we plan to analyze for correlations with marine debris movements (Photo courtesy of SCCOOS HF Radar Program).

Tracking the ocean’s current movements – Example CORDC HF Radar current tracking data that we plan to analyze for correlations with marine debris movements (Photo courtesy of SCCOOS HF Radar Program).

The OOS RAs collect and compile various oceanographic data parameters for their respective regions. These datasets include high-frequency (HF) radar tracks of surface currents, modeled and real-time wind data, and in situ physical and biological measurements collected via moored point stations, cruise tracks and autonomous gliders. I am working with west coast marine managers to determine their specific oceanographic needs, and to map and connect these ocean data parameters where relevant.

On the marine debris front, I am working with the WCGA Marine Debris Action Coordination Team to determine available marine debris data, and how oceanographic parameters affect debris movements. I am exploring surface currents data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Coastal Observing Regional and Development Center (CORDC), and wind data tracked by SCCOOS, CeNCOOS and the Naval Research Laboratory, to determine best options for data tie-ins. We hope to eventually correlate marine debris movements with both oceanographic and freshwater flows, to determine land-based debris sources and to create forecasts of marine debris beach landings. These efforts will allow managers to more effectively plan beach cleanups, and to target and reduce land-based debris sources.

Taking Inventory - West Coast Ocean Observing Systems (OOS) Regional Associations Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, compiled August 2012. Part of my work aims to update this inventory to include all current west coast OA monitoring assets (inventory available here).

Taking Inventory – West Coast Ocean Observing Systems (OOS) Regional Associations Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, compiled August 2012. Part of my work aims to update this inventory to include all current west coast OA monitoring assets (inventory available here).

My work with ocean acidification (OA) has involved re-assessing the Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory, first initiated by the California Current Acidification Network (C-CAN) and compiled by the west coast OOS RAs in August 2012. The OA Assets Inventory maps and tracks all west coast OA monitoring methods. While I still don’t know exactly how and where I will be tying oceanographic data into the larger picture of OA monitoring and management, I am beginning to assess the oceanographic data needs of OA managers, so that I can eventually provide them with access to data that will help inform their decisions.

           I am thrilled to begin both of these projects, and look forward to developing further connections with stakeholders within the marine debris, OA and oceanographic communities!

Megabytes, Megawatts, and Megaphones – A Fellows Reflection on CMSP

As the days come to a close on my WCGA Sea Grant fellowship, I am a little teary eyed looking back on two exciting and intense years with the Oregon Governor’s Natural Resource Office and the Oregon Dept. of Land Conservation and Development, Coastal Management Program. It’s been a long strange trip with many curves and bumps in the road, to be sure, but through my ring side seats for Oregon’s marine spatial planning process, I ultimately learned what I came here to learn; the circuitous process by which science and information translates to policy and decision making.

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The author enjoying the Monterey Bay aboard the majestic 16′ Hobie Cat “La Pescadita”

I arrived in Oregon fresh out of graduate school at Cal State Monterey Bay, where I studied seafloor mapping and benthic ecology. Working at the scale of grains of sand was really interesting and I learned a lot about how fish and invertebrates use soft sediments, but I wanted to look at a bigger landscape; policy development and ocean planning. I caught glimpses of the mythic world of policy through the California Marine Life Protection Act, but I wanted to experience the whole complicated thing, and the WCGA fellowship seemed to be the perfect way to do it.  

I was really fortunate to arrive in Oregon when I did. They were just beginning a marine spatial planning process for wave energy and were looking for recruits (i.e. fresh blood) to help record and synthesize public comment and help with GIS work. I was stoked! It meant I got to go to every stakeholder meeting on the coast and see how all these competing interests were being addressed. Hearing all their stories helped me realize that, regardless of their background, everyone was coming to the table with a passion to see the ocean protected and healthy (They just wanted to go about it in different ways.) 

A huge part of the marine spatial planning process was the use of decision support tools (DST) to help engage stakeholders and provide accurate spatial data to decision makers. Simply enabling stakeholders to view and analyze data in meetings provided a common foundation that everyone understood. It allowed individuals to investigate prospective areas for development and feel engaged in the process. That’s not to say that everyone agreed with the data or the plan. Oh goodness, no! But seeing the maps and hearing concerns enabled advisory groups and policy makers to refine their information to better reflect realities on the ground. This two way dialogue was critical to the successful adoption of the plan.

OregonMarineMap

Oregon MarineMap: The decision support tool used it the Oregon Territorial Sea Planning process. My, it’s a busy ocean!

Recognizing the utility of these tools, and wanting to apply them at the regional scale, led me to the other big aspect of my fellowship. The creation and development of a regional framework for increasing access to ocean and coastal data to better inform regional coastal management, policy development, and ocean planning. It started as an idea, echoed by West Coast stakeholders, cobbled together from funding proposals, strengthened by a unanimous vote of need at the National Marine Spatial Planning workshop in Washington DC (see post: Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now), and formalized at a workshop the WCGA held in December of 2011. There seemed to be no question that the need existed, but the question was how to go about developing such a system in an era of tough budget cuts. In recognition of this reality, we decided that it would be best to invest in low tech solutions to better connect and support the existing state and federal systems in place. But we needed a group to lead this effort…

The Regional Data Framework ACT was formed to guide the development of the human and technical networks, and in their voluntary efforts, I see the same passion for smart ocean management that guided stakeholders in the Oregon MSP process. The work is just beginning with many foundational steps to be laid, but I hope that in the next year we will be poised to make contributions to pressing West Coast ocean health issues such as adaptation to sea level rise, understanding patterns of ocean acidification, and tracking patterns of marine debris. The ACT just released their formal work plan guiding their work over the next 3-5 years; you should read it here and let them know what you think.

My fellowship has been tremendously rewarding; from experiencing firsthand the struggles and triumphs of working with stakeholders in a marine spatial planning process to learning about the latest GIS technologies, it provided me with all the opportunities I could ask for (and then some). Two years was a perfect amount of time to get my bearings, survey the landscape, and figure out what I wanted to accomplish with the fellowship but now I am ready to move on and apply the things I’ve learned. I am fortunate to be continuing work with the RDF ACT as they move into the next critical phase of their work, and maintain the relationships I’ve developed over the past two years. If it weren’t for the good natured group of fellows, mentors, and colleagues the fellowship would have felt overly daunting at times, many thanks to this group for their support and advice.

Oregon Coastal Managment Program: "Field work" on the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Oregon Coastal Managment Program: “Field work” on the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

I hope that in the future the WCGA will offer similar fellowships to young people interested in how science and policy interact on the coastlines of the West Coast. It’s not always easy or pretty, but it’s a good lesson for the next generation of marine scientists and policy makers that will not be forgotten.

California’s Marine Life Protection Act

Late last summer I went backpacking with three other Sea Grant fellows through 20 miles of Desolation Wilderness just south west of Lake Tahoe in California.  Desolation Wilderness is a federally protected wilderness area full of beautiful alpine lakes, towering trees, and desolate expanses of granite.  We started on the Pacific Crest Trail from Echo Lake, meandered past Aloha Lake, and camped between La Conte and Aloha our first night.  Despite the massive blisters on my feet, the next day we headed out past Heather Lake and up to Gilmore Lake where we gladly ditched our packs and hiked up to Mt Tallac (elev 9,700’) for an incredibly picturesque view of Lake Tahoe and surrounding smaller lakes.

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Photos from our backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness. All photos taken by Johanna Weston

To me, the ability to walk out into the woods and get a little lost in federally protected areas is an incredible privilege and something I might consider a right that every citizen of the US has to these pristine areas.  I’m incredibly grateful for the Wilderness Act of 1964 that established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which allows Congress to designate areas to be “administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness” by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service.  Though I may never be able to afford beautiful lakeside property, in a way, through the Wilderness Act I’ll always be a sort of co-owner of an amazing expanse of wilderness areas.  And I’m perfectly happy to hike many miles into these areas and carry what I need on my back to experience a little peace and quiet.

 

While reflecting on my “co-ownership” of national forests, I started to think about the oceans and whether we have a parallel system in the marine environment.  Of course there is the National Marine Sanctuary System, and I was fortunate to grow up near Monterey Bay next to the beautiful Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary established in 1992 and expanded in 2009.  The National Marine Sanctuaries Act in 1972 was a great step forward to protect coastal areas by allowing the Secretary of Commerce “to designate and protect areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational, or esthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries”.  Some states have begun to establish networks of Marine Reserves along their coasts, which goes a step or two further in protecting marine resources.

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Photo of kayakers enjoying the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (taken from bluewaterventures)

In 1999, California passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)  to design and manage an improved network of marine protected areas off California’s coast through a process that involved stakeholder engagement and the best available science. California was divided into four regions: south coast, central coast, north central coast, and north coast.  Just a few months ago in December, the north coast reserves went in to effect and the California Marine Life Protection Act process ended its planning phase and moved into implementation.  Approving the final series of marine reserves may seem like a small thing, but to those who have been through the process from the beginning over a decade ago this is a momumentous moment in California’s own mini Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) process to establish a network of marine reserves along the entire CA coast. 

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Map of the marine reserves established along the central coast of California through the MLPA process

 

Preservation of these terrestrial and marine ecosystems through marine santuaries, marine reserves, national forests, and national wilderness areas sets aside large swaths of land and ocean to be enjoyed by many generations into the future. The goals and objectives of the two types of protected areas are slightly different, but knowing there are places in the world  set aside for the protection of species and wildlife is reassuring.  I think the folks who created Desolation Wilderness in 1899 would be pleased that a group of three girls could venture into the wilderness over a century later with nothing but the packs on their backs to explore and enjoy this national wilderness.  Marine reserves  and National Sanctuaries similarly preserve a wealth of ecosystem services as well as areas for people to enjoy for years to come.  So, I encourage you to go out and explore these areas be it carefully walking through the intertidal to see the animals and algae living in tidepools, kayaking across the surface, SCUBA diving through the kelp forest, or just lazing on the beach.