The Science-Policy Intersect: Ocean Acidification and Marine Debris

Climate change-driven shifts in ocean conditions and growing coastal populations are two of the many factors raising uncertainty in coastal and marine resource management.  Fortunately, there is a growing understanding of the opportunity to improve policies and decisions on these issues by drawing on and infusing scientific data into policy and management decisions in order to promote healthy coastal economies and ecosystems. My graduate degree research focused on this intersection between science and policy and how to imbue scientific data into the policy process. In my past few months with the Governor’s Natural Resources Office I have seen two regionally focused efforts in the eastern Pacific Ocean that speak directly to this interface.

The first of these is the establishment of a West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel (OAH Panel). The OAH Panel, consisting of 20 esteemed scientists representing California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, was tasked with advancing decision makers’ understanding of drivers and impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia. Ocean acidification poses a particular threat to the west coastal waters of the United States and Canada, where naturally upwelling waters bring deep water with a low pH to the surface, where it mixes with low pH waters caused by atmospheric deposition of carbon dioxide.  Successive upwelling events also increase the occurrence of seasonally hypoxic (low oxygen) areas of the ocean. Acknowledging the specific threat that ocean acidification and hypoxia bring to the west coast, the OAH Panel is intended to identify the research and monitoring needed to answer practical questions faced by policy makers and managers about ocean acidification and hypoxia. While biological impacts have been seen from ocean acidification and hypoxia, there are still many questions to answer for the purpose of decision making. On my very first day on the job, I was fortunate to attend a meeting between Oregon natural resource agency managers and Oregon-based OAH Panel scientists convened to set an agenda for ways to advance science-informed decision making in Oregon waters. They agreed to work collaboratively to develop accurate and accessible outreach materials to inform policy makers and the public, establish ongoing information sharing and coordination forums on OAH, and identify ways to ensure the science products being developed by the OAH Panel are used by decision makers.

The second effort endeavoring to infuse scientific data into policy and management practices in the eastern Pacific Ocean is the West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP).  The WCODP is a project of the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health that provides access to ocean and coastal data to inform regional resource management, policy development, and ocean planning. I was able to help at the WCODP’s annual Network meeting in early November to unveil a new feature of the Portal that creates a geographic visual of data, specifically data relating to marine debris. This new feature, the Data Viewer, provides coastal decision makers with a tool to track marine debris and help prioritize clean ups and advocate for policies to reduce the impact of trash on our beaches. As the WCODP charts its strategic plan moving forward, it seeks to continue to be a rich data resource and tool to visualize and map that information, so that ocean and coastal managers can make sound decisions to improve ocean health.

Both of these efforts have established a significant opportunity to sustain and continue to build cross-sector cooperation between decision making and scientific sectors on the west coast. The state is thus poised to more efficiently and effectively protect and preserve the ocean’s critical natural resources. Both the scientific community and decision making community are working to improve ocean health.  Combining forces is helping scientists ask the questions managers need to answer to understand how ecosystem services that people value will be affected, and what steps people might take to try to mitigate and adapt to those changes on the west coast now and in the future.

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Coming Full-Circle with the West Coast Ocean Observing Systems

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One of the perks of working in the offices of SCCOOS and CDIP was getting out on the water to help with CDIP wave buoy deployments.

When I was accepted to the California Sea Grant State Fellowship program last November, I couldn’t keep the names of my mentor organizations straight. I knew that I’d be working with four agencies (possibly more!) along the West Coast to analyze oceanographic data in the context of marine debris and ocean acidification. The job sounded fabulous, but I didn’t really have any idea whom I’d be working for.

Twelve months later, I can rattle off the names of my host agencies in one confident breath (try saying ‘Ocean Observing System’ three times fast, with several geographic and governmental qualifiers thrown in, and you get the idea). Because my position is based at the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (that’s SCCOOS) in beautiful La Jolla, CA, I have been able to observe many of the day-to-day workings of the oceanographic data collection that SCCOOS employs. SCCOOS is well-known for the array of real-time ocean observing platforms that it has created and maintains. My lunch break ocean views are framed by a Coastal Observing Research and Development Center (CORDC) high-frequency radar (HFR) station that measures real-time surface currents, and the door of my office is marked by a yellow Waverider buoy used by the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) to monitor wave conditions. Both the HFR surface currents and the CDIP wave and sea surface temperature datasets have formed core components of my product development. Best of all, when I have a question, I can simply walk next door to check in with the people who collect the data.

CORDC HF Radar stations (left) and CDIP wave buoys (right) are both based at SCCOOS, allowing me to fully understand the whole process of data collection and manipulation.

CORDC HF Radar stations (left) and CDIP wave buoys (right) are both based at SCCOOS, allowing me to learn about the whole process of data collection and quality control, in addition to using the data to create time-averaged oceanographic products.

A large part of my fellowship involves working with data and agencies outside of Southern California. While the West Coast OOS Regional Associations (RAs) are all housed under the national Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) network, and share data across geographic boundaries, each RA has its own focus within coastal oceanography and ocean health monitoring. My fellowship has helped me explore these nuances, giving me a better understanding of the variety of coastal environments and marine-related issues around the U.S.

One of the Fellowship side projects that I developed this summer was plotting sea surface temperature (SST) and significant wave height (Hs) along the West Coast.

One of my Fellowship side projects has been to plot sea surface temperature (SST, above) and significant wave height (Hs) along the West Coast.

This spring, I had the opportunity to visit another of my host OOSs, the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS), along with several of their partner organizations. CeNCOOS is based at the edge of the world-renowned Monterey Bay and Monterey Submarine Canyon, giving it the ideal position to work with a host of academic collaborators, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), UC Santa Cruz, the CSU Moss Landing Marine Lab, Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the Naval Research Laboratory. During my visit, I attended a Marine Debris Symposium hosted by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), and presented a poster on my Fellowship work connecting Ocean Observing System data to marine debris. The Symposium gave me the opportunity to learn about marine debris cleanup and reduction efforts around California, and connected me with people interested in using the data products I have created. Seeing potential applications for these products motivated me to solve several tricky coding problems to improve my products.

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(Top) In August, I visited several shellfish farms in Oregon and Washington. Jen McWhorter (far left), the SCCOOS Public Relations and Government Outreach Coordinator, and Jen Rhoades (middle left), the IOOS Pacific Region Coordnator, joined me on the tours. Dave Steele (middle right), the owner of Rock Point Oyster Farms, generously organized our tours. (Bottom) I also visited Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, one of the first hatcheries to realize that low-pH waters have been causing problems in shellfish development in recent years (photos courtesy of Jen McWhorter).

In August, I had a wonderful trip to Oregon and Washington to visit my third OOS host, the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), and its stakeholders. In recent years, NANOOS has collaborated closely with shellfish farmers in the Pacific Northwest to help monitor, understand and highlight the detrimental effects of increasing ocean acidification on shellfish growth and survival. During my visit, I toured several shellfish farms to hear how they benefit from collaborations with NANOOS. One aspect of my fellowship has involved updating the West Coast Ocean Acidification Assets Inventory (a list of West Coast OA monitoring equipment and stations), which is being incorporated into the new IOOS Pacific Region OA Portal. Learning firsthand about the impacts of OA on larval growth and shell formation added value and context to the extensive lists of monitoring assets and data that I had been working with.

I also attended several WCGA meetings throughout the year, to help me understand West Coast ocean policy and how my fellowship could contribute meaningful data to West Coast ocean partnerships. I have had the chance to help plan this year’s West Coast Ocean Data Network Meeting, which focused on unveiling the West Coast Ocean Data Portal and associated datasets and connections developed this year, including the WCGA-OOS partnerships that I have helped work on during my Fellowship.

My California Sea Grant Fellowship has been an incredible growth experience. Wrangling Pythons (coding scripts) and refining my knowledge of West Coast oceanography and ocean organization acronyms has helped me realize that integrated, policy-applicable oceanographic work is what I want to do in the future. I will miss working at the incredible Scripps Institution of Oceanography, but will be taking time to travel and pursue my land- and ocean-based interests, including horse polo, bird-watching, tall-boat sailing and SCUBA diving. I will be checking the CDIP wave forecasts religiously as I attempt to learn to surf, and will remain vigilant in my quest to pick up every scrap of beach trash and to educate fellow grocery-shoppers about the environmental benefits of reusable bags. I hope to dive back into the world of oceanography soon, via a Ph.D. program or related work. Maybe someday, I’ll find my way back to the Ocean Observing Systems.

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Sweeping up California’s plastic bags

Plastic bags are easily incorporated into natural systems, and often end up in the ocean, where they can cause substantial harm to wildlife. California's statewide plastic bag ban is a step toward reducing that cycle (photo courtesy of Surfrider Foundation).

Plastic bags often end up in rivers and oceans, where they can cause substantial harm to wildlife. California’s statewide plastic bag ban is a step toward reducing this problem (photo courtesy of Surfrider Foundation).

If you’re an environmentalist, California may be the ideal place to live. Not only is the state filled with extensive and diverse natural wonders, but California has traditionally been at the forefront of environmental conservation movements. Despite this tendency, it has taken years of failed legislation, and much work-around and energy from local organizations, for California to finally pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The bill (SB270), which was introduced earlier this year by Senator Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, was passed by the Senate on Aug. 29 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Sept. 30.

The ban didn’t come out of the blue. California, for all its environmental leanings, uses approximately 13 billion single-use plastic bags every year. Numerous cities and counties have passed local plastic bag bans in recent years. San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban bags when it enacted a law in April 2007. Malibu, Manhattan Beach and Fairfax followed suit within the next year, and by 2014, 88 California municipalities have been covered by plastic bag bans (the most recent was Davis, which banned plastic bags last October, effective this past July). Plastic bags, along with other plastic debris, are cluttering urban areas and natural ecosystems around the world, and can cause significant damage and death to wildlife. Rather than fight an unending battle attempting to clean up plastic litter, local governments have seen the benefit of simply removing single-use plastic bags from the equation.

The bag ban bill has had to fight opposition from several angles. In fact, a previous plastic bag ban attempt was introduced by Padilla last year, but was defeated by three votes. The main opposition comes from the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents U.S. plastic bag manufacturers, and claims that a bag ban will result in significant job losses. Others worry that the bag ban will unfairly affect lower-income residents by imposing a 10 cent fee for paper bags. Senator Padilla and proponents of the ban remain unperturbed, citing the overwhelming successes of the numerous local and county bag bans over the past few years, and resident support for those bans.

The West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP) Marine Viewer is  a new tool that will allow users to examine West Coast debris cleanup data in the context of physical parameters (rivers, streams and ocean currents, shown here) and human demographics and government policies (e.g. population centers, bag bans, foam policies). The Marine Viewer will be released in early November.

The West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP) Marine Viewer is a new tool that will allow users to examine West Coast debris cleanup data in the context of physical parameters (rivers, streams and ocean currents, shown here) and human demographics and government policies (e.g. population centers, bag bans, foam policies). The Marine Viewer will be released in early November.

Don’t expect plastic bags to become rare collector’s items anytime soon, though. The ban won’t go into effect until July 1, 2015 for grocery stores, and July 1, 2016 for smaller convenience stores. And it doesn’t cover things like produce bags and plastic dry-cleaning covers.

California’s statewide plastic bag ban is a crucial step toward reducing the production of plastics that can end up in our waterways and in the ocean, but unfortunately our ecosystems already contain multitudes of plastics. One of the upcoming features of the new WCGA West Coast Ocean Data Portal is a Marine Viewer tool where marine debris cleanup data can be overlain with other datasets, including city and county bag bans, river and stream watersheds that may carry plastics to the ocean, and coastal surface currents that may affect plastic movements and deposition along the coast. In fact, one of the main goals for the oceanographic products that I’ve created during my Sea Grant fellowship has been to provide information on oceanographic movements that can be used in conjunction with debris cleanup datasets, to determine how plastics may move along the West Coast, and where they might land.

In the end, hopefully California’s plastic bag ban won’t be just another environmental law in our state’s long history of conservation movements. We should use it as key step toward urging our society to reject our ingrained single-use, throwaway mentality, in favor of preserving and reusing the resources we have.

The iconic "plastic bag video" from the 1999 Academy Award winner American Beauty may someday be a relic of the past, thanks to California's recent statewide plastic bag ban, although not all disposable plastic bags will be phased out by the law.

“There’s so much beauty in the world” - The iconic “plastic bag video” from the 1999 Academy Award winner American Beauty may someday be a relic of the past, thanks to California’s recent statewide plastic bag ban.

 

And so it begins…

As a new Oregon Sea Grant Fellow, I thought an introduction to myself should start this blog. I am a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Management program in the Department of Environmental Management at Portland State University in Portland, OR. My graduate research focused on evidence-based decision making in coastal and marine management and policy in the Pacific Northwest. At a high level, this work tested a 2 phase methodology for bridging the gap between academic research and policy and management practice: The 1st phase included an interviewing process to gather primary qualitative data and determine scientific data needs of ocean relevant decision makers. In the 2nd phase, I conducted a workshop to bring together academic scientists and decision makers to disseminate phase 1 findings and begin to foster the development, communication, and use of policy relevant research. I have resolved to continue focusing on understanding how best to bring scientific knowledge into policy action through my career in coastal and marine policy creation and management implementation.
My graduate research was funded by the Oregon Sea Grant Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship, and I feel very fortunate to continue to work with Oregon Sea Grant as well as other Sea Grant scholars over the next year. I anticipate gaining an incredible wealth of knowledge over the next year working in the Oregon Governor’s Natural Recourses Office. As a neophyte walking around this Office, I often find myself with eyes open wide and full of excitement. Oregon Sea Grant has provided me this incredibly rare opportunity to be placed in the heart of ocean and coastal policy in such a critical coastal state, and I intend to take advantage of every moment.
In this role, I will support Oregon’s engagement in carrying out WCGA priorities related to climate change, regional ocean data, marine debris, and ocean acidification, as well as WCGA initiatives to foster collaboration with tribes, local governments, and the federal government coordinating and improving ocean management and health in Oregon and along the West Coast. I welcome you to follow me along this journey over the next year!

Hot Summer Oceans

The always-popular La Jolla Shores beaches have been particularly packed this summer, as beachgoers enjoy notably warm waters.

The always-popular La Jolla Shores beaches have been particularly packed this summer, as beachgoers enjoy notably warm waters.

Southern California is famous for its endlessly sunny beaches and surfable waves, but this summer, even natives of the Land of Sunshine have noticed something unusual: ocean temperatures have been exceptionally warm over the past few weeks. While this means that nearly everyone is jumping in the water sans wetsuits, many people are wondering how this year stacks up to previous years, and what is causing such warm oceans.

The Hunt for Red July

According to both satellite SST measurements and in situ buoys that measure the ocean at depth, the waters off California and Oregon have warmed nearly 5oC in some places since the beginning of July. Warm events have also been creeping farther north than usual, bringing comparatively warm 16oC waters almost to the northern border of California.

Sea Surface Temperature (SST) at 0 meters (top row - ocean surface) and 20 m (bottom row) off California for July 8, July 18 and Aug. 8, 2014 (left to right). Data is from the 3 km Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) produced by Dr. Yi Chao at UCLA, and available through SCCOOS. The NOAA SWFSC has noted that an especially warm SST period occurred from July 15-23, as visible by the red-orange-yellow colors moving north.

Follow the rainbow - Ocean temperature at 0 meters (top row) and 20 m (bottom row) off California for July 8, July 18 and Aug. 8, 2014 (left to right). Data are from the 3 km Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) produced by Dr. Yi Chao at UCLA, and available through SCCOOS. The NOAA SWFSC notes that an especially warm SST period occurred from July 15-23, visible by the northward movements of red-orange areas.

In terms of causes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA SWFSC) suggests that the warm events may be related to weakening northwesterly summer winds, which usually push surface waters offshore, driving upwelling of deeper, cold waters. If the winds weaken, warm surface waters remain right offshore, even moving northward along the coast.

While beachgoers are jumping into California’s balmy surf with extra zeal, observations of this summer’s warm oceans beg an obvious follow-up question: how does 2014 compare to previous years? Fortunately, the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS), along with the other West Coast Ocean Observing System Regional Associations (CeNCOOS, NANOOS and AOOS), was created in order to track exactly these ocean phenomena. And although SCCOOS is only 10 years old, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been tracking water temperatures for almost 100 years at locations along the California coast, providing long-term datasets that allow us to analyze temperature trends.

Long-term advantages

Water temperature is one of the most easily and frequently measured properties of the ocean, and doesn’t require a scientific degree to detect. Anyone who dips a handheld thermometer or their hand into the water can form their own opinions about “warm” and “cold”. But determining whether the water temperature is actually different from last summer’s sand-filled memories requires a rigorous and systematic record of ocean temperatures.

Manual sea surface temperature measurements exist from as far back as 1917 for the Scripps Pier, 1924 for the Newport Beach Pier, and the 1950s for several other piers along the Southern California Bight. Back then, automated temperature sensors didn’t exist, so measuring water temperature used to require a fair amount of manual labor – someone would have to go out every day, at roughly the same time, and drop a bucket off the end of the pier to capture a water sample, then haul the bucket up and stick a thermometer in. Even more impressive is the fact that, over the past 97 years (in the case of the Scripps Pier), nearly every day from every year has a temperature measurement, producing a record as robust as an automated temperature-measuring system can.

Daily surface and bottom temperature anomaly from the Scripps Pier Manual Shore Station, La Jolla, California.  Anomalies are produced by subtracting the long-term harmonic mean (1916-2001) from the daily temperature (a positive anomaly indicates that temperatures are warmer than average). Temperature data from June 1 to August 5, 2014 (shown in blue) are preliminary and unverified (graphs produced by Melissa Carter of the Shore Stations Program).

Daily surface and bottom temperature anomaly from the Scripps Pier Manual Shore Station, La Jolla, California. Anomalies are produced by subtracting the long-term harmonic mean (1916-2001) from the daily temperature (a positive anomaly indicates that temperatures are warmer than average). Temperature data from June 1 to August 5, 2014 (shown in blue) are preliminary and unverified (Data collection by the Shore Stations Program at SIO, funded by CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Division of Boating and Waterways; graphs produced by Melissa Carter of the SSP).

Thanks to the development of modern equipment, SCCOOS now also has several automated means of measuring ocean temperatures around the Southern California Bight, both inshore and offshore. In addition to the Manual Shore Stations program, which is still in use today, SCCOOS has also implemented a network of Automated Shore Station sensors, attached to piers at Scripps, Newport, Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. Farther offshore, the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) wave buoys provide point-source temperature data along with wave-tracking information.

Additionally, the SCCOOS/SIO Instrument Development Group (IDG) Spray Glider Program, supported by the NOAA Ocean Climate Observation Program, runs several continuous glider lines off California, providing depth profiles of water temperature along consistent geographic tracks. All of these systems mean that the ocean off California is being consistently measured, giving us a comprehensive picture of changing coastal ocean conditions.

Charting course - Yearly surface ocean temperature in Monterey Bay from 1990-2014. Temperatures from 2014 are shown magenta, and highlight the notably warm events of July and August 2014 (Data collection supported by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; graphs produced by Reiko Michisaki of the Biological Oceanography Group led by Francisco Chavez.).

Charting course – The Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have also observed notably warm ocean temperatures this summer. The above graph shows yearly surface ocean temperature in Monterey Bay from 1990-2014, and highlights the notably warm events of July and August 2014 (shown in magenta). Additional graphs are available through the MBARI Project Page (Data collection supported by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; graphs produced by Reiko Michisaki of the Biological Oceanography Group led by Francisco Chavez.).

 

Cause and effect?

In addition to its own relevance to marine users, ocean temperature, and especially sea surface temperature (SST), is an important indicator of a suite of current and changing ocean conditions. One example is larger-scale, longer-cycle ocean phenomena, such as El Niño/La Niña events. While those anxious about California’s multi-year drought (which should be everyone) are attuned to the buzz about a much-hoped-for El Niño this fall, it’s too soon to say whether, and how, this summer’s warm oceans might be related to a possible El Niño. Although El Niño events do bring anomalously warm waters to the California Current System, the process involves additional factors in other regions of the Pacific (for more information on El Niño, check out these explanations from SCCOOS and NOAA).

Warmer oceans appear to be influencing the biology of the region, too. Recently, beachgoers all along California have noticed thousands of by-the-wind sailors, or Velella velella, washing up at the high-tide line. These transparent-blue jellyfish-like creatures, which look like sand-wrung plastic bags, float along the ocean surface at the mercy of the currents and winds. They are usually found in the warmer waters off Baja California, so scientists speculate that they may be floating north along with the warm intrusions that have been washing the California coast this summer.

By-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella) is a small jellyfish-like organism whose movement is directed by the winds and ocean currents. In the past few weeks, thousands of these creatures have washed up along California's shores over the past few weeks. Although no one is sure why, scientists speculate that Velella may be moving north with California's recent warm water intrusions.

By-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella) is a small jellyfish-like organism whose movement is directed by the winds and ocean currents. In the past few weeks, thousands of these creatures have washed up along California’s shores over the past few weeks. Although no one is sure why, scientists speculate that Velella may be moving north with California’s recent warm water intrusions.

Fishermen who frequent Southern California’s piers have also been reaping the benefits of large schools of tropical fish temporarily moving north and inshore. Right now, you don’t need a boat to catch a yellowfin tuna – just drop a line in the water off the Ocean Beach Pier, and something is bound to bite. NOAA SWFSC’s annual salmon trawls off Tomales Bay have also noticed ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens) closer to shore and farther north than they are typically found.

Thermal causes and effects and future predictions, while endlessly entertaining to speculate on, are still uncertain (even SCCOOS, for all its wizardry with ocean measurements, cannot make definite long-term predictions). But if you’re eyeing the surf and considering leaving work early to hit your board, rest assured that you’ll have a warm ride on the waves. And while you’re out there, stick a thermometer in the water and make a note of the number. When it comes to the oceans, we need al the monitoring we can get.

 

Let’s See Stars Help the Ocean!

Celebrities can sell products, convey ideas, and create interest –  and in all these capacities they have the power to enact change. You may be surprised to learn that the average marine science conference is teeming with rockstars within the ocean world.  Well-known figures, respected and recognized by name if not by face, can be found across the world contributing to the body of scientific knowledge. However, science celebrities are rarely featured in the public eye,  and herein lies the problem.

Celebrities, scientists, and public figures work together on fundraising and problem-solving ocean issues.

Mission Blue Voyage – Celebrities, scientists, and public figures work together on fundraising and problem-solving ocean issues. Photo credit: Sven-Olof Lindblad

The marine science field has tried to engage some of America’s most well-known celebrities – actors and actresses – to represent ocean issues through events like the 2010 Mission Blue Voyage. Led by TEDx and marine-science celebrity Sylvia Earle, this four-day cruise raised over $15 million for projects around the Galapagos and included Hollywood stars Edward Norton, Glenn Close, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others. Foundations and other marine organizations also reach out to celebrities for their endorsement. I have been working with the Thank You Ocean Campaign, a public awareness campaign led by the state of California and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries,  which works to unite voices and amplify messages to raise ocean awareness and promote everyday actions that protect the ocean.  Thank You Ocean has garnered the endorsement of actor Edward James Olmos in a PSA about keeping our oceans free of trash, and Cat Cora has offered her voice for sustainable seafood which has helped disseminate these positive ocean messages beyond the campaign’s typical audience.

Edward James Olmos speaks on behalf of clean beaches for the Thank You Ocean campaign.

Edward James Olmos speaks on behalf of clean beaches for the Thank You Ocean campaign.

While this level of engagement can reach millions across the U.S. and educate other influential figures, the ocean is a global resource that requires coordinated international efforts to protect. In June 2014, the U.S. Department of State gave celebrity a chance when it held the Our Ocean 2014 conference, and the news coverage reflects that the audience was listening.  Leonardo DiCaprio, founder of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, gave an opening speech on the second day that touched on his personal experience with declining ocean health. He spoke about the need to act now for the sake of future generations, and the importance of “stepping up” to address challenges head-on. He also committed $7 million to meaningful ocean projects, and his foundation has created partnerships with prominent marine conservation groups working all over the world.  This type of collaboration has sparked public conversations and set an example among his peers in how to use their status as celebrities for positive environmental (and professional) purposes.

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the Our Ocean Conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, July 2014.  Photo: NY Daily Times

Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the Our Ocean Conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, June 2014. Photo: NY Daily Times

DiCaprio focused on the conference’s priority issues – marine pollution, sustainable fisheries, and ocean acidification – through his personal experiences in diving, traveling, and fundraising over the last twenty years.  It’s always a challenge to transform bulky science words into concepts that will make people change their behavior, but his call to action was a high-profile request to world governments and other foundations to “step up” to the plate, create and enforce strong marine laws, and work with colleagues to effectively manage our oceans.

This final message is the most important: celebrities can be allies, partners, and advocates for improving the health of our oceans.  They can become our colleagues. Celebrities like DiCaprio help bring together experts, bridge international differences, and translate science; and when policies rely on the influence of the public and politicians alike, celebrities can act as mediators that enact positive change.

Cat Cora, celebrity chef and known for her featured role on Iron Chef, speaks for sustainable seafood choices for the Thank You Ocean campaign.

Cat Cora, celebrity chef and known for her featured role on Iron Chef, speaks for sustainable seafood choices for the Thank You Ocean campaign.

I hope that the next conference I attend will feature my marine science heroes as well as celebrities who are interested in lending their voice and their energy toward the important work being done to help our oceans.

Buoying coastal safety through ocean wave observations

The Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) involves a U.S.-wide network of spherical yellow buoys that monitor wave height and direction. Buoys must be collected for periodic maintenance, and are re-deployed using local boating partners (photo courtesy of CDIP).

The Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) consists of a U.S.-wide network of buoys that monitor wave height and direction. Buoys must be collected for periodic maintenance, and are re-deployed using local boating partners (photo courtesy of Coastal Data Information Program).

If you’re a surfer, one of the things that matters most is the current state of ocean waves crashing off your shores. If you’re not a surfer, the waves still matter – you probably just don’t realize how much they can affect your life.

People who pay attention to waves want to know a lot about them: where they’re coming from, how high they are, whether a watery behemoth is barreling toward the nearest coastal harbor. And real-time access to how those waves are behaving – and what they’ll do next – is some of the most important information of all. This need for wave data helped spawn the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP), funded collaboratively by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of California, and based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Since 1975, CDIP has deployed and maintained a series of ocean wave buoys along both U.S. coasts, the Caribbean, and Hawaii and Alaska, resulting in a 40-year high-resolution collection of wave data that has helped everyone from coastal engineers and researchers to surfers, sailors and recreational beach visitors.

Wave information, both real-time and historical, helps engineers assess best options for coastal infrastructure, such as roads and popular beachfront properties. Above, the historic Highway 101 passes through a low point between the Pacific Ocean and San Elijo Lagoon at Cardiff, CA. Coastal roads such as these are vulnerable to storm surge and higher waves (photo courtesy of CDIP).

Coastal collaborations – Wave information, both real-time and historical, helps engineers assess best options for coastal infrastructure, such as roads and popular beachfront properties. Above, the historic Highway 101 passes through a low point between the Pacific Ocean and San Elijo Lagoon at Cardiff, CA. Coastal roads such as these are vulnerable to storm surge and high wave events (photo courtesy of CDIP).

Coastal engineers and planners rely on information from wave histories and past wave events to properly develop and manage coastal infrastructure and harbors. Because waves carry so much force and energy, they can have serious effects if they hit a coastal development that isn’t structurally prepared to handle them. The 2012 Hurricane Sandy event was an extreme example, producing waves up to 45 feet high at some offshore locations, but predicted increases in sea level and changes in weather patterns indicate that storm surges and higher-wave events may happen more frequently in the future.

Waves also play a major role in redistributing sand and reforming beaches, which can be compounded by human-made coastal infrastructure. Researchers use real-time CDIP data to calibrate research models and experimental details in studies of the physics of wave generation and propagation, effects on sand transport and shoreline reconfiguration, and mixing of offshore pollutants – and of course, all of this information eventually ties back into coastal planning and development. My California Sea Grant Fellowship will also be incorporating CDIP wave data into time-averaged oceanographic products to help track West Coast-wide marine debris movements and ocean acidification events.

Container ships (such as the one entering the Port of LA/Long Beach, above) rely on accurate nearshore wave data to indicate whether they will have enough draft clearance to safely enter port. Even a slight increase in waves can cause ships to pitch and roll, increasing their under-keel clearance requirements (photo courtesy of Jacobson Pilot Service).

Shipping up data – Container ships (such as this one entering the Port of Long Beach) rely on accurate nearshore wave data to indicate whether they will have enough draft clearance to safely enter port. Even a slight increase in wave height and period can increase ship under-keel clearance requirements (photo courtesy of Jacobson Pilot Service).

In addition to helping coastal builders and researchers, CDIP data supplies key real-time information to ocean users. Harbormasters and cargo ship captains rely on accurate real-time wave periods to determine whether ships can safely enter port. Large container ships can sometimes require under-keel clearance (the water depth required for vessels to move over the bottom) of 65 feet in order to enter narrow, shallow port channels. Larger, longer waves cause ships to pitch and roll, increasing their under-keel clearance requirements dramatically, so a ship that could have safely entered a port under low-wave conditions may have to wait offshore for several days if wave height and period increase. Wave forecast models can help predict when these events will occur, allowing ships to better plan port approaches and entrance times, to avoid costly offshore waits.

The annual Mavericks surf competition at Half Moon Bay, CA, is scheduled to coincide with a large winter swell. The 50-foot-plus waves that fuel the competition's extreme nature are predicted and monitored using CDIP wave data (photo courtesy of http://surfbang.com/contests/2013/01/mavericks-invitational-2013-big-wave-surfing-contest.html).

High rollers – The annual Mavericks surf competition at Half Moon Bay, CA, is scheduled each year to coincide with a large winter swell. The 50+ foot waves that fuel the competition’s extreme nature are predicted and monitored using CDIP wave data (photo courtesy of Surf Bang).

And of course, CDIP wave data helps cue surfers into when and where to find the best local breaks. In fact, the timing of the infamous annual Maverick’s surf contest off Half Moon Bay, CA – which requires a large winter storm to produce the 50-foot rollers that lead to such extreme rides – relies on wave knowledge from CDIP buoys. SCUBA divers, small-boat sailors and even everyday beach-goers also scope out wave data, to know what to expect when they hit the water.

Making a splash - CDIP wave buoys provide a comprehensive network of nearshore wave data along both US coasts, Hawaii, Alaska and the Caribbean (photo courtesy of CDIP).

Making a splash – CDIP wave buoys provide a comprehensive network of nearshore wave data along both US coasts, Hawaii, Alaska and the Caribbean (photo courtesy of CDIP).

The CDIP wave buoy network requires active hands-on care and maintenance, and working with the CDIP buoys can be a bit like being a firefighter. Things will be calm and routine around the shop for days, until a buoy suddenly sends off a distress signal – or worse, stops sending information at all – and the team must quickly collect the buoy and bring it back to the shop for repair. But the unassuming yellow spheres floating off harbors and beachfronts provide an invaluable eye into how energy moves and changes at the land-sea interface, and the impacts that those changes may have on our coastal developments.

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CDIP wave information is also freely available to numerous private, state and federal agencies, including NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center and National Weather Service programs, allowing data to reach an even broader audience.