Guest Blog: Connecting Ecosystem-Based Projects Along the West Coast

John Hansen, Program Director of the West Coast EBM Network, shares with us his experience at the 2011 West Coast EBM Network annual meeting. Photographs by Alan Lovewell.

The West Coast Ecosystem-Based Management Network (Network) recently held its 2011 Annual Meeting in Eureka, California.  The meeting brought together local project staff from 10 West Coast communities, representatives from ocean and coastal nongovernmental organizations (NGO)s, Washington, Oregon, Southern and Central California, and California Sea Grant, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health (WCGA), along with a number of local, state and federal staff from the Humboldt Bay area. The meeting took place over two days and included over 60 attendees.

John Hansen and the West Coast EBM Network taking a tour through the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary

Early portions of the meeting highlighted the latest efforts taking place in coastal communities along the West Coast, including 10 sites ranging from San Diego to the outer coast of Washington State.  Project staff presented successful ecosystem-based management approaches driven by strong engagement with local stakeholders, including climate change planning, habitat restoration, and supporting local fisheries and working waterfronts, among other topics.  Discussion focused on exchanging local lessons and addressing common challenges, while revealing management experiences for the entire West Coast region.

Christina Holt discusses the National Ocean Policy and the West Coast Governors' Agreement

Following the spotlight on local efforts, presentations were then given by representatives from NOAA and WCGA to provide updates on regional and national-level activities.  NOAA staff summarized the latest activities of the National Ocean Council and the preparation for new regional coastal and marine spatial planning frameworks.  The WCGA Executive Committee updated the group on the latest regional issues along the West Coast, and efforts of WCGA related to broader national-level planning and CMSP.  Finally, the four WCGA Fellows provided a briefing on their respective work plans and ongoing activities related to integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs), climate change and sustainable communities, regional research planning, and a West Coast regional data sharing framework.

Alison Haupt and Kate Skaggs learn about managing the Arcata marshlands

Throughout the meeting, the overlaps between the activities of the West Coast EBM Network and WCGA’s priorities were clearly apparent.  Many local communities throughout the West Coast are directly addressing pressing issues facing their local ecosystems and stakeholders, including preparing for climate change and supporting working waterfronts and local fishing fleets.  These align with the broader goals of WCGA Action Plan and the efforts of the WCGA Action Coordination Teams (ACTs) throughout the three West Coast states.  The activities and expertise housed in the WCGA ACTs were of great interest to the community-level projects at the meeting, and discussions centered on how a stronger connection could be made between the regional ACTs and staff supporting local-level efforts along the coast.

Brian Largay of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation explains the impacts of Spartina on the West Coast wetland environment

On a broader level, the other key lesson taken away from the meeting was the valuable opportunity to grow a mutually beneficial relationship between regional efforts like WCGA and coastal communities.  The WCGA is working towards successful regional approaches throughout the coast, and linking members of their ACTs, on topics that align well with EBM approaches at the local level.  Concurrently, the West Coast EBM Network is working to link coastal communities and successful on-the-ground outcomes, all of which could greatly benefit from a stronger relationship with the WCGA.  Further, local projects may serve as the ideal foundation for regional WCGA efforts, and illustrate the value of enhanced collaboration and planning along the coast through tangible benefits to local stakeholders and communities.

Todd Hallenbeck taking a moment to reflect

The West Coast EBM Network looks forward to continued collaboration with WCGA, including its Executive Committee, ACTs, and Sea Grant Fellows, to highlight the value of this innovative partnership and leverage the benefits to active coastal communities throughout the region.

For more information on the West Coast EBM Network, please visit

Tsawalk and the Salish Sea

When I crossed the border into Canada on my drive to the Salish Sea Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia this past week, I got the “Q and A” by the border guard. “Where’s home? Where do you work?” I was friendly, concise and truthful. But when asked what I would be doing in Canada, I lost my cool, and enthusiastically stated, “Saving the whales!!” I got a smile and a green light. OK, not exactly true, but it seemed a good enough reason to let me spend a week in BC.

Crossing the Granville Bridge into this land of lights made me appreciate the accomplishments of the modern world. The stark mountains in the background, equaled by the skyscrapers towering in front of me, were a subtle reminder of the power of innovation and invention. It was also a reminder why I made this trip.

Granville Street Bridge

Granville Street Bridge, Nighttime Photo by Robert D. Brooks

The waters of the Salish Sea are surrounded by a highly developed landscape. Westerners, like so many cultures around the world, find ourselves inextricably connected to the water, and here we build our villages. Or, should I say, major metropolitan areas. Here in Vancouver, the interface of the modern world with the natural one isn’t lost to the madness of the city. The sea seems to shape the traffic, the infrastructure, the economy, and the culture of the area. The Straight of Georgia winds around Vancouver Island and surrounding geography like a smooth piece of velvet, buffering the noise and the commotion of the city with stillness and calm. After a closer look by the scientific community, we get a clearer picture of the problems facing these shared waters.

The Salish Sea, showing the Strait of Georgia near center, the Strait of Juan de Fuca below, Puget Sound at the lower right, Johnstone Strait at the extreme upper left, and the Pacific Ocean at lower left. Photo from Google Earth.

I learned the Salish Sea Conference used to be a science conference; a place where academics and researchers rolled out their results for other scientists and researchers to mull over, discuss methodologies, and gain ideas for their own work. I imagine the evolution into a science, policy, and management conference came about relatively quickly. What’s happening in the Salish Sea sounds alarming at best. Polluted air and water, sick and dying fish and whales, decreased habitat and spawning areas, increased marine traffic, sound pollution, invasive species, and altered eco-webs. Then, add the global threat of climate change and a world population that just hit 7 billion, and we’ve got issues. Getting back to a healthy Salish Sea ecosystem demands action, which requires those with authority to be informed. This was a message carried by the opening plenary panelists; three mayors and a commissioner from the major metropolitan cities along the coast of the Salish Sea. They need good science, and they need it now.

Whale tail, Photo by Alan Lovewell

Echoed again in the closing plenary was the plea for scientists to carry their message of an ecosystem in crisis. “We don’t know what we don’t know” a panelist said. Simply communication of knowledge, regardless of uncertainty, brings us leaps closer to effecting positive change on a large scale. Scientists were encouraged – implored, even, to have those conversations, incite those conversations, and speak until they are heard. It seems we have no choice but to make change now. As Billy Frank Jr., Native American environmental leader and treaty rights activist from the Salish region, said at conference past, “We need to all get in this canoe together. We need to start paddling in the opposite direction. And we need to paddle hard.”

Coastal Salish Plenary Panel "Working Together for the Salish Sea", photo by Erica Olson, 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference Volunteer

If nothing else, there was one message that stirred and inspired me: the idea of “tsawalk”; a Nuu-chah-nulth tribe worldview that “everything is one.” This message was threaded through several of the talks I attended.  When delivered by some of the First Nation tribes, the message became tangible and visceral: You could feel the weight of gratitude fill the room. It brought every one of us to our most basic selves. We all became simply human; fighting a battle we’ve created; fighting for our humanity with a unified understanding that without every cog and wheel, we are lost.

Ambleside Beach, by Lion’s Gate Bridge, photo by Hugh Shipman (

California Ocean Protection Council Meeting

On August 11, I had a chance to attend the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) meeting in Sacramento.  The OPC was created, pursuant to the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA), to coordinate among agencies to solve issues facing coastal oceans. Basically, the OPC helps to break down the silos of government and to use innovative tools to tackle some of California’s toughest ocean and coastal problems.

OPC meetings, which are open to the public and webcast, are held quarterly and include a spotlight on science; this meeting focused on renewable energy.  I was especially interested to see how members of the OPC, the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), and the public interact to approach issues facing our coast and ocean.  Though my background is based more in science than policy, I worked with fishermen in Mexico and often presented my scientific findings in a similar forum.  The fishing cooperatives that I worked with in Southern Baja California Sur are all part of a larger cooperative system called FEDECOOP and each cooperative has regular meetings called assembleas where scientific information is presented, fishing policies are discussed, and decisions are made much like the OPC meetings.

This meeting’s spotlight on science focused on renewable energy and featured Dr. William O’Reilly, Senior Development Engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Margaret Caldwell, Executive Director for Center for Ocean Solutions, who talked about the scientific and logistical needs for coastal and marine spatial planning in order to reduce conflicts surrounding existing and emerging ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.

Dr. O’Reilly started off with a good nuts and bolts overview of different types of energy available: tidal, wave, current and wind.  I was really interested to hear there are many areas in California that are suitable for renewable energy development and it should be possible to balance the spatial needs of recreational and other ocean uses with the those of renewable energy.  Did you know that because the mass of water is about 750 times greater than that of air, the tidal energy moving through San Francisco Bay on an average day is equivalent to wind energy generated by a hurricane?  Dr. O’Reilly noted that, though it is complex to determine the potential of renewable energy sources, there is likely a lot of unharnessed energy off our shore and most importantly much of that energy is located in state rather than federal waters.  I found his report to be very optimistic about the potential for renewable offshore energy production in California.

An example of a tidal energy turbine

Meg Caldwell then gave insight into the types of data and information necessary for planning for multiple ocean uses such as renewable offshore energy.  I was pleased to hear her highlight the utility of well organized, visualized, and layered geospatial data not only to inform decision making about renewable energy, but for all ocean uses and potential projects.  Caldwell explained that a system to organize these data would: provide tools to more easily implement laws and regulations, identify user conflicts, plan and permit in an efficient manner, and improve governance and transparency.  Caldwell wrapped up by pointing out the OPC can contribute by coordinating and implementing a geospatial information system by capitalizing on California OST and other scientists and experts.  This called to mind the Regional Data Network project spearheaded by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement to establish a data sharing network to improve cross boundary access to geospatial data across the west coast. This network could help connect science to stakeholders much like OPC meetings and the assembleas share science with the public and help inform decision making, as well as sharing information and lessons learned from others’ experiences.

Here is an example of geospatial data associated with a renewable energy site taken from the OR marine map website

It’s great to think we can build on ongoing efforts in other states including Rhode Island and Massachusetts when it comes to how and where to plan for renewable energy projects and other ocean uses.  I hope that meetings like these can help to solidify the thinking process and the types of information needed to move implementation of renewable energy into the forefront not just in California, but across the entire west coast in a manner that is efficient, reduces ecosystem and user conflicts, and offsets substantial portion of our current energy use.  This effort in California can especially learn from and build upon significant efforts already in progress in Oregon and Washington.