Video: Beyond River Mile Five

For nearly 100 years wild salmon populations along the Elwha River, located at the heart of Olympic National Park, have been limited to a five-mile stretch of the 45 mile-long river below the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams. In September 2011 engineers began the Nation’s second largest ecological restoration project; a three-year dam removal process, allowing wild salmon and other anadromous fish populations to return to the upper channels and tributaries of the river. But how effective will these restoration efforts be, and how do we measure success? Kinsey Frick, George Pess, and John McMillan, scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, in partnership with other federal, state and tribal organizations in the region are working together to find answers to these important questions. Their research will not only help us understand the impacts of dam removal on wild salmon populations and ecosystems in the Elwha and allow managers to manage the recovering system adaptively, but also help inform future river restoration projects throughout the country.

Measuring the Pulse of Puget Sound

Scientists at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, WA are studying the life in Puget Sound’s surface waters—from microbes to fish and jellyfish— to understand this complex living system and shed light on how human activity affects its health . By understanding what groups of species live where and when and why, we can select measurable characteristics that tell us how the whole ecosystem is doing . This information can then be used by managers to protect and recover the life of Puget Sound. From Spring to Fall 2011, principle investigators Correigh Greene, Casey Rice, Linda Rhodes, and Kurt Fresh, and over 20 other scientists, technicians, and volunteers surveyed more than 80 sites from Commencement Bay in the south to Bellingham Bay in the north and Hood Canal in the west, representing of a range of natural conditions and human influence.

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 www.westcoastebm.org.

Japanese Tsunami – The Global Aftermath

The 9.0 earthquake centered 80 miles off of the Japanese coast was felt by the whole world, not physically, necessarily, but through our kinship as a global community. We were rattled to see such devastation on our computer and television screens, and West Coasters went to the shorelines to watch the ocean ebb and surge as the tsunami reached our coast. For some port towns, it came with fury, jostling boats and tearing up harbors, causing one fatality and millions in damage. For others towns, like Port Orford, OR, it was captivating to see tides in fast-forward, but it was an unsettling reminder that the Cascadia fault line that stretches from northern Vancouver Island to northern California is about 80 years overdue. Next time, it might be all of us.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone (Credit: California Emergency Management Agency)

The Cascadia Subduction Zone (Credit: California Emergency Management Agency)

Today, almost six months after the Honshu quake, Japan is still reeling. The world has offered its hand in humanitarian efforts, as well as in scientific expertise for the subsequent nuclear crisis. People struggle to rebuild and survive. Food, water and electricity remain in short supply.

What became abundant? Debris. Of all shapes and sizes, from household items, to cars, to whole buildings. When the water receded, anything suspended went along with it back into the Pacific Ocean. This means, in no uncertain terms, that remnants of Japan are headed our way.

 NOAA has run a model using OSCURS (Ocean Surface Current Simulator) showing the flow of debris from Japan. (Courtesy of J. Churnside) (Credit: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/japanfaqs.html#1, 8/31/2011)

NOAA has run a model using OSCURS (Ocean Surface Current Simulator) showing the flow of debris from Japan. (Courtesy of J. Churnside) (Credit: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/japanfaqs.html#1, 8/31/2011)

This brings one question to mind, and that’s “Are we ready?” First, are we ready to act when, or if, this massive amount of debris hits our coastline? Do we have any sense of the magnitude or high-probability areas? Could any of that debris be radioactive?

Most scientists think we have some time before any debris hits. However, there is no clear answer how the North Pacific Gyre will speed up or slow down that movement. In the time it takes to cross the big blue, and the mismatched timing of the Fukushima incident with the recession of the water, NOAA and others consider it “highly unlikely” that Hawaii or the West Coast will have to deal with radioactivity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for monitoring radioactivity.

 Graphic from the International Pacific Research Center. This graphic shows the predicted movement of the debris field. The first bits of debris are expected in a year. (Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374520/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-debris-floating-US-West-Coast.html?ito=feeds-newsxml, 8/31/2011)

Graphic from the International Pacific Research Center. This graphic shows the predicted movement of the debris field. (Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374520/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-debris-floating-US-West-Coast.html?ito=feeds-newsxml, 8/31/2011)

The general consensus is that most of the debris will reach the West Coast in about two years, with debris protruding from the water (e.g. fishing vessels) likely to turn up first because of exposure to the prevailing winds. Other debris may remain in the depths of the Pacific never to be seen by most of us again. To date, I’ve really enjoyed picking up beach treasures from Japan (glass floats and interesting bottles), but I’m not sure I’d be so thrilled coming across remnants of cars or houses.

While some of us have the opportunity to go to Japan and help in the rebuilding efforts, others can do the world a favor by taking part in the clean up on this side of the Pacific.  Whether this means signing up for the SOLV Beach clean up every year, participating in events like the California Coastal Cleanup Day and Washington Coast Cleanup, or just bringing garbage bags with you to the beach, we can all do something.

NOAA Center for tsunami research (Credit: http://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/honshu20110311/ 8/31/2011) NOAA Center for tsunami research (Credit: http://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/honshu20110311/ 8/31/2011)

West Coast-wide organizations, such as the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health (WCGA), addressed marine debris in the 2008 Action Plan. Action 1.4 notes that the three states will establish baseline estimates of marine debris off the West Coast, and support policies to meet reduction goals through recycling, trash maintenance, and litter laws. Members of the Marine Debris Action Coordination Team and the forming Marine Debris Alliance, with folks at EPA Region 9, the U.S. Coast Guard and others, are on regular calls trying to track this debris plume and figure out the “when, where, and how much.” There is a lot of uncertainty, but also a lot going into getting prepared. This includes a NOAA initiative called “Ships of Opportunity” program, which hires non-research vessels traveling in that direction to search for the head of the debris plume. The thought is if they can deploy buoy sensors at the head of the plume, scientists will be able to track the progress of the debris to the West Coast. Who knows? This may be another happenstance opportunity to learn more about Pacific Ocean currents.

Will we be ready when it’s our shoreline that’s quaking? I know there are a lot of communities starting to think along the lines of tsunami preparedness, but what about our families and friends? I have no disaster plan. I have no kit. Do you?  Granted, not everyone is in imminent danger of a tsunami, but the damage from an earthquake means long-term threats for everyone’s way of life. I’m not advocating that everyone run to the store for their dehydrated food kit, or build a survival shelter in their backyard, but I know that I could benefit from knowing a little more and taking some steps to prepare.

I guess the bottom line for me is, let’s learn from this. Let’s keep our Pacific neighbors in our hearts and minds. Let’s get ready, in every way possible, to prepare for the aftermath of the damage already done, and prepare for events to come. I think we can all agree that it’s only a matter of time.

House bobbing in the Pacific off Japan (Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374520/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-debris-floating-US-West-Coast.html?ito=feeds-newsxml; 8/31/2011)

House bobbing in the Pacific off Japan (Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1374520/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-debris-floating-US-West-Coast.html?ito=feeds-newsxml; 8/31/2011)

NOAA approves Rhode Island’s marine spatial plan

I thought it was an auspicious day last month (July 22) when NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco joined Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee to recognize and applaud the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) as the first comprehensive marine spatial plan to be adopted into a state’s coastal zone program. Under the Federal Consistency provision of the Coastal Zone Management Act, the policies in the Ocean SAMP can apply to federal actions in federal waters such as identifying suitable areas for energy projects. Dr. Lubchenco added, “This plan takes into account all ocean uses for enhancing commercial, recreational and environmental goals. This plan is what President Obama envisioned in the National Ocean Policy, and it sets a great example for other coastal states.”

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Governor Lincoln Chafee, after signing the Ocean SAMP approval document (Image RICMRC)

 I think that a key component of this plan was simply the gathering of information describing where important human use activities and ecological areas occurred. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (RICRC), a group of appointed representatives charged with balancing economic considerations with environmental protection, recognized that the many cultural, social, and environmental areas within the Ocean SAMP study area merit protection. To this end, the Council designated portions of the Ocean SAMP study area as Areas of Particular Concern (APC), which include: areas with unique or fragile physical features, or important natural habitats; areas of high natural productivity; areas with features of historical significance or cultural value; areas of substantial recreational value; areas important for navigation, transportation, military and other human uses; and areas of high fishing activity. The ability to map these areas was central to the success of this process.

Rhode Island Ocean SAMP map showing renewable energy zone (green) overlap with navigation routes and areas of particular concern (Image RICMRC)

 The next step that I see is for Rhode Island to continue to coordinate with their neighbors (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut) to develop a plan that addresses the priority issues that have been identified for that region (natural hazards, healthy ecosystems, marine transportation, energy). Rhode Islandhas already signed an MOU with Massachusetts agreeing to coordinate planning for offshore renewable energy in an identified “area of mutual interest,” using the Rhode Island Ocean SAMP as a guide. Another step in that direction was the recent launching of a regional data portal by the Northeast Regional Ocean Council. Developed to enhance regional ocean planning efforts, the new Northeast Ocean Data Portal contains regional spatial data on human activities, natural resources, and jurisdictional information forNew England’s coasts and ocean waters. These data are available to the public and can be viewed online and downloaded for use in GIS platforms.

I think the lesson from Rhode Island’s recent mapping exercise is that while individual states can (and should) develop plans for their state waters, the planning process will inevitably reveal the need to coordinate with neighboring states and federal agencies to address broader regional issues. On the West coast, the WCGA has already brought together regional partners to address issues of climate change, renewable energy, seafloor mapping, sediment management, marine debris, water quality, sustainable communities, and integrated ecosystem assessments. I agree with the approach taken on the East coast and am excited the WCGA is preparing to host a West coast regional data portal meeting this winter. This meeting will lay the groundwork to make West coast ocean data more accessible to aid regional planning for these shared issues and priorities and is intended to bring together state, federal, tribal, NGO, and academic data managers to formalize a “human data network” and make recommendations about how a regional data portal can make use of existing data infrastructure.

The West coast covers a large and diverse geographic region with distinct ecological and cultural differences that we need to consider as we plan for coastal and marine uses, but we can learn from one another as we tackle these complex issues.

If you would like to learn more about the West coast regional data portal meeting, please contact me!

Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now

President Obama recently released the National Ocean Policy that outlines a new way of doing business that focuses on a tool called Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) to achieve national objectives. CMSP is defined as a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean and coastal areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. While this is a scary and uncertain concept for many people, I think that it boils down to a very old idea – communication is good. At its most basic level, the CMSP framework attempts to provide a mechanism for state, federal, and tribal partners to talk to each other and to stakeholders when making decisions to avoid conflicts between ocean users, industry, and the environment.

Existing ocean uses. Conflicts or opportunities? (Photo: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

To kick off this sea change (pun intended!) in ocean policy, the federal government hosted a National CMSP workshop in Washington DC. I was sweating buckets in the humidity, as managers, tribal representatives, and stakeholders got together and starting talking about how CMSP might work in their part of the country. I was excited to see that while the majority of participants were enthusiastic and recognized the need for CMSP, there were concerns raised about the “top down” nature of the National Ocean Policy and the need to strengthen the ability for each region to determine its own objectives and priorities. I think that the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) along with other regional partners have a big part to play in helping to articulate these regional objectives.

West Coast breakout session at the National CSMP Workshop. (Photo: Hallenbeck)

The West Coast has been engaged in this type of planning for quite awhile already. California has had experience planning for marine protected areas and is now in the process of designing a data portal that will facilitate sharing of spatial information amongst stakeholders and agencies. Washington recently passed their CMSP Bill, which I believe is a critical first step in providing a mandate for state agencies to coordinate activities and engage in comprehensive planning. Oregon is currently planning for ocean wave energy development in their territorial sea and has gone through an extensive data gathering and stakeholder process to incorporate this new ocean use with the least amount of conflict with existing uses (e.g. fishing, telecommunications, recreation) and ecological resources.

I know the horizon is bright for our nation’s oceans, if we can just keep talking to one another…