Friday, June 22, 2012

Japanese tsunami debris washes up

| editor of our local paper, reported this story:
It was getting on toward sunset on Monday, May 7, and Lorrie Snyderr, on a visit to Cambria from Los Angeles, was checking out the view from the bluff at Moonstone Beach, near the steps at the parking lot by the mouth of Santa Rosa Creek.

Peering through the gloaming at the shoreline, she made out a dark mass, half in, half out of the lapping waves. Thinking it might be a marine mammal, she made her way onto the beach.

When she got there, she found a large bluish-green ball, 5 feet around, made of a heavy plastic or fiberglass material, with two pairs of large “ears” with holes where ropes could be attached, shown here in a Tribune photo. It also had the image of ocean waves with gulls soaring above molded into it, the measurement “488MM” (the ball’s diameter in millimeters) — and what appeared to be Japanese characters.

It turned out to be the largest of three items found in 11 days on North Coast shores that might — might — have been an initial blip in the transoceanic travels of a field of debris washed from Japanese shores by the horrific tsunami of March 11, 2011.

The other two items were found farther north, both just north of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
A large hand-soap container with Japanese labeling was picked up near the old Piedras Blancas Motel by Bruce Mundt of Cambria on April 27. It was encrusted with crustaceans, evidence, he theorized, of a long time in the water.

Denise Kocek, another Cambria resident, discovered a large red Japanese light bulb on a sand beach just north of the lighthouse on May 6.

Were they washed away from Japan by the tsunami, a faint echo of the devastation wrought there that killed more than 16,000 people?

We can’t know for sure.

It’s earlier than experts predicted debris would reach California’s coastline.

Estimates are about 5 million tons were washed away. About 70 percent sank near Japan, leaving about 1.5 million tons afloat. The bulk of the debris, it’s known, is north of Hawaii.

High “windage” items, which sit high in the water and can be moved along, sail-like, by the wind, are expected to hit our coast first. All three of the items found locally fit that profile. All are hollow and would have floated well.

So was an empty bottle of Japanese dish soap found in the Santa Cruz area in March, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Verified tsunami debris has been rolling up in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, including soccer and basketballs, a 165-foot fishing boat, a 66-foot metal-and-concrete dock and a motorcycle (inside a container).

“Beachgoers may notice a gradual increase in debris on beaches over many years, in addition to marine debris that normally washes up, depending on where ocean currents carry it,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An International Pacific Research Center simulation shows debris hitting the California coast in “Year 2” — which began in March. The peak would be in “Year 3.” If that turns out to be correct, we’ll be seeing more debris through next year, then finds will taper off.

Speaking in San Simeon recently, Holly Lohuis, a marine biologist, diver and field producer for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, said Japanese trash shows up all along the coast fairly regularly.

She said most tsunami debris is expected to land from Monterey north — and not until late 2013 or later.

All the same, just last Friday, Heal the Bay and NOAA set up two debris-monitoring stations in Palos Verdes and Malibu, according to KABC in Los Angeles.

There’s a lot more information at the NOAA website at
If you find tsunami debris, send an email to The Tribune would like to know about it, too; email us at or call 927-8895.

Seems like local beachgoers will be finding a lot more on the coast in coming years than moonstones and elephant seals.

Kathe Tanner contributed to this article. Bert Etling is managing editor of The Cambrian, a community weekly published by The Tribune.

Read more here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Managing aquaculture for sustainability

Boyce Thorne Miller, Science Coordinator for Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, begins a three-part series on the impact of aquaculture on the oceans today:

ACT I:  Aquaculture in the News
Part 2 will cover aquaculture history;  and part 3 conclude with aquaculture choices.
The ecology, economics, and purpose of modern fish aquaculture have been debated by scientists and policymakers for years. Yet even with numerous pros and cons and a variety of issues surrounding the practices, the singular message that seems to stick in consumers’ heads is that aquaculture is good, because it will feed the world and save the wild fish. It’s an easy message to understand and people would greatly prefer that it not be complicated by facts. But those facts are essential for responsible consumers to consider, and their importance has been raised once again by several recent items in the news.

Read about Whole Foods and other news on the post. NOAA's policy suggests troubling changes, Miller cites:

However, the NOAA aquaculture policy, issued last year, gives the US a statement of policy and guidance goals that could achieve the innovative and sharp change in aquaculture development that is needed. We need to make sure that potential is realized, for the aquaculture industry will resist it.  But that will require that the US not follow the examples set by other countries now leading aquaculture development. It will be harder for the EU, since they are already on a path committed to industrial monoculture fish farming. The NOAA Aquaculture Office webpage promotes an additional priority: “promoting a level playing field for U.S. aquaculture businesses engaged in international trade.”  That is very concerning. Leveling the playing field requires loosening important environmental restrictions and would make it difficult to achieve many of the admirable goals listed in the official policy document. The US should not be leveling the playing field with other aquaculture nations; it should playing an entirely different game and creating enviable models for truly sustainable aquaculture.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Molt as metaphor

My colleague Charmaine Coimbra writes about how her service as an elephant seal docent inspires her to reflect on life at Vibrant Nation today:

A thousand or more northern elephant seals sprawled across the beach when I arrived for my volunteer docent duty yesterday.   These intrepid seals travelled about  2500 miles to this beach to lose their dead skin and old fur.  They must haul out  and remain on land for four weeks  in order to molt.  We call this shedding of the dead epidermis and old fur  a catastrophic molt.
I posted myself at the very south end of the Piedras Blancas boardwalk because it harbored a dozen or more elephant seals in various stages of molt.  This made it easier to point and show to the human visitors what is going on with the seals.
A  female seal’s molt was evident—chunks of brown fur had fallen from her face leaving a bright and silvery  appearance.  The liberation from old and tired had begun.  But from her neck to her tail, the old brown fur had just begun to shed leaving her looking worn and disheveled. Her huge round eyes peered at me.  Suddenly, a simpatico sense cloaked me.
The spring winds flowed over the choppy teal sea and stung my face with salty air. A pair of gopher snakes slowly slithered inches from my feet.  I hoped they would soon feast on a batch of newborn ground squirrels that run rampant on the bluffs growing obese from the junk food visitors feed them despite the plethora of signs that read, “Do Not Feed The Animals.”
Yes, a catastrophic molt is in progress.  Normally I would quickly back away from the harmless reptiles.  My skin would crawl like a thousand snakes wriggling en masse under my flesh.  But that didn’t happen.  I was happy to watch the brown and gold serpents go a huntin’.  And I knew if I left them without guardian that the visiting humans might harm or disturb them.
A young couple– he tall and handsome, she exquisitely attractive–and their active 3-year-old son made their way down the bluff-top boardwalk.  The snakes were inches from them, so I gave the family warning so that they would not be surprised.  The boy was beside himself with joy and wanted to touch the snakes.  Wisely, his father said no.
“Would you like to touch some elephant seal fur?” I asked the child.
From her motorized wheelchair, the boy’s mother tilted her face up at me and said, “I’d love to touch it.”  Her left wrist twisted like an old oak root, but she lifted her manicured fingers to touch the fur, and encouraged her son to do so, as well.  The boy said the underside of the fur felt like the Velcro on his safari-style pants.  And it does.
He climbed up the boardwalk railing, looked directly at me and asked, “Are you old?”  His mother, fashionably coiffed and made up,  opened her eyes wide and exclaimed, “Josh, that’s a wrong question.”
I laughed and answered, “Yes I am old. I like being old.”
“Why?” the curious lad queried.
“Because I know things now that I never knew before.”  I twirled my silver locks between my fingers and added, “My hair is silver now, like that seal sleeping in the sun.  It is new to me and it means that I am moving forward.”
Then I played a count the fingers game with him to count exactly how old I might be.  I sensed relief from his mother, and we returned to pointing out seals in various stages of molt.
She shivered in the wind.  Her husband took his jacket and wrapped it around her thin shoulders.  He suggested that it was time to move on. “I don’t want you to get a chill,” he reminded her when she said she was fine as she watched her curious son absorb all that was happening on the windy bluffs.
It’s these tiny vignettes that stick inside of me.  They’re minute tales worthy of a novel that I would have never read before I began my catastrophic molt.
Sometimes it frightens me because as the dead epidermis and old hair falls, my new silver hair absorbs a fresh view and understanding of life’s elements.  It’s not all glorious enlightenment because there are some life elements that I’d rather not perceive.  But like the seal when its molt has completed and it must return to the sea, and then confront those that wish to consume it, there is no other choice but to outwit, out think, or simply out swim the predators.
To be sure, there will always be those who  consume more than they need.  This is the difference with being human as opposed to being a seal that dodges  hungry sharks or killer whales that consume only what is necessary.
I wish that we were more like gopher snakes or sharks that hunt only what they need.
Molting takes time.  I’m not much into time, except for the moment.  I let the old fur conceal or distract my life mission or life goal.
Today I felt solidarity with the molting mammals of the sea.  My life’s mission slowly exposes itself during my personal catastrophic molt.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our coastline is protected!

California made history today when the Fish and Game Commission voted to adopt a network of Marine Protected Areas for northern California. The vote marks the completion of the nation’s first statewide underwater park system. Thanks to the landmark Marine Life Protection Act, beloved areas like Cape Mendocino, Point Reyes, the Big Sur Coast, and La Jolla will be enjoyed by divers, kayakers, swimmers, birders, and tidepoolers for generations to come.
Over the last eight years, business  owners, scientists, tribes, fishermen, conservationists and government  officials have met up and down the coast to map out protections that  will provide economic and environmental benefits for their communities. Their hard work, guided by input from tens of thousands of Californians, has created a system of safeguards that we can all be proud of.
CalOceans thanks all of the stakeholders, policymakers, and members of the public that worked so hard to make this possible.  Please see our press release, and check out a statewide map of California's marine protected areas.

The coast needs to be protected: two dolphins were found shot this past week.

From the San Luis Obispo Tribune:

State and federal investigators are looking into the possible shooting of a dolphin found on a beach near San Simeon last week.
William Alvarez of Cambria found a dead dolphin Wednesday during a regular beach stroll south of San Simeon near where a beached gray whale was discovered April 21. Thinking the wounds could have been caused by birds pecking at the carcass, he did not report the find.

But when he found a second dead dolphin about 100 yards away Saturday with similar wounds, he notified authorities. By then, the first dolphin had washed away, but officials examined the second dolphin and “verified it was bullet holes,” Alvarez said. “They felt they were shot.”
Alvarez came into the Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay, said Carolyn Skinder of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. She and a State Parks ranger examined the carcass.
“It was pretty nasty looking,” Skinder said. “There appeared to be an entry and exit wound.”
“It had decomposed a fair amount already,” said State Parks District Superintendent Nick Franco. “There’s not a lot to go on.”
A necropsy was not done, Franco said. Because there was an exit wound, it appeared that the bullet would no longer be in the dolphin.
It’s the first marine mammal shooting reported on the North Coast since three elephant seals were shot at Piedras Blancas in May 2008, Franco said. Investigators eventually received a tip that led to a suspect in that case, but the suspect died before any charges were filed.
“I don’t want to get into what kind of person did it,” Skinder said. “It’s a big-time federal offense.”
Shooting a dolphin is a violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Depending on what weapon was used where, it could also be a violation of a number of other laws, Franco said.
The state Fish and Game Department, State Parks and federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Bob Yerena are cooperating on the investigation.
A Fish and Game boat that patrols off the North Coast will be keeping watch for anything that could be related to the dolphin shooting, Franco said.
Yerena said late Monday that a total of six puncture wounds were on the dolphin found Saturday, but it “could not be determined whether those were a result of gunshots or if the birds had been eating on it, and they classified it as a suspicious death.”
He said the dolphin found Wednesday had “no indication it had been shot, just a dead dolphin on the beach.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

World Oceans Day

Jean-Michel Cousteau kicks off World Oceans Day, June 8:

June 8 is World Oceans Day and even though I say every day is oceans day, this is the one day of the year designated to celebrate all the gifts from the sea, the inherent gifts of the oceans that sustain all life on this planet.

I am honored to kick off World Oceans Day in South Korea where I will be apart of a week-long assemblage of world leaders, policy makers and inspirational speakers who are coming together for the 6th World Ocean Forum in Busan, Korea, on June 4. Through the collaboration of ocean leaders and the exchange of information and knowledge about the current state of the seas, this global forum aims to discuss sustainable development, blue frontiership, and ocean governance for the future.  I will be one of three keynote speakers among thousands of hopeful individuals to share our knowledge, experience, and, of course, our unwavering love for the sea.

While human population continues to boom, land and ocean resources continue to falter.  Our current methods for harvesting fish, extracting fossil fuels, and capitalizing our limited resources threatens the essential life support system that enable us to survive.  The 6th World Ocean Forum will gather a community of individuals and nations to discuss, evaluate, and formulate decisions to create a better future for our ocean planet.

Our team at Ocean Futures Society encourages everyone to explore the topics and issues being discussed at the 6th World Ocean Forum and to become aware of the current state of our water planet.  For more information, please go to

From Korea, I will travel to Brazil for United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio +20 and will participate in numerous presentations, panels and working sessions to address some of humanities’ greatest challenges, including living sustainability with the rich diversity of life we share on this planet. This will be an unprecedented opportunity to build the future we want: healthy, productive oceans, abundant sources of fresh water, and clean air for all to be protected, cherished and passed on to future generations. But enough talk, we need to achieve action at Rio +20. 

Please join me in these great landmark events by supporting the work of Ocean Futures Society to explore our global ocean, inspiring and educating people throughout the world to act responsibly for its protection, documenting the critical connection between humanity and nature, and celebrating the ocean's vital importance to the survival of all life on our planet. I need your help and support!

Thank you,

 Jean-Michel Cousteau, President