OPC’s Year in Review: Meeting Challenges, Advancing Equity, Protecting Our Ocean

“As we look to 2022, our goal at the agency is to… continue California’s global leadership, combating climate change, transitioning our economy, and protecting our people and nature in the meantime. I believe strongly that people are resilient and that nature is resilient. We can adapt and weather these changes we are experiencing right now, and we at the Natural Resources Agency and across state government are focused on strengthening the resilience of our communities, our residents, and of our natural places to these changes we are experiencing. I’m optimistic that we will work harder than ever before and make unprecedented process toward building this resilience.” – from California Natural Resources Secretary and Ocean Protection Council Chair Wade Crowfoot’s end of the year video message

As 2021 brought global challenges to the forefront, the state of California responded with bold, decisive actions to protect our coast and ocean. OPC staff led multiple projects designed to restore wetlands, improve water quality, prevent plastic pollution, respond to environmental justice inequities, promote sustainable fisheries, protect marine wildlife and build resilience to climate change.

Despite the many looming threats, we continue to find hope in the form of scientific solutions to the planet’s biggest problems and in the promising work done by our grantees on the front lines. Join us in celebrating specific achievements from the past year below: … read more

California Seeks Feedback on Draft Strategy to Achieve 30×30 Conservation Target

To protect biodiversity, advance equitable access to nature, and combat climate change, the California Natural Resources Agency today released a groundbreaking document detailing strategies and opportunities to conserve 30 percent of California’s lands and coastal waters by 2030.  

The draft of Pathways to 30×30: Accelerating Conservation of California’s Nature is now available for public review and feedback. Pathways to 30×30 responds directly to Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-82-20, which aims to accelerate conservation of California’s lands and coastal waters through voluntary, collaborative action, and makes California the first state to commit to the ambitious global “30×30” target. 

An underwater scene featuring a sheepshead

Photo by Zack Gold

“The level of collaboration and leadership by OPC on 30×30 has been tremendous. I look forward implementing this strategy together,” says Dr. Jennifer Norris, Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity and Habitat and lead for 30×30 California.

OPC has coordinated closely with Dr. Norris and additional CNRA leadership on the coastal and ocean components of California’s 30×30 initiative, building on the Conservation of Coastal Waters Advisory panel report released earlier this year. The pathway to conserving 30 percent of California’s coastal waters by 2030 will include the 16 percent of state waters currently protected within the state’s network of marine protected areas and a prioritized focus on working with federal resource managers to strengthen biodiversity conservation measures in California’s federally managed National Marine Sanctuaries, which currently cover 40.6 percent of state waters.  

Sanctuaries provide an opportunity for California to meet or exceed the 30×30 target while ensuring that access and sustainable use is maintained. Strengthened protections within Sanctuaries could include:  

  • Restoring and revitalizing indigenous stewardship,  
  • Phasing out the use of particularly harmful fishing gear,  
  • Strengthening water quality protections,  
  • Restoring degraded habitats,  
  • And/or banning single-use plastics within Sanctuary watersheds.  

Moving forward, OPC will be working with the research community, other state and federal agencies, Tribes and Tribal governments, and coastal stakeholders – including commercial and recreational fishermen – to identify areas that are important for biodiversity in California’s coastal waters, assess major threats to biodiversity and explore additional protections that could be implemented to address those threats.  

“OPC is looking forward to working with the National Marine Sanctuaries, fishing and environmental communities, and other ocean stakeholders to develop and implement a path to 30 percent conserved coastal waters by 2030”, said Dr. Mark Gold, Deputy Secretary for Oceans and Coastal Policy and Director of the Ocean Protection Council. “We have an extraordinary opportunity to leverage our efforts with the federal 30×30 initiative with an objective of thriving coastal waters.”

Do you have thoughts on how California can best protect biodiversity and achieve “30×30” for the coast and ocean? We want to hear from you! Visit CaliforniaNature.ca.gov to review the draft Pathways to 30×30 document and submit feedback by January 28, 2022. 

Communities Entitled to Environmental Justice to Receive $7.5M for Coastal Water Quality Projects

At its December 7 meeting, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) for the first time approved funding exclusively for coastal water quality projects that directly benefit Communities Entitled to Environmental Justice (CEEJs). A total of $7.5M in Proposition 1 funds will be disbursed to six projects that support multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection or restoration, habitat enhancement, resilience to climate change and community engagement. 

While OPC regularly funds important ocean- and coast-related projects throughout the state, this is the Council’s first time soliciting projects that provide direct benefits to state-defined disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged communities, California Native American tribes, and communities that score above 80 percent on CalEnviroScreen results.

Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and OPC Chair Wade Crowfoot commended the state’s investment in the proposed community-driven projects, saying, “This effort is a really powerful model for how the state can prioritize funding that more effectively advances both natural resources protection and environmental justice.” 

OPC Wetlands Program Manager Maria Rodriguez agreed. “This is OPC’s first step in accomplishing a dedicated pathway for funding EJ communities and projects that put community benefits at the forefront and emphasize social and economic benefits,” she said. “These are elements that OPC is working to incorporate into other funding opportunities to ensure community benefits are meaningful, direct and can be delivered through projects or programs OPC is leading.”

Funded projects span California’s coastline

… read more

California Joins Global Network of Subnational Governments Promising Action on Biodiversity Conservation

Scientists have made it clear that stakes couldn’t be higher in the fight to save our planet’s species and habitats from extinction and devastation. On November 3, California became the first U.S. state to sign the Edinburgh Declaration, joining a global network of subnational governments promising bold action to conserve the planet’s biodiversity in the face of climate change.

The Edinburgh Declaration calls for transforming all sectors of society to address species loss and habitat destruction. It also highlights the key role that subnational governments can play in implementing global biodiversity goals.  

California’s Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis met with Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson at COP 26 to formally sign the Declaration. “The nature crisis is real. We must move faster and on multiple fronts to address the joint crises of climate change and biodiversity loss,” Kounalakis said. “I am proud to sign the Edinburgh Declaration on behalf of Californians and our strong commitment to this global effort. As a subnational party with 40 million people to protect, 105 million acres we rely on for food, water, and habitat, and the fifth largest economy in the world to sustain, we understand what is at stake. There is no future in business as usual.” 

And California is already delivering on this vision. In October 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-82-20, which elevates the role of nature-based solutions in California’s efforts to address climate change, protect biodiversity, and provide access for all Californians to the state’s precious natural areas.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 6: Elkhorn Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Phase III

“Our hope is that this project will demonstrate we can undo past damage and that it’s worth it because you cannot have healthy humans without a healthy environment” – Monique Fountain

Today we are visiting Elkhorn Slough. Designated a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention, the Slough supports a diversity of species, ranging from harbor seals to Dungeness crab. Of course, the Slough is known for the large resident population of southern sea otters that can be seen by the visiting public at close range swimming in the tidal creeks, foraging in the eelgrass meadows, and resting on the salt marsh where they frequently haul out. While these charismatic and fuzzy animals are effective at drawing in the public and fostering stewardship across the broader Monterey Bay community, equally as important are our coastal foundation species (salt marsh, eelgrass, oysters) which are responsible for building the emblematic ecosystems of the California coast. 

This Prop 68 Project will complete the last 30 acres of a 119-acre tidal marsh restoration project and includes the restoration of tidal marsh, eelgrass beds, and Olympia oysters. Reversing the degradation that Elkhorn Slough has experienced over the past 150 years, this project aims to re-build a coastal landscape that is resilient to sea-level rise. The Project Team includes multiple state agencies, academics, and the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “This is our chance to bring back some of those wild places in partnership with Native Americans so that these coastal habitats can once again provide the sort of values that they have in the past as a legacy for future generations” notes Dr. Kerstin Wasson, science lead on the project.  … read more

California Biodiversity Day 2021 – Get Involved!

As a state, California boasts both the highest number of species total and the highest number of species that occur nowhere else. Our state’s animal and plant life is so varied that we’ve been named as one of 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots by Conservation International. For California Biodiversity Day on Tuesday, Sept. 7, we’re turning our attention to what climate change means for ocean wildlife – and what we’re doing to protect the habitat those creatures rely on. (See the full line-up of California Biodiversity Day events here.)

Plenty of iconic ocean creatures can be seen from California’s shores including harbor seals, sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and whales. Our tide pools feature anemones, urchins, nudibranchs, limpets, mussels, crabs and many more animals uniquely suited to living in these constantly changing homes. Cormorants, osprey, sandpipers, godwits and pelicans are only some of the hundreds of species of coastal birds diving, soaring and nesting along our beaches. Dozens of types of flowers and other plants dot long stretches of undeveloped coastline. This all combines to create a fascinating and beautiful 1,100 miles along the Pacific Ocean. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 5: Heron’s Head Shoreline Resilience Project

(Intro to the series here)

“We spend a lot of our lives hearing about how humans are negatively affecting the environment…and we don’t always hear about the exciting good things we do for the environment–and this project is one of those” – Erica Petersen

Today we are at Heron’s Head Park in San Francisco to meet with members of the team leading a large project that will use nature to engineer resilience to erosion and sea level rise. This project seeks to protect this highly accessible and valuable wetland habitat for future generations.

“With this project we get to demonstrate these natural infrastructure techniques for shoreline protection. These dynamic solutions to climate change and sea level rise are going to be so important over the coming decades, it’s great to start to install them now and learn from them and build the knowledge and scientific basis for applying these [nature-based solutions] throughout the state,” comments Eddie Divita, lead ESA designer on the project.

The shoreline at Heron’s Head Park has been eroding for the past 20 years and so to prevent further erosion this project will construct a coarse material beach and an adjacent offshore oyster reef to dampen the wave action that is currently pounding the shore. “Every year that we don’t control shoreline erosion, we’re losing marsh,” notes Carol Bach, Lead Project Manager. 

Photo courtesy Literacy for Environmental Justice

This Prop 68 project also includes the restoration of endangered tidal marsh plant, Suaeda californica, or the California sea-blite; this plant grows tall and climbs, providing ideal high tide refuge for bird and mammal species seeking cover to avoid predators while also staying dry. Over time, the team expects the coarse material beach to develop a wave-built berm. To stabilize the berm and provide high-tide refuge for marsh animals, Dr. Katharyn Boyer and her team of San Francisco State University undergraduate and graduate students in partnership with the community-based non profit education organization, Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ), will plant S. californica using plants raised by LEJ Eco-Apprentices.

Boyer has used this “arboring” technique at other sites throughout San Francisco Bay and is optimistic that the S. californica restoration at Heron’s Head will provide critical habitat for species such as the federally-endangered Ridgway’s Rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. “We can use a federally endangered plant to support some federally endangered animal species,” adds Boyer.  

Photo courtesy Bionic Landscape Architects

San Francisco Bay is an ideal location for this type of project: “the Bay is directly connected to the outer coast of California, it drains 40 percent of the state’s watershed, and supports many endangered and endemic species,” says Marilyn Latta, Project Manager for the State Coastal Conservancy. “This project is part of an overall regional blueprint for the Bay to bring back not only tidal wetlands, with a goal to restore 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands within the Bay, but also to restore the subtidal habitats that we so rarely see…seagrasses, oyster reefs, sandy bottom, mudflats,” adds Latta. … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 4: Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project

(Intro to the series here)

“Part of this is just the regular stewardship practice of taking care of the land together” – Max Korten

Today we are in the beautiful Bolinas Lagoon of Marin County, this tidal embayment is a Ramsar Site, recognized internationally for its ecological importance. Bolinas Lagoon supports many listed and endangered species including the California black rail, red-legged frog, steelhead trout, and coho salmon. This Prop 68 Project is to finalize the designs for the Bolinas Lagoon Wye Wetlands Resiliency Project. 

The primary goal of this project is to restore natural processes, reversing past land-uses (ranching, logging, mining) that left the wetlands vulnerable to sea level rise, by fragmenting and developing the area immediately surrounding the lagoon. The design includes removing a part of a road that currently separates the uplands and brackish marshes of the lagoon from neighboring freshwater wetlands and building a bridge to restore tidal flow to the area and removing a barrier to eventual marsh migration. The team has also incorporated plans to reroute a creek that is currently behind a water control structure, to its historical path allowing it to flow directly into the lagoon. They plan to allow the creek to self-form and evolve over time with minimal intervention beyond the initial channelization.

“For the community, their main connection to the rest of the world is this road, which already gets flooded during high tides and storms, one of the ancillary benefits of this project is that they have a more consistently safe and accessible access into and out of their community,” says Max Korten.

“This is a stepping stone, it’s the first step that we need to take to accommodate sea level rise and allow for wetlands to be able to migrate towards our uplands”, notes Veronica Pearson, the Lead Project Manager for this effort. Max Korten, Director of Marin County Parks is hopeful that this Prop 68 Project can help inform future adaptation efforts across the California coast, noting that sea level rise will present some difficult decisions for regions of the state that are heavily developed. “Bolinas Lagoon can serve as a model for the more challenging places in the state where there are harder trade-offs,” adds Korten.  … read more

Prop 68 Climate Resilience Miniseries Episode 3: Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model Update for Targeted, Climate-Smart Eelgrass Restoration in San Francisco Bay

(Intro to the series here)

Today we are talking about a Prop 68 Project to develop an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model for San Francisco Bay–where many of California’s eelgrass enhancement and mitigation projects have been conducted. In order to successfully restore eelgrass, we need to first find the best locations to restore, which is not as easy as it may sound. 

The goal of this project is to update an Eelgrass Habitat Suitability Model (HSM) that was first developed by Merkel & Associates more than 10 years ago. Not only do we have much better data today than was available 10 years ago, we also know much more about the conditions that eelgrass needs to successfully establish and expand, post-restoration. This project takes advantage of the wealth of data now available and applies lessons learned from previous restoration projects and our improved understanding of how eelgrass may respond to climate impacts to develop an adaptive, climate-smart HSM. “We have learned a lot through our restoration efforts about what works and what doesn’t, but site selection remains a tricky problem, especially as we think about the future of eelgrass habitats as conditions shift with climate change,” states Dr. Katharyn Boyer, the lead academic on the project. … read more

Global Climate Change Report Affirms California’s Leadership

On August 9, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report on global climate change. The report, which was written by 234 scientists from around the world, provides a sobering outlook for the planet as global temperatures continue to increase and signals an urgency for action now. Many changes observed are unprecedented, with some impacts – such as global temperature and sea-level rise – increasing at a pace not previously predicted by scientists. 

The IPCC report asserts that even if the world’s population completely ceased greenhouse gas emissions immediately, what’s already been emitted will continue to affect the atmosphere for decades to come:  … read more