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
On August 27, 2014, the California Ocean Protection Council passed two resolutions: one to support the State Water Resource Control Board’s adoption of a trash policy, and one to support implementation of the “Safeguarding California Plan for Reducing Climate Risk.” … read more
California and Oregon are joining forces to help address ocean acidification and hypoxia, a West Coast-wide threat to our shared marine and coastal ecosystems. The California Natural Resources Agency, on behalf of the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Oregon to jointly sponsor a high-level science panel to help address the issue of ocean acidification and hypoxia. The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel will provide state-level decision makers with the knowledge needed to evaluate and develop action plans for these complex issues. The science panel will also identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a West Coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia, and address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions. … read more
Ocean acidification and hypoxia, two phenomena often coupled for a variety of biological and oceanographic reasons, have the potential for profound impacts on living marine resources. Scientists have already demonstrated serious impacts on shell-building organisms, among others, and severe effects on the shellfish industry have been documented in the Pacific Northwest. In California, resource managers, stakeholders, tribes and citizens are beginning to express concerns about these emerging threats to local ecosystems, communities, and coastal economies.
Ocean Protection Council and Partner Efforts to Address Complex Processes
California is uniquely situated to advance collective understanding about ocean acidification and hypoxia and to use this knowledge to inform multiple management strategies. The California Ocean Protection Council and the California Ocean Science Trust are working hand-in-hand to elevate attention to ocean acidification and hypoxia in several arenas. Through its Cabinet-level leadership, the Ocean Protection Council is working both within the state and with West Coast leaders to identify appropriate responses to these coast-wide phenomena. This work is exemplified by the interdisciplinary West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, convened at the request of the Ocean Protection Council by the California Ocean Science Trust to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions.
California’s investment in a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) provides opportunities to study the early impacts of ocean acidification, hypoxia and other stressors, while bolstering the resilience of California’s ocean ecosystems in the face of these emerging threats. The Ocean Protection Council and the Ocean Science Trust are positioned at the nexus between science and policy, and this collaboration brings emerging science to bear on evolving policy and management responses within California and across the West Coast. Several key efforts are described below.
A West Coast Leadership Priority
The Pacific Coast Collaborative and West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health recognize ocean acidification as a priority ocean and coastal health issue, given the added vulnerability of the West Coast. In December 2013, the West Coast Governors and the Premier of British Columbia mobilized to provide a joint letter to President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in fulfillment of an initial action called for in the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy to enlist support for research on ocean acidification. This letter raises awareness of ocean acidification at the highest levels, promotes the collaborative efforts and leadership from the West Coast, and requests specific action and enhanced support from our federal partners. In response, a convening of state, provincial, and federal leaders to develop a joint strategy to address ocean acidification and hypoxia is currently being planned for later in 2014. The OPC Executive Director is in close contact with counterparts in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia on this issue.
At its September 13, 2012 public meeting, the OPC formally charged the OPC Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), under the leadership of the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), with convening a high-level ocean acidification and hypoxia science panel to provide decision makers with the knowledge needed to thoughtfully evaluate effective management actions. Recognizing the west coast-wide nature of the potential impacts, the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel is composed of leading scientists from California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia who will look for driving mechanisms that are common to the entire Pacific coast. The Panel will build upon the work of the Washington State Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel, address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions, and identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a west coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia.
photo credit: Henry Wolcott
C-CAN is an interdisciplinary collaboration among managers, scientists, and industry working to coordinate and enhance acidification monitoring along the entire west coast. The OPC Science Advisor (OST Executive Director) and several of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panelists participate on the C-CAN Steering Committee. C-CAN works with the regional ocean observing system associations, including the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CenCOOS) and the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS), to coordinate and encourage development of an acidification monitoring network for that serves publicly available data through the sharing of resources. C-CAN has produced a vision document describing how this data could be used by the management community, as well as a core principles document that describes the elements of a comprehensive and efficient monitoring network.
Supporting Scientific Partnerships to Enhance Understanding
The OPC has committed support to improve scientific understanding of acidification and hypoxia and the impacts to biological resources. The OPC is funding research through California Sea Grant to provide insights into effects of the upwelling of acidic waters and implications for shellfish along the California coast, and recently approved funding for scientists to perform integrated modeling of acidification, hypoxia, and nutrient inputs in the coastal ocean. The project will enhance current regional oceanographic modeling systems enabling a more comprehensive and consistent evaluation of both anthropogenic and climatic perturbations on near-shore physical, chemical, and biological conditions.
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Beachgoers and wildlife need the same thing – clean ocean water. A relaxing day enjoying California’s waters can easily be undone by beach closures or widespread harmful algal blooms. With California’s coastal and ocean waters extending from the top of the watersheds to the deep waters off the coast, the Ocean Protection Council has made improving water quality a top priority.
The ocean is usually the end point of land-based pollutants that flow from coastal watersheds. Nearshore impairment of water quality can result from municipal sewage discharges, industrial waste discharges, dredge spoils, and agricultural and urban runoff. When water quality is poor, the ability of coastal ecosystems to support healthy fisheries, aquaculture, recreational opportunities, and other beneficial uses is undermined. The OPC is working to improve water quality through assisting agencies who enforce pollution control, encouraging new approaches to reduce non-point source pollution from land and point source pollution from vessels, eliminating harmful impacts from once-through cooling at power plants, boosting water quality testing programs and warning systems, and reducing marine debris.
Objectives of the Ocean and Coastal Water Quality Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:
Objective 1: Enforce Pollution Controls
To reduce pollution, we must improve how California’s water quality laws are enforced. Several agencies have responsibility to keep our water clean but they may be hampered by funding or conflicting legislation. The OPC seeks to coordinate and support the agencies and their programs to enforce existing water quality laws. For example, the OPC is working with the Department of Fish and Game and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to support overlapping goals of improving water quality and protecting fish, wildlife and other coastal resources.
Objective 2: Innovation
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, California has made great strides in reducing point source pollution from industrial and other operations. Yet, there has been less progress in reducing pollutants from non-point sources, such as storm water flows from heavily paved urban environments, construction sites, and agricultural operations. Innovative approaches are needed to continue to clean up our waterways. To that end, the OPC has supported expanded use of low-impact development through a 2008 resolution and accompanying projects.
Objective 3: Once-through Cooling
In California, 21 coastal power plants use once-through cooling, a process in which large volumes of seawater are drawn into the power plant to condense steam created during electricity generation. When this occurs, small organisms such as plankton and larvae are drawn into the cooling system and killed, and larger fish are pinned against the water intake screens. Warm water is also discharged back into the ocean, which harms the resident sea life. The OPC has supported the work of the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate once-through cooling in California since 2006 with the passage of the first OPC resolution.
Objective 4: Water Quality Testing
Planning to enjoy a day at California’s coast can be ruined when a beach is closed from contaminated ocean water. Rapid indicators of pathogen contamination could provide for more timely notice of beach closures and openings. The OPC has targeted predicting harmful algal blooms (HABs) as one of the first improvements to water quality testing off the California coast.
Objective 5: Marine Debris
The accumulation of land-based litter and ocean-based derelict fishing gear in the ocean has garnered much attention in the media. Scientific studies have found more than 260 marine species suffer from marine debris by ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement. Risks from toxins and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) associated with marine debris are a growing research area. The OPC began to address marine debris and toxins with a 2007 resolution that seeks to reduce ocean and coastal debris and its impacts to ocean ecosystems.
Objective 6: Vessel Pollution
Ships are a vital part of the ocean economy from commercial transportation to recreational use. California’s myriad of ports and harbors host pleasure craft, cruise ships, and oil tankers, all of which can act as individual sources of pollution to the sea. The OPC seeks to reduce and eliminate pollution from vessels such as developing effective alternatives to anti-fouling hull paints.
Initiatives and Funded Projects
Enforce Pollution Controls
Department of Fish and Game/LA Regional Water Quality Control Board MOU on Enforcement
Low-Impact Development (LID)
Implementation of LID in California
Once Through Cooling
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
California Sea Grant project
Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter
Plastic Substances Study
Master Environmental Assessment on Single-use and Reusable Bags
Derelict Fishing Gear Pilot Project
Contaminants of Emerging Concern Workshop
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As more impervious surfaces – roads, parking lots and buildings – are built in a watershed, more runoff is produced that is contaminated with oil, grease, metals, trash, bacteria, and other pollutants. This polluted runoff enters our waterways and contributes to beach closures, depressed fish populations and harmful algal blooms, all of which hurt our economy directly or indirectly. Increased flow may cause stream beds and banks to erode, damaging or eliminating stream habitat and carrying sediment downstream. Low-Impact Development (LID) is a set of stormwater management strategies that reduces impervious surfaces, treats runoff, controls runoff peaks and durations, and thereby helps protect water quality and stream resource integrity.
LID works. Its implementation is being fast-tracked by the federal government (most notably, the Department of Defense) and in many states. In California, the State and Regional Water Boards are already incorporating LID into their Statewide Construction and Municipal NPDES permit requirements. In early January 2008, the State Board released a policy analysis that examines the State’s primary mechanisms of regulating stormwater runoff and considers how LID approaches could be used for compliance purposes. Many local communities in California are also adopting LID requirements and practices.
LID can also benefit the business community. In December 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new report entitled “Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices.” The report contains 17 case studies from across North America that show the economic viability of LID practices. The report demonstrates that, in almost all cases, LID can reduce project costs while improving environmental performance. Total capital savings ranged from 15 to 80 percent, with one exception in which LID project costs were higher than conventional stormwater management costs. As LID practices become more common, it is likely that they will become cheaper to use.
Promoting LID in California was included in the 2008 OPC program priorities and at the February 2008 meeting, a report was presented to the Council exploring state and local policies that encourage or require LID. At the May 15, 2008 meeting, the OPC adopted a resolution regarding LID. As stated in the resolution, the OPC found LID to be a practicable and superior approach to minimizing and mitigating increases in runoff and runoff pollutants due to land development. Further, LID is cost-effective, has many ancillary benefits, and in most cases can be executed at lower cost than conventional drainage systems. Three topics were identified for action by the OPC to promote LID: state leadership, state regulatory action, and incentives, technical support and research. The resolution also included various items the OPC could consider funding to promote LID. Since the adoption of the resolution, the OPC has engaged with the Natural Resources Agency, California EPA, the Office of Planning and Research, Caltrans, the Building Standards Commission and the Department of Water Resources to encourage incorporation of the principles of LID in projects and standards. Standards for regulatory actions are also being developed by the State Water Board with assistance from the California Coastal Commission and the OPC.
The OPC awarded funds to Tetra Tech to examine the state and local policies that encourage or require the use of LID. The final report, “State and Local Policies Encouraging or Requiring Low Impact Development in California” (January 2008 ) serves as a clearinghouse for LID activities throughout the state, although as LID becomes more widespread, newer projects are not described.
OPC Resolution Regarding LID
February 29, 2008 LID Memo
US EPA LID information
As called for in the OPC Resolution, the Office of Planning and Research and OPC staff are working together to produce a technical advisory regarding the use of LID. The advisory was completed in summer 2009.
Other portions of the OPC Resolution are being enacted with the relevant agencies.
Photo Credit: Green Infrastructure
The Ocean Protection Council previously funded feasibility studies on once-through cooling at power plants to help facilitate new State Water Resources Control Board requirements. Additional information is below.
State Water Resources Control Board
California Energy Commission