What if we get it right? Reflections on WSN 2020

Michael Esgro, OPC Marine Ecosystems Program Manager & Tribal Liaison

This past weekend, nearly 900 marine scientists convened online for the 101st Western Society of Naturalists (WSN) annual meeting. Against the backdrop of the U.S. presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a growing nationwide movement for racial justice, WSN 2020 felt different. The very fact that the meeting was held over Zoom, rather than in the packed auditoriums and meeting rooms that characterized WSN conferences of my grad school yearswas a reminder that science cannot be separated from human well-being. In addition, this year’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion (including WSN’s first-ever diversity plenary!) came as a long-overdue recognition of the link between social equity and environmental resilience, although it’s clear that we all have work to do when it comes to operationalizing some of the recommendations that were presented. 

Over the course of three days at WSNI eagerly devoured session after session of 15-minute talks, filling my notebook with new developments in monitoring technology, marine protected area science, fisheries ecology, restoration practice, and sustainable aquaculture. These findings will directly inform my work – in the coming weeks, for example, I’ll be following up with speakers who presented in two special sessions on kelp forest ecosystem resilience, to ensure that the most cutting-edge science is represented in OPC’s upcoming Action Plan for kelp research and restoration in California.  

A few moments that stood out for me: our partners at the California Ocean Science Trust highlighted key findings from a state-supported scientific working group that is exploring the role of California’s MPA network in providing climate resilience. At Saturday’s ocean-climate symposium, Dr. Kerry Nickols explained how kelp forests may help to mitigate ocean acidification at the local scale. I was excited to be part of a team that presented a new inventory of “de facto” marine protected areas on California’s central coast and their potential contributions to conserving critical deepwater habitat. And in yet another sign of the times, there was an entire session dedicated to innovative and creative ways of keeping field research moving during the COVID era. 

More than anything, however, I was struck by a comment made by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, an ocean hero whose areas of expertise include both marine ecology and community engagement. Her question to WSN’s attendees: “what if we get it right?” In other words, what does all this science mean for people? If we move beyond the Keeling Curves, grim IPCC reports, and news of environmental collapse, what is our positive vision for the future? What kind of world do we want to live in, and how do we build it together? 

I’m proud to live and work in Californiawhere we have a strong vision of what it means to get it right – our state’s leaders are striving to build a more equitable and resilient society, a “California for All.” I left WSN 2020 feeling fired up to continue that fight for California’s coast and ocean, and grateful for the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of scientists in this most unusual and pivotal of years. 

Invitation to Bid: Communications Strategy for California’s Coast and Ocean

The Ocean Protection Council is seeking bids for contract to develop and implement a Communications Strategy for California’s Coast and Ocean that will provide centralized access to California’s extensive coastal and ocean information, ensure unified messaging of the State’s coastal management and scientific efforts, and help to engage ocean stakeholders, key legislators, decision-makers, and the general public in the process.

Through updated media platforms, targeted outreach, annual State of the Ocean reports, development of an Ocean Health Dashboard and report card, and many more actions, the Communications Strategy will help OPC become a communications hub for the state, serving to share California’s progress towards meeting our ambitious Strategic Plan goals, objectives, and targets.

Please submit bids by 12pm on December 15th, 2020.

For more information follow this link: https://caleprocure.ca.gov/event/0540/0000017900

Upcoming Webinar Series: Microplastics Effects on Human and Ecological Health

The Ocean Protection Council, the State Water Resources Control Board staff, and numerous international experts will be participating in a webinar series starting on October 19 to characterize microplastics and human and ecological health effects. This webinar series is hosted by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, and the University of Toronto and is open to the public; more information on the webinar series and registration information is available here: https://www.sccwrp.org/about/research-areas/additional-research-areas/trash-pollution/microplastics-health-effects-webinar-series/

Microplastics on a petri dish

Photo Credit: Xia Zhu

OPC co-hosting virtual meeting on emerging contaminents

The Ocean Protection Council, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, are reconvening the Science Advisory Panel on Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in Aquatic Ecosystems (Panel) to review existing scientific literature and determine the state of current scientific knowledge on the risks of CECs impacting human health and the environment in freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems of the State. The panel will update recommendations submitted in 2012 to the State Water Board to improve the understanding of CECs to protect public health and the environment.

The Panel, will be hosting its initial series of public meetings via Zoom. The meetings are scheduled Monday through Thursday, October 12 – 15 from 8am to 10am. The meetings will include technical presentations for the Panel’s consideration and time is allocated for interested parties to provide input and feedback as part of the initiation of the Panel’s deliberation process. This meeting series is free and open to the public, and registration is available at: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1yzijYkVTq6JQH-NYbVxzw

The agenda for the meeting series includes four parts that correspond to each day of the series including:

  • Part 1: Intended Use of Panel Products
  • Part 2: CEC Management Approaches
  • Part 3: Scientific Advances in the Field
  • Part 4: Stakeholder Input

For those that are interested but unable to attend, the meeting will be recorded and made available to the public for later viewing. This panel is updating information from a previous Science Advisory Panel from 2012, additional information on the previous Science Advisory Panel, including a link to the 2012 report, is available at https://www.sccwrp.org/about/research-areas/emerging-contaminants/cec-ecosystems-panel/.

 

photo of a wave breaking

Photo credit: Todd Teetzel

 

A Fighting Chance for North Coast Bull Kelp

Michael Esgro, OPC Marine Ecosystems Program Manager & Tribal Liaison

As a lifelong Monterey diver, I’ve been devastated to watch California’s once-lush kelp forests turn into “urchin barrens” seemingly overnight. I’ve also been deeply moved by conversations with my north coast diver brethren (both at public meetings in Sacramento and over beers in Noyo Harbor) about the devastating consequences that this ecological collapse has had on the economy, culture, and spirit of California’s north coast, where kelp declines have been the most severe. So when I was offered the chance to observe a new kelp restoration project in Mendocino County – a unique partnership between OPC, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Reef Check California, and local commercial fishermen – I threw a scuba tank in my truck and drove north without hesitation. And that’s how I found myself pulling on a wetsuit on a foggy Sunday morning, excited for an underwater tour of the Noyo Bay restoration site.

Alongside Tristin McHugh, Reef Check’s North Coast Regional Manager and my divemaster for this excursion, I dropped into the uncommonly clear water and soon came upon Pat and Grant Downie, a father-son team of commercial red sea urchin divers. Using only their hands and specially designed rakes, they were quickly clearing the reef of kelp-eating purple urchin, demonstrating a level of skill and efficiency that comes only with a lifetime of urchin diving. For reference, I participated in a recreational urchin removal event at Noyo Bay last summer, and I was proud of the 5 pounds I surfaced with. The Downies’ haul last Sunday? More than half a ton.

Diver

Commercial fisherman Grant Downie removing purple urchin from the reef at Noyo Bay. Photo: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California

As Tristin and I made our way across the reef, I was impressed to see the progress that has been made since urchin removal operations started only a month ago. When I last saw this site, purple urchins were so dense that the ocean floor looked like a spiky purple carpet. Now, it was bare rock. And about halfway through the dive, I saw something I never thought I’d see at Noyo Bay again – several baby bull kelps growing on the newly cleared reef. I hovered over one for several minutes. This piece of algae was no bigger than my thumb, and it looked like such a fragile thing, especially compared to the towering forests that once stood here. But it also struck me as defiant, evidence of resilience in a changing ocean, new life in an environment that, up until a few weeks ago, seemed beyond redemption.

Kelp

Juvenile bull kelp growing on newly cleared reef. Photo: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California

Back on the dock, as we watched divers hauling in basket after basket of purple urchin, I talked with colleagues about the sighting, and all of us (ecologists to the core) agreed we can’t yet say that urchin removal is directly responsible for kelp regrowth at Noyo Bay. That requires more data, and replication, and comparison with unmanipulated reference sites. In fact, it’s the central scientific question that we are trying to answer with this project. The image of that baby bull kelp stayed with me, though, as I drove home down Highway 1 and looked out at a coast that was once lined with thick brown tangles. We’re nowhere near the end of the story. But at a couple of spots in Mendocino County, we’re at least giving kelp a fighting chance.

Urchins

Landed purple urchins ready for processing and data collection. Photo: Mike Esgro/Ocean Protection Council

Divers

Dive team enjoying uncommonly clear and blue conditions at Noyo Bay last weekend. Photo: Tristin McHugh/Reef Check California

Invitation to Bid: Communications Strategy for the 2022 decadal review of California’s Marine Protected Area network

The Ocean Protection Council is seeking bids for contract to develop a communication strategy for the 2022 decadal review of California’s Marine Protected Area network. This communications strategy will be used over the next two years leading up to the management review in December 2022 and through early 2023 to communicate the results of the review, along with the recommendations and next steps for ongoing adaptive management of California’s Marine Protected Areas. This strategy will help establish a communications protocol and framework by which information regarding subsequent decadal reviews will be shared with decision makers, stakeholders and the public. The Contractor will be required to work in close collaboration with OPC, DFW and FGC staff in the development and deployment of this communication strategy through the duration of the contract.

For more information follow this link: https://caleprocure.ca.gov/event/0540/0000015525

OPC is Hiring a Senior Environmental Scientist

The California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) is hiring a Senior Environmental Scientist (Specialist) to lead its Marine Protected Area (MPA) Program.  OPC is a Cabinet-level state policy body that works to ensure healthy coastal and ocean ecosystems by advancing innovative, science-based policy and management, making strategic investments, and catalyzing action through partnerships and collaboration.

The Senior Environmental Scientist will serve as the team lead for OPC’s MPA program and will be responsible for: coordinating the efforts of OPC’s MPA program manager and Sea Grant Fellow; leading implementation of the state’s MPA Management Program in collaboration with OPC’s other MPA program staff and external partners, which includes investments and actions related to outreach and education, research and monitoring, compliance and enforcement, and policy and permitting; grant and contract management including developing work scopes, tracking deliverables, processing invoices, and grantee coordination; and additional organizational support and capacity, as needed.

Applicants should have a minimum of four years of relevant post-graduate work experience, a strong scientific background, working knowledge of coastal and ocean issues and stakeholders in California, experience working on projects and/or research related to MPAs in California or elsewhere, and excellent written and verbal communication skills. The ability to work in a fast-paced environment and prioritize tasks is a must. A PhD, ecological modeling experience, and two years of field work are preferred but not required.  The position is located in Sacramento, California. 

The application deadline is November 22, 2019.  For more details and to apply, please visit: https://jobs.ca.gov/CalHrPublic/Jobs/JobPosting.aspx?JobControlId=179933

In Memoriam: Adrian Dahood-Fritz

Photo of Adrian Dahood-Fritz, and her husband Andrew Fritz.The staff at OPC are devastated at the loss of our friend and colleague Adrian Dahood-Fritz, and her husband Andrew Fritz, who were both victims of the catastrophic Conception dive boat accident that occurred on September 2, 2019.

Adrian was the Senior Scientist and Policy Advisor in our marine protected areas program and had been working with us since April 2019.  In addition to bringing a wealth of scientific and technical expertise to our team, she brought a level of passion, determination, and dedication that will be impossible to replace.  Adrian had a fantastic sense of humor and charmed us with unbelievable stories, including those about her adventures in the Antarctic and her love of cats, krill, penguins, and pancake ice.

Adrian wasn’t afraid to push back on consensus opinions and was skillful at articulating her point of view.  She was a brilliant scientist and was always thoughtful, critical and measured in her approach. She had a unique ability to dig into the details of a scientific issue while always keeping the broader goal of marine conservation in focus.  Prior to working at OPC, she worked for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division conducting research, influencing policy, and helping establish and manage protected areas in Antarctica.

In May, Andrew volunteered his time and skills to video an OPC-hosted workshop on marine protected areas.   It was an altruistic gesture that demonstrated the love and support he shared with Adrian. We are grateful to have had the honor to meet him and deeply appreciate his generous contribution to our work.

We recognize that this accident has had a significant impact on our entire ocean community and that many of our colleagues and partners have also suffered incredible, unfathomable loss.  We stand with you in this time of grief as we hold the spirit of our friends and loved ones close to our hearts.

In Adrian’s memory, the Adrian Dahood-Fritz Memorial Fund has been established with the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS).  All donations will support travel for early career researchers to attend international conferences.  For more information on APECS and how to donate to the Memorial Fund, please visit: https://www.apecs.is/who-we-are/support-apecs/adrian-dahood-fritz-memorial-fund.html

Please note, the donation page will need to be translated.  To do so, click on the yellow donate button, add a dollar amount and click on the blue shaded link says “Doner med PayPal,” log into your PayPal account, and then the webpage will be translated to English.  All of these steps will occur prior to confirmation of payment.