Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Upon discovering low tide would arrive in late afternoon, we headed up to Fitzgerald Marine Sanctuary to explore the tide pools.  Recently designated a Marine Protected Area, the rocky shore of the reserve allows visitors to marvel at the diversity of marine life and learn more about protecting the ocean and its inhabitants. Visitors may discover sea urchins, sea stars, harbor seals, various mollusks, and even the elusive red octopus. While we saw quite a few anemones and crabs, we were unable to find any of the starfish pictured in the brochure.  I eventually encountered a naturalist who said there has been a rapid decline in the number of starfish in recent weeks for reasons they have yet to determine, causing concern among conservationists and prompting me to give some additional consideration to mans impact on the ocean.

The tidepools and their creatures are cared for by San Mateo County Parks staff. A non-profit organization called the Friends of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (FFMR) trains volunteer naturalists who share their wealth of knowledge with students, teachers, and visitors. The California Academy of Science's intertidal citizen science volunteer group at established monitoring sites to document species over time.

More information about the Fitzgerald Reserve may be found at:

A book reviewed in their fall newsletter has been on my radar for awhile, The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea by David Helvarg.  I recently finished his memoir, Saved By the Sea: A Love Story with Fish, chronicling his growing concern about protecting the oceans.

David founded the Blue Frontier Campaign, a Washington D.C.-based ocean conservation organization to promote his cause:

On October 3, 2013, the latest International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN released findings indicating that the rate, speed and impacts of change in the global ocean are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought.  Decreasing oxygen levels in the ocean caused by climate change and nitrogen run- off, combined with other chemical pollution and rampant overfishing are undermining the ability of the ocean to withstand these so-called ‘carbon perturbations’, meaning its role as Earth’s ‘buffer’ is seriously compromised. 
  • De-oxygenation: the evidence is accumulating that the oxygen inventory of the ocean is progressively declining with predictions of a decline of between 1% and 7% by 2100. This is occurring in two ways: the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years caused by global warming; and the dramatic increase in coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) associated with eutrophication caused by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage. 
  • Acidification: If current levels of CO2 release continue we can expect extremely serious consequences for ocean life, and in turn food and coastal protection; at CO2 concentrations of 450-500 ppm (projected in 2030-2050) erosion will exceed calcification in the coral reef building process, resulting in the extinction of some species and decline in biodiversity overall. 
  • Warming: The impacts which continued warming is projected to have in the decades to 2050 include: reduced seasonal ice zones, including the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice by ca. 2037; increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion; increased venting of the GHG methane from the Arctic seabed; and increased incidence of anoxic and hypoxic (low oxygen) events. 
  • The ‘deadly trio’ of acidification, warming and deoxygenation is seriously effecting how productive and efficient the ocean is, as temperatures, chemistry, surface stratification, nutrient and oxygen supply are all implicated, meaning that many organisms will find themselves in unsuitable environments. These impacts will have cascading consequences for marine biology, including altered food web dynamics and the expansion of pathogens. 
  • Continued overfishing is serving to further undermine the resilience of ocean systems,despite some improvements largely in developed regions, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to the ecosystems on which marine life depends. In 2012 the UN FAO determined that 70% of world fish populations are unsustainably exploited, of which 30% have biomass collapsed to less than 10% of unfished levels.

As a matter of urgency, the marine scientists say that world governments must:

  • Reduce global C02 emissions to limit temperature rise to less than 2oC, or below 450 CO2e. Current targets for carbon emission reductions are insufficient in terms of ensuring coral reef survival and other biological effects of acidification, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 and CO2 dissolved in the ocean.
  • Ensure effective implementation of community- and ecosystem-based management, favouring small-scale fisheries. 
  • Build a global infrastructure for high seas governance that is fit-for-purpose, securing a new implementing agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the auspices of UNCLOS. 

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