In the June 23, 2019 travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle I took readers from tide pools to rocky reefs 30 feet below the ocean surface to show how they can witness the effects of climate change on the Northern California coast. For the first article I followed world-class free diver and spearfisherman Greg Fonts underwater to see how sub-tidal ecosystems have changed after kelp forests shrunk by 90 percent in less than a decade. In the second, I explored tide pools off Bodega Bay with UC Davis marine ecologist Eric Sanford to observe intertidal creatures who have moved north to the Sonoma Coast as the ocean has warmed.

Also in the section, I profiled the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s top diver George Z. Peterson and got his top-five scuba diving spots in California. If these stories interest you then check out my article on abalone diving I wrote while a staff writer at The Press Democrat in 2017.

Without abalone, spearfishing hooks North Coast anglers
On a cool, overcast day in May, spearfisherman Greg Fonts floats facedown on the surface of the Pacific Ocean 300 yards off the coast of Fort Bragg, rocking in the swell in a thick wetsuit. A small dive flashlight dangles from his right wrist. His left hand holds a long speargun, an arrow-tipped steel bolt locked in place along the stock with thick rubber tubing.

Through his dive mask, Fonts spots a school of blue rockfish swimming over the rocky reef 20 feet below — a good sign that lingcod may be nearby. With large fang-like teeth, lingcod are marine predators prized for their large fillets of mild, flakey meat. After a deep inhale, Fonts removes his snorkel and duck-dives. With a few kicks of his long flippers, he descends to the reef. Read more…

How is climate change affecting oceans? Check the tide pools
On a sunny afternoon in mid-April, Professor Eric Sanford crouched in a tide pool off Bodega Bay and turned over algae-covered rocks in search of a chocolate porcelain crab, a dime-size crustacean with blue speckles.

The creature has been spotted in small numbers around Bodega Bay for decades. But five years ago a severe marine heat wave, dubbed “the blob,” caused a sharp increase in its numbers north of the Golden Gate, says Sanford, a marine ecologist who researches climate change and coastal ecosystems at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab. Read more…

5 best scuba diving spots in California, from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s dive director
George Z. Peterson’s job as director of dive programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is — in his words — quite simple: “I’m there to get people stoked on the ocean.” No day is the same, says the 49-year-old Peterson, who has worked at the aquarium since 2003. He has brought more than 41,000 kids underwater through the aquarium’s youth dive program, keeps the glass of the massive tanks clean and sea creatures fed with help of more than 100 volunteer divers, and coordinates dives and safety procedures for the aquarium’s 50-plus scientists and research staff who dive for their work. Read more…

 

The future of California’s iconic Dungeness crab fishery seemed uncertain after a three-year spike in the number of whales entangled in fishing gear from 2015 to 2017. A warm-water blob, domoic acid and a coinciding of whale migrations and fishing caused by the delayed start of the Dungeness crab season spurred a record number of whales and other marine animals to become twisted in crab gear.

Few fisheries were spared entanglement issues on the Pacific Coast, but California Dungeness crab fishermen came under fire for their lines snaring the largest number of whales. Negative publicity, threats of a federal shutdown and a lawsuit in federal court made California crabbers fear the worst. But with ocean conditions returning in the direction of normal and state legislative effort looking to head off litigation, crab fishermen can breathe easier. Still, there’s no returning to the way things were.

Four bald eagles flew playfully with each other in the sun’s last rays before the 11 p.m. dusk. Their wings flapped quickly as they chirped in a high-pitched juvenile manner. It struck me as odd that the powerful predator emblemized as the national bird had such a disarming tweet, and not the fierce screech normally associated with birds of prey. In many places in Alaska bald eagles are more common than seagulls. Yet for most in the United States, the sighting of a bald eagle is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, if at all. Protecting these stunning, mostly unseen, creatures makes sense to most because they taken on an unreal—unicorn-esque—status.

“Goddamn glorified vultures,” said my former captain as he saw me admiring the birds. One swooped down and snatched a small pink salmon out of the water with its talons. “Thief! It’s a goddamn thief! Stealing dollars out of my pocket!” he hollered in a husky tenor.

A teenaged crewmate laughed and told me they’re the best trap bait for minks and martins. I gave a look of disgust, that egged him on and he delved into stories of blasting raptors with shotguns. Nonetheless fur—wild fur—subsidizes more than a few incomes in Alaska—not to mention generous government programs that many who perceive our northern most state as a libertarian bastion conveniently overlook.

Continue reading “Authoritarian environmentalists and democratic pillagers?”