California Seabirds Get a Helping Hand
Decimated by years of human impacts like oil spills, or disturbing their nesting grounds, once thriving bird colonies along California’s central coast have been on a downward slide. But help is on the way with the launch of a first-of-its-kind effort to protect seabirds by reducing human disturbance at their colonies. Known as the Seabird Colony Protection Program, researchers are developing innovative ways to reach the public whose actions often cause birds to scatter leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation or the elements. To stem that tide, researchers are enlisting the help of ocean users such as boaters, hikers, kayakers, and pilots. Staff are providing maps or leaflets and placing specially marked signs or buoys that inform users on the safe distances from colonies. Additionally, the program continues to look at conservation threats, management needs, and restoration opportunities to get the birds’ numbers healthy again. A key partner in this effort is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Company Fined For Illegal Dumping
This year, NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency successfully settled with Dutra Dredging, one of the largest dredging companies in the state, securing $750,000 dollars in fines for dumping or spilling dredged mud into sanctuary waters. The agreement marks the first time the sanctuary and the EPA have worked together to enforce illegal dumping laws. Dredge spoils can affect water quality and affect the entire food web by smothering bottom-dwelling marine life, blocking sunlight, and ultimately change the ecology of the ocean floor. Fines will be applied to habitat restoration.
School Program Profiles At-risk Seabirds
A California seabird, the common murre, is highlighted in a new sanctuary outreach program, Webs Under Waves. Working with partners such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science, this project will bring the “seabird shuttle” to third through fifth grade classes. Students will learn about the natural history and special vulnerability of the common murre, a penguin-like seabird whose numbers dropped dramatically after a disastrous 1986 oil spill in sanctuary waters. Webs Under Waves includes lessons about the marine food web and seabirds’ place in it, points out special common murre adaptations, and teaches how students can help protect seabirds.
Researchers Document Weak Link in Food Web
The significant absence of krill off Northern California for the second year in a row has caused reproductive failure in seabirds and forced blue whales to forage elsewhere, raising concern amongst scientists. During a NOAA research cruise, SEAS ‘06 Taking The Pulse of the Sanctuary, scientists investigated the relationship between physical oceanographic features and the abundance of marine life in sanctuary waters. The team of scientists conducted around-the-clock surveys for top-level predators such as seabirds and marine mammals, and plankton tows to examine productivity beneath the surface. Preliminary findings confirmed that greatest productivity occurred where ocean features, such as submerged islands and the continental shelf edge, generate upwelling -- the stirring up of nutrient rich waters close to the ocean’s surface. Research findings will be used to help managers understand the complex natural and human-caused factors that affect ocean health.
Plans for 2007
Sanctuary Atlas MapsNew sanctuary atlas maps depicting physical ocean and land features, other state and federal managed areas and parks, and other basic atlas features are now available on the sanctuary program Web site.
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