In early May, the Obama administration announced conditional approval to allow Royal Dutch Shell to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast this summer, a move the New York Times rightly referred to as “a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists.” While certainly a wrenching disappointment to those who’ve fought to keep Shell out of the Arctic, the real potential for devastation lies within the risk to the wildlife within the Chukchi Sea. The area is one of the most important late-summer refuges, home to half of all U.S. polar bears and is an important habitat for many at-risk animals, including endangered humpback whales.
In addition to the immediate destruction an oil spill would cause—and given the industry’s track record, the question sadly is not “if?” but “when?”—the White House’s move illustrates why stopping, or even slowing, climate change remains seemingly impossible. As Bill McKibben writes, also in the Times, “A quarter century ago, scientists warned that if we kept burning fossil fuel at current rates we’d melt the Arctic. The fossil fuel industry (and most everyone else in power) ignored those warnings, and what do you know: The Arctic is melting, to the extent that people now are planning to race yachts through the Northwest Passage.”
From the Arctic to Arcata
In an effort to bring home the very real impact climate change will have locally, the NEC coordinated with the City of Arcata Environmental Services Department to develop and install interpretive signage around Arcata Bay. Interpretive signage showing anticipated 2050 and 2100 Bay levels have been installed at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary near the South G Street wastewater treatment plant and the Marsh’s South I Street parking lot. The signs also include information about how to minimize our individual and cumulative carbon footprint.
The signs are part of the NEC’s “Clean Beaches, Healthy Communities” program, which uses in-class presentations, hands-on activities and cleanup events to teach youth and the general public about issues affecting the California coast.
The sea level rise sign project was funded through the California Coastal Commission’s Whale Tail grant program and the State Coastal Conservancy. The signs were designed by graphic artist Leslie Scopes Anderson with additional graphics provided by artist Gary Bloomfield. This project could not have been completed without the support of the Friends of the Arcata Marsh and the regional sea-level rise modeling projections from Jeff Anderson of Northern Hydrology and Engineering.
The impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems include not only sea level rise, but increased ocean temperatures, altered weather patterns, changes in ocean currents and ocean acidification, further stressing a marine environment already suffering from overfishing, habitat loss and land-based sources of pollution. On the positive side, scientists increasingly recognize the usefulness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in maintaining and restoring ecosystem resilience. California is the only state in the nation with an MPA network along its entirety. The North Coast, a region running from the Oregon border to Alder Creek, just north of Point Arena, contains 20 MPAs. Coastal residents and visitors are noticing new interpretive signage at harbors and elsewhere, detailing the benefits and locations of these special, protected places. The NEC continues to lead area outreach efforts and work closely with the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation on the design and locations
for these signs.
New Watershed Model
Thanks to a Coastal Commission Whale Tail grant, the NEC was able to partner with Eureka artist Matthew Oliveri on creating an updated watershed model. Our original model is still impressive and well-used, but changing environmental threats suggested a modern version was in order. We look forward to unveiling the new model this summer.
Gearing up for Coastal Cleanup Day 2015
We’ve already placed our order for Coastal Cleanup Day 2015! September 19 seems far away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about sponsoring this critical event—which originated here on the North Coast—or gathering a team to clean up at one of over 70 sites. Coastal Programs Coordinator Madison Peters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to get involved.
Keep in Touch
Follow along on marine and coastal issues through Coastal Currents Wednesdays at noon on KHUM 104.7 FM, at the Lost Coast Outpost with “Your Week in Ocean,” and on the ocean-themed episodes of The EcoNews Report—usually the last Thursday of the month at 1:30 p.m. on KHSU 90.5 FM. The EcoNews Report airs each Thursday with rotating hosts and covers a
variety of subjects.