The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea

Sylvia Earle, David Helvarg & John Frawley

The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair With the Sea

Written as a celebration of the California coast and the forces that protect it, “The Golden Shore, California’s Love Affair with the Sea” is a passionate tale of one of the most unique and stunning natural habitats to be found anywhere on earth, the 1,100 miles of the California Coast. San Francisco Bay area author and ocean activist David Helvarg is uniquely qualified to take us on this journey of love and the struggle to protect the rugged wilderness that defines the western border of the continental United States.

It may be a slightly dysfunctional love affair. For better or for worse, with ups and downs, lots of hard-learned lessons, and just like in real life, sometimes the lawyers get involved. But ultimately, California’s legacy as a global leader for ocean conservation remains strong. Perched at the edge of the planet’s largest ocean, the Pacific looms large in the consciousness of Californians. “Without the Pacific,” says Helvarg, “California is just a long skinny clone of Nevada.”

Have you ever heard the saying, “so goes California so goes the Nation?”   Ocean advocates across the nation are hoping these words ring true when it comes to protecting important ocean resources. The State of California now officially owns a complete network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs.)  These MPAs encompass rich, coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico—creating sanctuaries for marine life to thrive.

The final set of MPAs went into effect in the north coast on December 19, 2012—completing a nearly 10-year process to establish MPAs along California’s populated coastline.  California is the first state in the nation to have established such a comprehensive system.  16% of our coastal waters are now protected in some fashion.

Check out Helvarg’s video – it’s quirky, fun, and head-over-heels in love with the ocean, about what makes the California coast unique, and how it represents a model to the rest of the world for coastal and ocean policy.

“One of the unique advantages,” says Helvarg is that “California was populated later than most of the other 50 states, remaining largely a wilderness until after World War II. Before the population surged from the Gold Rush, it was even more pristine. Even today, when 25 million people live in coastal counties south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the five counties to the north have less than a million people combined.”

“And there are ways that the Pacific Ocean is naturally resilient – you have these unique patterns, the California current for example, that’s been called the ‘Serengeti of the Sea,’ that brings wildlife from northern climes down to California coastal regions. There is a great upwelling zone that creates a bouillabaisse of life that feeds everything from sea lions to white sharks to blue whales.

“The first offshore drilling rigs began to operate in the 1890’s near Summerland in southern California. The pollution at the turn of the 20th century moved Santa Barbara voters, just to the North to vote, “No more oil.” It took another 60 years to convince them that engineers had developed safe methods for offshore drilling. And on the third drilling of the Union 76 platform, there was a massive blowout. The shock of the 1969 spill led Californians to call for the protection of the coastline, which eventually led to the creation of the milestone California Coastal Commission. We made a choice not to turn our coast into an urban seawall. US-1 is still one of the most scenic routes on the planet.

“Choosing not to go the way of Waikiki or Miami Beach turned out to be a good economic choice as well. The major players like the Navy and the Ports and the real estate interests realize that they have to work within the context of sustainable coasts and clean waters because that is what the people of California want.

“Worldwide, about 50% of the people live within 100 miles of the coast. In CA 90% of us live within 20 miles of the coast. This is where we live, this is where we play and where we earn our living. We have come to understand that we can only do that when we recognize that we are part of the natural world, and that the Pacific is our liquid blue frontier.

Says Mission Blue founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle, “THE GOLDEN SHORE is a thrilling read.  Join master storyteller David Helvarg on a heart-pounding journey into the tumultuous past, provocative present and promising future of California’s wild blue frontier.”

And Jean-Michel Cousteau has this to say, “Having lived in California for 44 years I was surprised by how much I learned from David Helvarg’s book THE GOLDEN SHORE.  It blew my mind.  If you have the same love affair for the beautiful California coast and ocean as I do, this marvelous and compelling book is a must read.”

David Helvarg is founder and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a Washington DC based organization working for ocean and coastal conservation.  He is currently organizing The Blue Vision Summit 4 and the 6th Annual Peter Benchley Awards.

By Deb Castellana/Mission Blue

Featured photo ~ Dr. Sylvia Earle, David Helvarg and John Frawley


Aquarius Reef Base Saved

Dr. Sylvia Earle, (c) DJ Roller, Liquid Pictures

Mission to Save Aquarius Reef Base a Success

Yesterday, news that gives us hope for future ocean exploration was confirmed – Aquarius Reef Base off Key Largo has been saved! Through a great deal of work by a great number of dedicated people, the only underwater laboratory on earth has been funded for continued operation.  Aquarius is an invaluable tool to study the ocean environment allowing us to gather knowledge of our changing ocean and its inhabitants.

Fabien Cousteau (c) KipEvans

Last July, Dr. Sylvia Earle and a team of Aquanauts spent a week at Aquarius Reef Base during One World One Ocean’s Mission Aquarius focusing worldwide attention on the imminent loss of funding for the deep sea lab. Special guests Fabien Cousteau of Plant-a-Fish, Bob Weir of Nightline and Dan Orr of DAN joined One World One Ocean and the Mission Blue team to maximize exposure for the campaign. And now, 7 months later, it has all paid off, with FIU (Florida International University) stepping up to the plate with the needed funds.

Writing from inside the habitat one evening last summer, Dr. Earle said, “Gone too, would be a priceless living laboratory, the only place in the world where scientists, artists, poets and others can live underwater, using the ocean as a laboratory – an enduring muse.” ~ Ed.

DJ And Sylvia Shooting

From PR Newswire:

MIAMI, Jan. 15, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – Florida International University has been awarded a grant to continue stewardship of the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only operational underwater research center.

As a member of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science CIMAS, FIU received a grant to continue maintenance and monitoring of the facility for NOAA in 2013. This will enable FIU to develop a new business model to fund operations at Aquarius. NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program, including Aquarius, was not included in the president’s fiscal 2013 proposal, however, NOAA recognizes that the Aquarius Reef Base is a unique and valuable asset to the scientific community. The new business model would include research and education activities supported by federal, state and local government funding, as well as fees for services from science and engineering teams from government and industry that use the facility. Donations from private benefactors also will be key to ensuring the future of Aquarius.

Sylvia Earle and Fabien Cousteau

“Aquarius offers tremendous research opportunities, and we’re ensuring that the investment of American taxpayers continues to provide critical research results to the country,” said Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS). “For our students and our marine sciences program Aquarius offers fantastic new possibilities and is a natural fit for the work we are doing in the Keys and throughout the world.”

FIU biology professor Jim Fourqurean is the director of the Marine Education and Research Initiative for the Florida Keys in SEAS, and he will be overseeing activities at Aquarius Reef Base. The existing Aquarius team will become FIU employees.

“Rapid changes in the environment that supports the beauty and economy of South Florida make the observation post of Aquarius even more important,” said Fourqurean. “It gives us a unique vantage point to understand how changing climate, fishing pressure and threats from pollution and oil and gas exploration and production will impact our coastal environment.”

Aquarius provides unparalleled means to study coral reefs and the ocean, test state-of-the-art undersea technology, train specialized divers, and to engage the imagination of students and the public across the globe in ocean science, coral reefs, conservation, and underwater technology. The undersea lab even offers training opportunities for astronauts headed to space.

Original Source:  PR Newswire

Tokyo Soil Samples “Would be considered nuclear waste in the U.S.”

While traveling in Japan several weeks ago, Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen took soil samples in Tokyo public parks, playgrounds, and rooftop gardens. All the samples would be considered nuclear waste if found here in the US. This level of contamination is currently being discovered throughout Japan.

At the US NRC Regulatory Information Conference in Washington, DC March 13 to March 15, the NRC’s Chairman, Dr. Gregory Jaczko emphasized his concern that the NRC and the nuclear industry presently do not consider the costs of mass evacuations and radioactive contamination in their cost benefit analysis used to license nuclear power plants. Furthermore, Fairewinds believes that evacuation costs near a US nuclear plant could easily exceed one trillion dollars and contaminated land would be uninhabitable for generations.

Tokyo Soil Samples Would Be Considered Nuclear Waste In The US from Fairewinds Energy Education on Vimeo.

BP Settles while Macondo ‘Mystery Seep’ Persists


New Orleans, LA –

In September 2011, Al Jazeera spotted a large swath of silvery oil sheen located roughly 19km northeast of the now-capped well.

But now, on February 29, Al Jazeera conducted another over-flight of the area and found a larger area of sea covered in oil sheen in the same location.

Oil trackers with the organisation On Wings of Care, who have been monitoring the new oil since mid-August 2011, have for months found rainbow-tinted slicks and thick silvery globs of oil consistently visible in the area.

“This is the same crescent shaped area of oil and sheen I’ve been seeing here since the middle of last August,” Bonny Schumaker, president and pilot of On Wings of Care, told Al Jazeera while flying over the oil.

Schumaker has logged approximately 500 hours of flight time monitoring the area around the Macondo well, and has flown scientists from NASA, the US Geological Survey (USGS), and oil chemistry scientists to observe conditions resulting from BP’s oil disaster that began in April 2010.

When Al Jazeera flew to the area on September 11, 2011, the oil sheen was approximately 25km long and 10 to 50 metres wide, at a location roughly 19km northeast of the Macondo 252 well.

On the recent over flight, the area covered in oil sheen was approximately 35km long, and ranged from 20 to 100 metres wide in approximately the same location. At times, fumes from the oil filled the aircraft, even at an altitude of 350 metres.

Schumaker, a career physicist with NASA who retired in 2011, is deeply concerned because she has spotted oil in the same location now at least 15 times since last August.

Edward Overton, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University’s environmental sciences department, examined data from oil samples taken from this area last September and confirmed that the oil is from the Macondo reservoir.

Experts believe the oil is likely to be from a seep in the seabed, but there is debate about what caused the seep, as many believe it may well have been caused by BP’s blowout well and the failed attempts to cap it during spring 2010.

‘Dead ringer’

Overton, who is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contractor, told Al Jazeera in September, “After examining the data, I think it’s a dead ringer for the MC252 [Macondo Well] oil, as good a match as I’ve seen.”

He explained that the samples were analysed and compared to “the known Macondo oil fingerprint, and it was a very, very close match”.

While not ruling out the possibility that oil could be seeping out of the giant reservoir, which would be the worst-case scenario, Overton believed the oil currently reaching the surface was probably from oil that was trapped in the damaged rigging on the seafloor.

However, given the fact that the oil sheen has existed in this area since at least as early as August 2010 and is continuing, the likelihood of it being residual oil from the Deepwater Horizon or damaged rigging is now slim.

The oil seep is up to 35 km long, and has been present since at least August 2011 [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

Other scientists remain concerned that the new oil could be coming from a seep from the same reservoir the Macondo well was drilled into. The oilfield, located 64km off the coast of Louisiana, is believed to hold as much 50 million barrels of producible oil reserves.

Natural oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico is a common phenomenon and can cause sheens, but the current oil and sheen is suspect due to its size and location near the Macondo well.

“From what I’ve seen, this new oil and sheen definitely seemed larger than typical natural seepages found in the Gulf of Mexico,” Dr Ira Leifer, a University of California scientist who is an expert on natural hydrocarbon oil and gas emissions from the seabed told Al Jazeera. “Because of the size and its location, there is a greater concern that should require a larger public investigation.”

Fishermen and residents of the four states most heavily affected by BP’s disaster continue to struggle to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Many still experience health problems they attribute to chemicals in BP’s oil and the toxic dispersants used to sink it.

Shrimpers and oyster fishermen have seen their catches drop dramatically, and in some areas entire oyster populations have been annihilated.

BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster is, to date, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. BP has used at least 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants to sink the oil, in an effort the oil giant claimed was aimed at keeping the oil from reaching shore.

Meanwhile, fresh oil, either from natural seeps, oil platform wreckage, the Macondo 252 reservoir itself, or all three, continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans attorney Stuart Smith, who litigates against major oil companies, believes the burden of proof about where the oil is coming from lies on BP.

“Our worst fears have proven true,” Smith said of the seep. “We have a chronic leak scenario caused by the Macondo well, and it is time for the feds and BP to come clean and tell the American public the truth. Unless/until the government and BP explain in a verifiable manner what the source of this oil is, in my opinion any thoughts of settlement are way premature.”

Natural seep

BP has denied that the oil is coming from their well.

When reports surfaced last August that a large swath of oil sheen was reported near the site of the oil disaster, BP officials, in coordination with the US Coast Guard, deployed two submersibles to investigate the site.

BP said their visual inspection confirmed there wasn’t any oil released from the Macondo well.

The Coast Guard also deployed a boat to the area and conducted an aerial survey of the site by helicopter.

“Both observed nothing,” Coast Guard Captain Jonathan Burton, who is based in Morgan City, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera in at interview at his office.

US Coast Guard Captain Jonathan Burton believes the oil seep spotted nearby the Macondo well is from the Macondo reservoir, but not from BP’s capped well [Dahr Jamail/Al Jazeera]

Captain Burton said after seeing footage from the submersible of BP’s cap, he does not believe the Macondo well, or the relief wells BP drilled to stop it, are leaking, and he feels the oil is from natural seepage.

“Research shows the Macondo area is ripe for seeps, and I think that’s what we’re looking at here, and it’s coming from the same reservoir,” Burton said.

Burton is also the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for this region of the Gulf of Mexico that includes the Macondo area.

Burton, who was somewhat defensive for BP, added that he thinks that “the seep was there all along”, and “doesn’t know why BP has been silent on it.”

Coast Guard Lieutenant Eric Brooks, also present in Al Jazeera’s meeting with Captain Burton, later provided a link to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)) website that he said “has commercially available pictures of areas of known natural seeps in the GOM [Gulf of Mexico] including around the Macondo Well”.

However, the figures shown on the website itself are for areas quite far west and south of the area in question. “To see figures for the sections that include the area we are looking at, one has to download other files from their website that aren’t easily accessible,” Schumaker, who is communicating with the Coast Guard in order to obtain accurate seep maps said. “We are in the process of trying to see the full files and figures from the BOEMRE website and to determine the dates when such anomalies (which might suggest hydrocarbon seepage) were noted.”

Specifically, the coordinates of a National Response Center report Schumaker submitted online after the flight on February 29, taken from the flight log she posted are N28 39.835 W88 09.475, in which she described “many lines of fresh-looking oil and sheen, this point marked a line of ‘globules’ like what we had seen frequently throughout this area between last August and December (2011)”.

Al Jazeera is attempting to obtain clarification from the Coast Guard about the information they provided.

Lt Brooks suggested Al Jazeera contact officials with the Department of Interior for more information on the matter. Calls to said officials had not been returned at the time of this writing.

During the September over flight of the oil, Al Jazeera spotted two BP research vessels in the area in question.

“These vessels are conducting research on natural oil seeps as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment [NRDA] process,” Tom Mueller, a press officer with BP America, told Al Jazeera. “They were parked over a known natural seep on the bottom of the Gulf, collecting samples and documenting the natural seep activity in that area using a remote operated submarine and acoustic sensing equipment.”

According to Mueller, the intent of the NRDA study is to learn more about the locations of natural seeps and test samples taken from them.

Research vessels in the oil seep in September 2011 confirmed the oil was not from BP’s capped well [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

“We can tell you that we recently sent a remote operated submarine down to inspect the Macondo well cap and the relief well cap,” Mueller, added, “Both are intact and show no evidence of any oil leak. So no oil is leaking from the Macondo well.”

But experts believe that is exactly the problem, since the work BP conducted to cap the gushing well could have caused oil to begin seeping from the reservoir in an area away from the capped well.

Anthropogenic seeps

Leifer remains concerned that the seep, given its proximity to the Macondo well, could be oil in the reservoir that entered a layer of mud and has migrated into a natural pathway that leads to the seabed.

“I see these new observations [of the seep] as the canary in the coal mine that indicates something could be changing at the seabed and should not be ignored and hope it goes away,” he said.

Given Overton’s findings that the oil does appear to be from Macondo, Leifer added, “It’s not necessary to be alarmist, but this is something that deserves setting an alarm off to investigate”.

Of Captain Burton’s comments about the oil coming from the Macondo reservoir, Smith had this to say:

“What is significant in my mind, as an attorney, is that a US government official admitted this is Macondo oil, and to me, absent BP producing evidence this seep existed prior to their drilling, they therefore must have caused it.”

Leifer’s concerns are that if the seep increases in volume, “It could be a persistent, significant, continuous oil spill again, and that would require BP to go back and re-drill, and block off the pipeline even deeper than they already did, or else they would be liable for whatever the emissions are, forever, because it’s not going to stop for a very long time”.

Dr Ian MacDonald, a professor of biological oceanography at Florida State University who uses satellite remote sensing to locate natural oil releases on the ocean surface, confirmed that there are natural seeps in this region of the Gulf of Mexico, but believes more investigation is necessary in order to determine the cause and source of this particular site.

“The question for science is: Are the rates of seepage consistent with what they were prior to the blowout?” MacDonald told Al Jazeera. “Is the amount of oil we’re seeing now unusual with respect to historic levels? Can this oil be traced back to these formations?”

Leifer, like MacDonald, pointed to the natural seeps in the area.

“There is natural migration in the area around Macondo, and one of the sites we’ve studied is MC118, about 18km away,” but added, “The concern is not that human activities caused a fault, but by creating pathways outside the [well] casing, they are allowing oil to travel along the well pipe then migrate horizontally until it intersects an existing vertical fault migration pathway, then reach the sea bed.”

His concern, shared by other scientists, is the possibility that the volume of oil flowing from the seep, if it is related to the Macondo area, could increase with time.

“We should be having sonar works done of that area, and the public needs to be informed of the findings,” Leifer said. “That survey should be repeated every three or six months to confirm that the seepage is not becoming larger and more widespread.”

Meanwhile, Schumaker will continue her over-flights of the area and concern over ongoing oil seeps, whether they be natural or anthropogenic, persists, and scientists are calling for further investigations.

Pilot Bonny Schumaker, a retired NASA physicist, has been surveying the Macondo-area seep since last August, and intends to continue her over flights of the area [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

Leifer, as aforementioned, has called for a broad investigation into the matter, as has MacDonald.

“I don’t understand why we’re seeing so much more oil out there right now than we’ve seen in the past,” MacDonald said. “We need to dig in and investigate and see what is going on.”

Smith agreed, and took it a step further.

“We demand a National Academy of Science investigation into this seep,” and added, “BP has had six months to come up with evidence to prove they did not cause this seep. Considering that Al Jazeera and Associated Press have reported this [seep], you’d think BP would produce evidence they did not cause it.”

The possibility that brings the greatest concern is that oil is leaking from the reservoir straight out of the ground. This situation could be impossible to stop, because the vent would increase in size over time due to the highly pressurised reservoir.

Courtesy of Dahr Jamail / Al Jazeera
March 2, 2012

Follow Dahr Jamail on Twitter: @DahrJamail

Laura Dekker arrives in St. Maarten as the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe

A Dutch teen sailed into the record books today as she ended her yearlong journey, supposedly becoming the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the globe.

Laura Dekker, who was born on a boat  in a New Zealand port and says she spent the first four years of her life at sea, celebrated her 16th birthday on her 38-foot yacht “Guppy” during her voyage. She sailed into port on the island of St. Maarten after travelling 27,000 nautical miles around the world.

Dekker claims to be the youngest person to have completed the trip, but the Guinness Book of World Records and the World Sailing Speed Council refuse to certify her claim because they say they don’t want to encourage any future, dangerous attempts by younger and younger sailors.

“Since (I left) a lifetime of experiences have gone by. It feels like it was just yesterday, but at the same time, it seems like it was an eternity ago,” Dekker wrote on her blog on Friday.

Dekker was greeted today by her mother, father, and grandparents, as well as dozens of others who cheered her on as she stepped foot on the dock. She started her journey from the same port in St. Maarten on Jan. 20, 2011.

Dutch officials tried to prevent the trip when a court blocked her original departure at age 14 in 2009. Child welfare authorities asked that Dekker be removed from the care of her father, Dick Dekker, and be placed under state supervision to prevent risks to her safety, but on July 29, 2010, Dekker wrote, according to a translation from the Dutch, “After a one year ‘battle,’ I am allowed to go!! This is so great!”

The round-the-world trip was highlighted with multiple stops in ports around the world. As her trip came to an end, Dekker reflected on her experience.

“I am looking forward to my arrival and to officially end my journey even though I feel like I already accomplished what I set out to do a long time ago,” Dekker wrote. “I have already learned very much about myself along the way and I also have learned very much from all the different places and the many different people that I came in contact with in so many different countries.”

Other teens to have completed the trip include Jessica Watson of Australia at age 16, Michael Perham of England at age 17, and Zac Sunderland of America at age 17.

Abby Sunderland, Zac’s sister, attempted to complete the trip in 2010 at the age of 16, when her boat capsized and was dismasted in the Indian ocean, and she had to be rescued.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.