2009 Lyrical Passion Poetry Micro-Fiction Contest Winner


First place winner and honorable mention.

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” – William Butler Yeats (1865- 1939)

MICRO-FICTION Competition – Winners!

1st Place, Dustin Putnam “Liminal Realm”

2nd Place, Ruth Schiffmann “In Ink”

3rd Place, James Tipton “Summer Picnic”

Awards:

1st Place Prize – $ 200.00 (US) & Certificate
2nd $ 70.00
3rd $ 30.00

Honorable Mentions:

Dustin Putnam, “Back Country Bonanza”
James Tipton, “Lovers”
Grant Flint, “Once I Saved My Son”

Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine © 2007-2010

Lyrical Passion Poetry

LIMINAL REALM

A custard yellow and grey-green mottled hard-boiled egg yolk hangs low on the horizon, a pockmarked nightlight in the sky illuminating stray wisps of clouds pinned to the star speckled frontier overhead. Myriad facets of an agitated sea shimmer.

Hunched over my surfboard shrouded in a monk black wetsuit, I bob like a buoy staring into the void of night sitting chest deep in the wintry Pacific. Shivers vibrate from my bones sending shock waves through my body. A frigid offshore wind whispers in my ears and stabs at my back taunting patience, discipline, and endurance as I clutch my biceps straining to hold in warmth, and hold out against the creep of hypothermia.

Swells born in the oceanic wilderness thousands of miles away pass beneath me pounding the nearby rocky shoreline, the energy from a distant storm grinding the edge of the continent into cobblestones and sand like crumbs from a cookie. I float up over crests and down into troughs to the rhythms of the ocean, a babe in the cradle enjoying the motion. And wait.

A swell rolls out of the depths of night. Everything else ceases to exist, the wave a vehicle to an alternative universe. When racing down the face of a wave the world is left behind. Like slicing a nick in the fabric of time and entering another dimension for a fleeting moment before piercing back into reality. I slip into a liminal realm where the space between seconds stretches into something that matters. All burdens and concerns vanish. Where there is no cold. No problems. No pain. No job and no responsibilities. Not a worry in the world. There is no world. There is only a single minded focus on the wave and my relation to nature. And nothing else matters.

BACK COUNTRY BONANZA

The blazing ball of fire in the sky beat down mercilessly searing the landscape. One by one they fell to the parched soil seeking refuge. Into the nooks, crannies, and crevices along the south facing slope, they hunkered down to endure the seasonal swelter in a timeless existential bout. Life squared off against the elements. A sparse scattering of pine and oak trees cast shadows across the golden hills, but in their exposed location provided no respite.

The year’s longest days dripped by like chilled honey. As summer faded into fall the promise of seasonal rains crept closer. Lying silently and unseen they waited.

After six months of oppressive heat, the only moisture that of morning dew, the rains came pattering down. Creeks gurgled to life. Grasses felted over the hills in a lush emerald carpet. Replenishment arrived, but they remained hidden amidst the flush of autumnal growth. Ingrained within their nature was an acute sense of timing. Their lives depended on it. To emerge too soon meant freezing to death as the depths of winter approached. Too late and they might fail in their sacred mission.

The approach of the vernal equinox signaled their “short dance in the sun” had arrived. Their shells, swollen with the waters fallen from the heavens, split. Their roots struck out burrowing into the stony mountainside seeking sustenance to sustain an ephemeral burst of colorful life. Their green shoots sprouted skyward reaching for the sun’s radiance. The shriveled, desiccated remains of last season’s kin disappeared; their neutral tones fading into the vibrancy of the next generation. In harmonious unison buds formed and popped open. As if the creation of a master artist, the once drab fields wavered in a glorious profusion of apricot and cobalt colored petals. The poppies and lupine once more triumphed.

* * * * *

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Leviathans of the Deep Blue Sea


NOAA

Bits and pieces of fossilized whale bone lie scattered along the cobble stone studded beaches of California. The petrified skeletal remnants date back over twenty million years in some instances. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the innumerable environmental obstacles overcome in their evolutionary journey through the eons to survive into the modern era. Then after millions of years of enduring the elements and rigors of life in nature’s arena of competition, humans nearly forced the extinction of some species through commercial whaling. A half century later whales are still recovering only to face new threats.

Shore Whaling

“He’s a hundred barreler—don’t lose him now. . .There goes three thousand dollars, men!—a bank!—a whole bank! The bank of England!”- Herman Melville Moby Dick

As whales ceased to be a subsistence resource used sparingly and became objects of commercial value aggressively pursued at sea, their populations declined precipitously. They served as floating warehouses providing the raw materials used to produce a long list of goods including lamp fuel, lubricant for machinery, soap, margarine, corsets, hoop skirts, umbrellas, steel, automatic transmission fluid, and even explosives. In the mid 1850s a particular method of whaling appeared in California called shore whaling. Although not all in simultaneous operation, a total of 26 stations dotted the coastline from border to border. Small companies operated out of seaside camps in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties. The main catch was gray whales, but occasional humpbacks and blues were also taken north of Point Conception.

Shore whaling was a dangerous affair; a mortal fight between 200 pound men in a puny skiff and 30 ton leviathans. A six-man crew in a 14 foot wooden rowboat used hand thrown harpoons and a coil of hempen rope; the ultimate spear fishing experience and an ocean adventure like few others. In an historical account a veteran describes feelings of “uncontrollable terror” as the boat approached a whale just prior to the strike. The crew rowed or sailed aside the behemoths, a man threw the harpoon, and an intense battle ensued in which the whale or men may be killed. One old man reminiscing about his experiences during the 1860s described gray whales as “almost sure death to hunt.” He told of “a good many graves in those days alongshore of men who had been killed by those whales.”

The second the iron harpoon struck, the giant mammals thrashed wildly sometimes smashing the boat to pieces. Local newspapers often reported on the battles between men and whales. In 1870, the Monterey Democrat published an account of an incident. Upon harpooning a gray whale the boat “got unawares within the sweep of the leviathan’s tail,” which slammed down and “crushed like an eggshell the timbers of its bow.” The captain was “struck in the side by a fragment of the broken timbers and was almost paralyzed” before regaining his senses. While gray whales were especially fierce blue whales were no less dangerous. In 1875, the Monterey Weekly Herald published a story titled “Combat with a Whale,” which described a blue whale capsizing two boats in Monterey Bay. A nearby fishing vessel rescued the crew. The Santa Cruz Sentinel chronicled the incident relating how the whale “turned upon his pursuers” and “beat the sea into a foam and demolished the frail craft.” Such harrowing stories were not uncommon.

At other times whales bolted pulling the harpoon rope out of the boat at such furious speed blue smoke peeled into the air as it slid through the metal guide on the bow. Occasionally the rope wrapped around a man’s leg or arm thrashing him across the inside of the boat and into the sea to his demise. Once the rope reached its end, the boat leapt forward with a tremendous jerk “at a rate that would put a locomotive to blush,” wrote a reporter for the Monterey Weekly Herald in 1874. Speeds topped 20 miles an hour as the bow slammed through the chop sending spray flying. The crew bailed water. A man astern steered with an oar. And one man sat ready to cut the rope if the whale sounded threatening to drag the small boat under. Typically crews stayed within ten miles of shore, but whales fought for hours at times pulling boats far out to sea. One report tells of a crew from L.A. County having to hunker down on the Channel Islands for the night before setting out for the mainland. Crossing the channel while dragging a carcass was brutally slow with the average speed recorded at a measly one mile per hour.

Declining Populations

By the 1860s a noticeable decrease in the number of captured whales was already evident. In 1865, the Monterey County assessor reported that “for the last two seasons whales have become very scarce.” The declining catch was due in part to fewer whales and a change in migratory habits in response to constant harassment along the coast. Gray whales stayed farther offshore. In 1874, Charles Scammon, who discovered the gray whale breeding grounds off the Mexican coast, reported that those that remained near shore in California were skittish and “exceedingly wild and difficult to approach.” The whale populations plummeted to such an extent that in the same year the Monterey Weekly Herald reported that “the whale fishery. . .is likely to become a thing of the past.” Yet, whaling continued unabated.

Shore whalers developed harpoon guns allowing them to strike from greater distances. More effective mechanized systems were developed including steam powered ships armed with massive deck mounted canons. With no concern for the sustainability of the fishery whales appeared doomed. Few people seemed to care. Just after the turn of the century, Roy Chapman Andrews, a celebrated naturalist with the American Museum of Natural History, wrote that the “wholesale slaughter of the whales will inevitably result in their early commercial extinction.” Despite the warning signs many more years passed before whaling was regulated. In a remarkable comment reflecting how serious the situation had become, Andrews later noted of gray whales that “for over twenty years the species had been lost to science and naturalists believed it to be extinct.”

Protection Granted

Then a reprieve was finally granted. In 1938, the International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling banned the killing of gray whales among member nations. Although the hunting of other species continued, the landmark agreement signaled a sea change in popular sentiment. Additional international agreements followed. In 1966, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned the commercial hunting of blue and humpback whales among member nations setting them, too, on a slow path to recovery. The United States subsequently implemented the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts. The international agreements are based on good faith and effectively unenforceable and not all nations participate. The combined efforts, however, provided whales the protections needed to return from near extinction.

In 1994, the U.S. federal government removed California gray whales from the U.S. list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Blue and humpback whales remain endangered, but their numbers are increasing. “Blue whales aren’t recovering as fast as grays, but we do see a recovery,” said Michelle Berman, assistant curator of vertebrate zoology at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. “The humpback population is growing at about seven percent a year,” she said. “That’s a pretty strong return and a great tribute to the protection they’ve been given.” There has been some consideration of delisting humpbacks from the endangered species category. “It’s quite a success story,” Berman noted. “Marine mammals in general are really resilient animals,” she said. This fortunate attribute afforded humankind the chance to correct past errors in the overexploitation of these magnificent creatures. Perhaps going forward their protection can be proactive rather than reactive.

Looking Toward the Future

Whales are no longer hunted along the Central Coast, but they do die unnecessarily from incidental causes. Increasing levels of marine debris and ship traffic pose potential threats. In 2007, ships struck and killed three blue whales in a single month in the Santa Barbara Channel. Although alarming, Berman described it as an “anomalous year” brought about by large amounts of krill, which lured the mammals into the shipping lane. A tagging project is currently underway to study how whales respond to ships. In 2008, a sperm whale washed ashore near Point Reyes. A necropsy conducted by the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito revealed 450 pounds of marine debris in its stomach. Dr. Frances Gulland, Director of Veterinary Science, described the incident at the time as being “far from an isolated case.” Fortunately, these threats can be mitigated through scientific research and community effort to lessen our impact on the sea. We can act positively to protect whales without negatively impacting our quality of life.

The history of whales serves as a testament to their enduring nature and proof of the crucial role humanity plays in their lives for better or worse. The choice is ours. We may choose to be responsible stewards of the miraculous web of life surrounding us and ensure its survival. Or we can neglect our natural inheritance and through indifference or overexploitation ensure its ultimate demise. There was a time when the sea seemed to offer limitless abundance, fishing regulations were few or nonexistent and our impact on our surroundings was of little or no concern. That time has passed. The size of our population now demands we make hard choices. Lest the great outdoors deteriorate to such a poor state that it no longer provides a hospitable environment for the world’s creatures or what so many of us have grown to cherish. What choice will you make?

Published in print in the March 2010 issue of Deep Magazine. Available online at Deepzine.com.




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Kelp Reforestation in California


Steve Lonhart Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

“If in any country a forest was destroyed I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here from the destruction of the kelp.” –Charles Darwin 1834

One can only imagine the abundance of creatures Darwin saw at the Galapagos Islands to suggest kelp beds were home to far more animals than the forest of any country in the world. The naturalist captures in one sentence the essential role kelp plays in the marine environment. In California, the undersea forests formed by giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) provide critical habitat and food for over 800 species of organisms. They hold one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in all the world’s oceans. The remarkable number of creatures whose existence depends on the giant brown algae makes it an irreplaceable feature of the marine ecosystem.

Kelp forests support one quarter of native marine life in our local ocean. If the kelp is lost so too are those species. Raising the specter of such a loss is the drastic decline of giant kelp in California. Over the last century eighty percent of it has vanished. The potential consequences of this wide spread loss of essential habitat are devastating and have spurred restoration efforts to reestablish the kelp.

Throughout the 1970s, though already in decline, giant kelp maintained reasonably dense coverage in Southern California. Then a particularly strong El Nino in 1982-3 ushered in warm water and powerful surf stripping the coast of kelp. Orange County suffered a 90% loss. Whereas in years past the kelp recovered, it never returned. “There are areas in Orange County that haven’t had kelp in thirty years,” said Nancy Caruso, a marine biologist leading the Orange County Kelp Restoration Project sponsored by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Caruso is involved in a multi-faceted program as restorer and educator. She teaches local students how to grow kelp from spores, which are then transplanted to the ocean. With favorable conditions the kelp takes hold and begins reproducing and a kelp forest emerges. “This year we’re seeing places we’ve planted now migrating down the coast and they’re growing very quickly,” said Caruso. With the reemergence of kelp, sea life has returned as well. “Now that there is a whole kelp forest it’s literally like a fish superhighway,” she said. Without kelp many recreational and commercial activities people enjoy and depend on for their livelihood, like fishing and diving, would be threatened. “Kelp forests attract fish larvae,” said Caruso. “A lot of our commercially important species are attracted as planktonic larvae to come in and settle in a kelp forest,” she said. As goes the kelp so go the fish, as well as more than seven hundred other organisms, too.

Giant kelp once thrived along the California coast. The extensive size of the kelp forests fluctuated through the seasons in response to a complex array of natural factors. Water temperature, clarity, nutrient levels, weather, and the population size of kelp eating sea urchins all played a role. Historically, there existed a natural balance among the intricacies of the ocean. The kelp forests naturally waxed and waned in size along with the variances of each season. Then as the state’s population continued to grow the kelp forests began to thin. And disappear.

The reasons behind kelp’s disappearance are not all known, but humans have certainly been a significant factor. Sediment in runoff from coastal development can smother kelp sprouts and also affects water clarity. Murky water lessens the intensity of sunlight reaching the seafloor to insolate young kelp plants and spur growth. The absence of the southern sea otter and over fishing are prime factors, too. A sharp reduction in the population of key predators like otters, sheephead, and spiny lobster has left sea urchins unchecked. While sheephead and lobster still exist, they are small in size with too few large enough to have a significant impact on the urchin population. The resulting overabundant urchins devour young kelp and severe holdfasts sending the mature plants floating to the surface leaving behind barren reef. Factors like these combine to thwart kelp’s ability to replenish itself after sustaining losses due to natural causes.

An electronic design engineer by trade, Gordon Lehman first began kelp restoration work in late 1995 with North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (ROP). As a volunteer NAUI dive instructor he developed a kelp program for his class. “I came up with the idea to teach the students to put something back in the ocean because divers and fisherman have been taking away for years,” said Lehman. While the program did not succeed it created a base of knowledge Lehman built on. The following June, ROP collected kelp that was adrift and made their first transplant.

Mr. Lehman then teamed up with fellow dive instructor, Cliff Noland, and created Coastal Marine Technology, Inc. (CMT) to perform the restoration process. After successfully transplanting kelp around Little Corona in Corona Del Mar he attracted the attention of Algalita Marine Research Foundation. “With some minor funding from Algalita we set up a laboratory in my garage for sporing kelp,” said Lehman. He grows kelp plants from spores on ¾ inch strips of ceramic tile using a system and portable aquarium technology he designed and developed through CMT. It takes spores 60 to 90 days to grow into visible kelp sprouts. When the plants reach several inches in length they are transplanted to the ocean and attached to rocky reef areas of the seafloor.

Working as an independent contractor the last several years, Lehman hopes to secure funding for his next restoration project slated for Dead Man’s Reef at Crescent Bay in Laguna. “My first goal was, and still is, to SCUBA dive through a kelp bed and know the bed is there because I decided to do something about it!” said Lehman.

Kelp is not the only focus of restoration efforts. In 2002, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper began an experimental eelgrass (Zostera  marina) program at Frenchy’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island to re-establish beds devoured by white sea urchins a decade earlier. A phenomenal boom in the urchin population in the late 1980s destroyed the eelgrass, but after the voracious vegetarians died off from disease the plants never recovered. Years later only bare sand remained until volunteers with Channelkeeper replanted the area.

credit: Santa Barbara Channel Keeper

Eelgrass supports a wide variety of organisms, but unlike most marine plants and algae it grows in open expanses of sand making it a unique and critical component of the nearshore environment. “Eelgrass creates meadows in sandy areas that provide three dimensional habitats,” said Jessie Alstat, science director with Channelkeeper. “So you get much greater numbers of species than occur in sandy flat areas,” she said, explaining how the green reed-like plant transforms barren sand flats into flourishing microenvironments that support dozens of creatures including rock crabs, spiny lobsters, and fish like kelp bass and cabezon.

“We transplanted individual shoots harvested from two locations on Santa Cruz Island,” said Alstat. After surviving a brittle star outbreak the plants flourished and spread on their own. Now the bed covers half a mile more sand in Frenchy’s Cove. “It’s a fantastic experience to go out there and swim around in it and know that I had a major role in bringing it back,” said Alstat. “This last year alone there was 250% more eelgrass,” she said. The once barren sand flats are now covered with life sustaining eelgrass, which is a flowering plant recognized by the State of California as essential fish habitat.

Kelp may often be called seaweed, but it’s far more than just a mere weed in the sea and nor is eelgrass just worthless roughage. Both serve vital functions in the marine ecosystem and foster healthy fisheries. Without kelp and eelgrass to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds an entire web of life suffers and declines leaving behind a barren and depleted marine environment. With the loss of this oceanic habitat comes the loss of a great portion of the state’s historic natural splendor. And many people’s lives would be forever altered for the worse. Fortunately, a select few individuals recognize the problem and have acted to restore the once great California kelp forests that provide so much to so many.

Originally published online in Hippie Magazine.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper


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Restoring California’s Historic Sea Gardens



NOAA

“If in any country a forest was destroyed I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here from the destruction of the kelp.” –Charles Darwin 1834

One can only imagine the abundance of creatures Darwin saw at the Galapagos Islands to suggest kelp beds were home to far more animals than the forest of any country in the world. The naturalist captures in one sentence the essential role kelp plays in the marine environment. In California, the undersea forests formed by giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) provide critical habitat and food for over 800 species of organisms. They hold one of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in all the world’s oceans. The remarkable number of creatures whose existence depends on the giant brown algae makes it an irreplaceable feature of the marine ecosystem.

Kelp forests support one quarter of native marine life in California waters. If the kelp is lost so too are those species. Raising the specter of such a loss is the drastic decline of giant kelp in California. Over the last century eighty percent of it has vanished. The potential consequences of this wide spread loss of essential habitat are devastating and have spurred restoration efforts to reestablish the kelp.

Throughout the 1970s, though already in decline, giant kelp maintained reasonably dense coverage in Southern California. Then a particularly strong El Nino in 1982-3 ushered in warm water and powerful surf stripping the coast of kelp. Orange County suffered a 90% loss. Whereas in years past the kelp recovered, it never returned. “There are areas in Orange County that haven’t had kelp in thirty years,” said Nancy Caruso, a marine biologist leading the Orange County Kelp Restoration Project sponsored by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Caruso is involved in a multi-faceted program as restorer and educator. She teaches local students how to grow kelp from spores, which are then transplanted to the ocean. With favorable conditions the kelp takes hold and begins reproducing and a kelp forest emerges. “This year we’re seeing places we’ve planted now migrating down the coast and they’re growing very quickly,” said Caruso. With the reemergence of kelp, sea life has returned as well. “Now that there is a whole kelp forest it’s literally like a fish superhighway,” she said. Without kelp many recreational and commercial activities people enjoy and depend on for their livelihood, like fishing and diving, would be threatened. “Kelp forests attract fish larvae,” said Caruso. “A lot of our commercially important species are attracted as planktonic larvae to come in and settle in a kelp forest,” she said. As goes the kelp so go the fish, as well as more than seven hundred other organisms, too.

Lt. John Crofts NOAA

Giant kelp once thrived along the California coast. The extensive size of the kelp forests fluctuated through the seasons in response to a complex array of natural factors. Water temperature, clarity, nutrient levels, weather, and the population size of kelp eating sea urchins all played a role. Historically, there existed a natural balance among the intricacies of the ocean. The kelp forests naturally waxed and waned in size along with the variances of each season. Then as the state’s population continued to grow the kelp forests began to thin. And disappear.

The reasons behind kelp’s disappearance are not all known, but humans have certainly been a significant factor. Sediment in runoff from coastal development can smother kelp sprouts and also affects water clarity. Murky water lessens the intensity of sunlight reaching the seafloor to insolate young kelp plants and spur growth. The absence of the southern sea otter and over fishing are prime factors, too. A sharp reduction in the population of key predators like otters, sheephead, and spiny lobster has left sea urchins unchecked. While sheephead and lobster still exist, they are small in size with too few large enough to have a significant impact on the urchin population. The resulting overabundant urchins devour young kelp and severe holdfasts sending the mature plants floating to the surface leaving behind barren reef. Factors like these combine to thwart kelp’s ability to replenish itself after sustaining losses due to natural causes.

Claire Fackler NOAA

An electronic design engineer by trade, Gordon Lehman first began kelp restoration work in late 1995 with North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (ROP). As a volunteer NAUI dive instructor he developed a kelp program for his class. “I came up with the idea to teach the students to put something back in the ocean because divers and fisherman have been taking away for years,” said Lehman. While the program did not succeed it created a base of knowledge Lehman built on. The following June, ROP collected kelp that was adrift and made their first transplant.

Mr. Lehman then teamed up with fellow dive instructor, Cliff Noland, and created Coastal Marine Technology, Inc. (CMT) to perform the restoration process. After successfully transplanting kelp around Little Corona in Corona Del Mar he attracted the attention of Algalita Marine Research Foundation. “With some minor funding from Algalita we set up a laboratory in my garage for sporing kelp,” said Lehman. He grows kelp plants from spores on ¾ inch strips of ceramic tile using a system and portable aquarium technology he designed and developed through CMT. It takes spores 60 to 90 days to grow into visible kelp sprouts. When the plants reach several inches in length they are transplanted to the ocean and attached to rocky reef areas of the seafloor.

Working as an independent contractor the last several years, Lehman hopes to secure funding for his next restoration project slated for Dead Man’s Reef at Crescent Bay in Laguna. “My first goal was, and still is, to SCUBA dive through a kelp bed and know the bed is there because I decided to do something about it!” said Lehman.

Kelp is not the only focus of restoration efforts. In 2002, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper began an experimental eelgrass (Zostera  marina) program at Frenchy’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island to re-establish beds devoured by white sea urchins a decade earlier. A phenomenal boom in the urchin population in the late 1980s destroyed the eelgrass, but after the voracious vegetarians died off from disease the plants never recovered. Years later only bare sand remained until volunteers with Channelkeeper replanted the area.

Eelgrass supports a wide variety of organisms, but unlike most marine plants and algae it grows in open expanses of sand making it a unique and critical component of the nearshore environment. “Eelgrass creates meadows in sandy areas that provide three dimensional habitats,” said Jessie Alstat, science director with Channelkeeper. “So you get much greater numbers of species than occur in sandy flat areas,” she said, explaining how the green reed-like plant transforms barren sand flats into flourishing microenvironments, which support dozens of creatures including rock crabs, spiny lobsters, and fish like kelp bass and cabezon.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper

“We transplanted individual shoots harvested from two locations on Santa Cruz Island,” said Alstat. After surviving a brittle star outbreak the plants flourished and spread on their own. Now the bed covers half a mile more sand in Frenchy’s Cove. “It’s a fantastic experience to go out there and swim around in it and know that I had a major role in bringing it back,” said Alstat. “This last year alone there was 250% more eelgrass,” she said. The once barren sand flats are now covered with life sustaining eelgrass, which is a flowering plant recognized by the State of California as essential fish habitat.

Kelp may often be called seaweed, but it’s far more than just a mere weed in the sea and nor is eelgrass just worthless roughage. Both serve vital functions in the marine ecosystem and foster healthy fisheries. Without kelp and eelgrass to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds an entire web of life suffers and declines leaving behind a barren and depleted marine environment. With the loss of this oceanic habitat comes the loss of a great portion of the state’s historic natural splendor. And many people’s lives would be forever altered for the worse. Fortunately, a select few individuals recognize the problem and have acted to restore the once great California kelp forests that provide so much to so many.

Originally published in print in Deep Magazine. Archived online at deepzine.com.


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Wave Energy: Tapping Into the Source


The approach of winter brings the return of northwest swells to once more wrap local point breaks and pound shorelines. With the changing season come Pacific storms sending wave trains barreling into the coastline in a timeless display of natural power. As the waves crash ashore, the energy from these distant storms meets its end grinding the edge of the continent into cobblestones and sand like crumbs from a cookie. Yet, apart from providing a fleeting ride for an occasional surfer, pelican, or dolphin the power of waves has largely gone unused. This is now rapidly changing. One day ocean swells will not only make local surf breaks come to life, but their untapped energy may power the lights at home, too.

The quest to make electricity using waves stretches back well over one hundred years in California. From about 1870 through 1910 a number of individuals and companies tried to harness the ocean. Several patents went to San Franciscans for wave powered contraptions and outfits sprang up like Hercules Wave Motor Company and Pacific Wave Motor Company. Newspapers and magazines chronicled the events with headlines such as “Power from Waves” and “Unlimited Electric Power.” The San Francisco News Letter ran a story about a wave motor that produced “electric energy for illuminating the streets.” Similar experiments took place along the south coast as well, but most inventions ended in failure. With little success after years of effort interest waned with the rise of coal and oil powered machines.

A century later a resurgent interest in wave energy has been ushered in amidst an atmosphere of heightened environmental awareness. In September, Oregon State University in collaboration with Columbia Power Technologies completed a successful test of a wave energy buoy off the Oregon coast. “The buoy is a point absorber design, which basically means it’s just a buoy that bobs up and down,” said Dr. Ted Brekken, the co-director of the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility at OSU.

Inside the buoy contains a vertical metal spar coiled in copper. Surrounding this spar a float with magnets rises and falls with each passing swell. “It works pretty much exactly the same way as those shake flashlights; it’s identically the same principal,” he said. “You have a magnet moving past a copper coil generating electricity.” The electricity would then be carried to shore through transmission lines along the seafloor. Development of these buoys for full scale utility use is underway and may be supplying electricity in as little as two years.

Waves transmit more energy than wind because water is denser than air. “The power density is maybe 100 times greater,” Dr. Brekken said. This translates into the need for less ocean space to produce the same amount of electricity a larger land based wind park generates. “The area taken up by a wave park is pretty darn small compared to the overall coastal waters it would be located in,” he said. This leaves the vast majority of coastal waters untouched.

With 70 percent of the world’s surface covered by ocean a remarkable opportunity exists. According to OSU, capturing a mere 0.2 percent of ocean energy could power the world. The wave energy off American coasts can provide as much electricity as the nation’s hydroelectric plants. “Full scale of the wave resource is about the same as the hydro resource, which is approximately six percent,” Dr. Brekken said. “The resource will be fully developed when there is five to seven wave parks with each of those generating over 100 megawatts,” he said. That amount of electricity could power several hundred thousand homes. Attracted by this untapped potential, and driven in part by the fervor surrounding environmental concerns for emission free energy production, broad based support has emerged. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded a $1.25 million grant to OSU this year alone. State governments on the Pacific seaboard are also involved.

Companies like Finavera Renewables are riding the wave of public support for clean energy. They signed the nation’s first power purchase agreement for wave generated electricity with PG&E. The Humboldt County Offshore Wave Energy Power Plant is slated to provide electricity by 2012 from buoys moored 2.5 miles offshore. “For pthe two megawatt project we’re looking at eight devices,” said Myke Clark, a senior vice president with Finavera. The company’s wave energy conversion device, the AquabuOY 2.0, is entirely wave powered. “It’s relatively simple,” he said. “That’s definitely what we like about the technology. The hydraulic fluid is just pressurized seawater so there are no hydraulic oils on board.” The main elements are the buoy, acceleration tube, piston, and hose pump. Seawater enters the buoy with the rise and fall of each passing swell powering a two-stroke hose pump that pressurizes the water. The water is then forced through a turbine that powers a generator to produce electricity.

The device’s simplicity lessens concerns about pollution in the event of its failure. “In catastrophic circumstances,” he explained, “if it happens to go down there is almost no environmental impact.” Finavera confirmed this when their prototype sank last fall. “It sat on the ocean floor for almost nine months and there was no impact.” Despite the setback the power generating mechanics of the buoy worked. Finavera is currently developing the next generation of AquabuOy.

Certain ocean conditions are better than others. During the summer the buoy generates less electricity than the winter storm season. “The device can work in a variety of conditions, but winter is best and produces significantly higher output,” Mr. Clark said. Although in exceptionally rough conditions the buoy would be temporarily inactive. “In huge massive storms,” he noted, “there is going to be shut off; at a certain level they wouldn’t be operating.”

Waves may provide a clean source of electricity, but environmental concerns still exist. Electromagnetic fields around buoys may interfere with marine mammal and fish sensory systems. Possible physical effects from buoy placement and underwater transmission lines may alter local wave patterns, currents, and beaches. Other problems also remain unknown. Not only will wave parks impact sea life, but coastal communities, too. Alliances have formed to speak up for local interests. While cooperation in Oregon among the university, energy companies, and community stakeholders has been strong, argument has arisen in California.

Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH) is a coalition of stakeholders in Fort Bragg formed in response to proposed wave parks in Mendocino County waters. The alliance includes groups like the Recreational Fishing Alliance, Salmon Restoration Association, and Sonoma County Abalone Network. FISH opposes the hasty issuance of permits by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC), which granted a permit to PG&E to begin preliminary studies assessing the feasibility of wave parks. According to the coordinator of FISH, Jim Martin, there is widespread “suspicion” in his community toward FERC and PG&E. “They refuse to grant us a seat at the table,” he said. At the same time Fort Bragg City Council and Mendocino County have filed lawsuits against FERC in federal court. The opposition is based, in part, on concerns about potential adverse effects from wave parks that will directly impact port communities.

“One of our major concerns is loss of access,” Mr. Martin said. Portions of ocean are slated to be cordoned off for wave parks, but lost access isn’t the only issue. These projects may impact an area beyond where a particular group of buoys is moored. “We do not know that it is safe for fish,” observed Mr. Martin. With their commercial livelihood and recreational interests on the line, the alliance insists on a thorough assessment of the technology’s safety. “One thing we’re not negotiable about,” he made clear, “is the need for adequate environmental review and analysis of potential impacts to marine ecosystems.” Considering much of the support behind wave energy is based on environmental concerns it’s an ironic demand to have to make. “We’re interested in safe renewable energy that respects existing sustainable use of the ocean for fishermen, divers, surfers, and the rest of the public,” Mr. Martin said.

The Central Coast may be in for a similar experience. Green Wave Energy Solutions applied to FERC for a permit earlier this year. The Thousand Oaks based company hopes to stake out a 17 square mile patch of ocean off Morro Bay to Point Buchon to carry out preliminary studies. With at least 12 different projects currently being discussed for the Pacific coast wave parks will eventually be installed somewhere. As Myke Clark notes about Finavera’s contract with PG&E, “We have to deliver the electricity by the end of 2012.” Wave parks render a particular area of ocean inaccessible so it’s crucial people get involved to speak up on behalf of coastal communities. And while FERC may be frustrating some locals companies like Finavera are more engaged. “We really think communities have to be partners in a project. We get out and really canvass the local stakeholders,” Mr. Clark said.

The ocean remains the greatest pool of untapped renewable energy on the planet. The push is on to capture this homegrown source of clean power and there are lots of players in the game. Corporations, universities, state, and federal government and community based organizations. While the wave energy industry remains in an emergent state, the level of enthusiasm pushing it forward will likely ensure its long-term success. It’s possible to make electricity from waves. It now remains to create devices capable of supplying large population centers and weave through the obstacle course of competing interests to get them installed. It will take broad based cooperation, but within sight is an opportunity to help wean ourselves from other pollution ridden sources of electricity.

Published in print in the November 2008 issue of Deep Magazine. Archived online at deepzine.com.

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Sea of Debris



In 2005, on an atoll deep in the Pacific Ocean, a researcher found a small fragment of plastic from a WWII era plane inside the stomach of a dead Albatross. For decades the fragment bobbed in ocean currents and tumbled about on desolate beaches. Eventually a bird mistook it for food. At this moment millions of tons of trash spoil the world’s oceans. The accumulation between California and Hawaii alone is so immense it’s been given a name: The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s purportedly the single largest dump on the planet. And it continues to grow.

Beginning about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California, encircled by several major oceanic currents, the water swirls in a massive slow-moving eddy called the North Pacific subtropical gyre. A natural phenomenon turn pollution trap where debris circulates for decades and covers hundreds of thousands of square miles. Litter blown offshore and carried in river run off is drawn here by the surrounding currents. And much of it is plastic. It’s forever.

The environmental impact is incalculable. Millions of seabirds, mammals, fish, and other creatures perish from ingesting bits of debris or getting tangled in it. Yet, the plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, or even odd billiard ball are merely the most visible traces. Plastic breaks down through a process of photo degradation. It eventually becomes dust, but never disappears. A pioneer in research on the matter from Long Beach, CA, Charles Moore first began studying the problem ten years ago. A blog entry from his expedition earlier this year describes “an endless stream of delicate, white snowflakes, like plastic powder coating the ocean’s surface.” The result is a poisonous mix of seawater with plastic outnumbering plankton in some areas.

Flotsam from the Garbage Patch occasionally inundates atolls within the recently created Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument northwest of Hawaii. Deposits several feet high form along certain shorelines. Being that the nature reserve is protected by our nation’s strongest environmental laws; the federal government has been compelled to act. However, without a concerted multi-national effort and grassroots support, it will prove hard to remedy what has grown into a global blight of epic proportions.

Originally published in print in DEEP Magazine in September 2008.

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