Researchers at Ano Nuevo found the mercury level in the water during the molting season 17 times higher than what it is at other times of the year. That led them to look at where the mercury was coming from: the seals themselves. The molted skin takes with it some of the mercury that the seals have accumulated from the prey they eat in the ocean. Their blood and muscles have higher concentrations of mercury than would damage the nervous system of a human.
Besides the natural attraction of seabirds, sea mammals, and other sea life, this wedge of California State Parks and MBNMS in old San Simeon, where native people thrived long before the arrival of Portuguese whalers and George Hearst, is where 17,000 visitors in 2016 discovered how special this corner of the world is.
“These past years have been extremely unusual off the California coast, with humpback whales closer to shore, pelagic red crabs washing up on the beaches of central California, and sportfish in higher numbers in southern California,” said Elliott Hazen of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, a coauthor of the paper. “This paper reveals how broad scale warming influences the biology directly off our shores.”
Veteran diver Steve Lackey, an instructor at Sub-Surface Progression Dive Shop in Fort Bragg, said, “I try not to be an alarmist, but it is pretty unprecedented, in my opinion.”
This time of year, he’s accustomed to seeing small sprouts of kelp begin to appear on the ocean floor, a harbinger of the spring and summer growing season. This year, there are none, he said.
“I don’t remember quite this clean, this kind of scoured rock, with hungry invertebrates,” he said.
Crab fishermen have taken the lead on this issue and many are already taking part in a limited basis pilot project that was initiated two years ago. Approximately 1,500 lost crab pots have been collected in that program. SB 1287 will build upon the successful pilot project by advancing a statewide solution to the growing problem.
Though the tide can’t be totally turned back, the report, “Major Findings, Recommendations, and Actions,” found ways to blunt the environmental and economic impact now.
“Communities around the country are increasingly vulnerable to ocean acidification and long-term environmental changes,” said Richard Spinrad, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and former OSU vice president for research. “It is crucial that we comprehend how ocean chemistry is changing in different places…”