The Humboldt Bay Symposium at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka presented two days of updates, development and changes that have happened within the region over the last two years.
“Two days was not enough, but I feel like we put together the best group of experts that we possibly could,” said Joe Tyburczy of California Sea Grant, a main sponsor of the symposium. “We put this together in six months and this event happens every two years so we have a lot of thought that goes into proving interesting and thought provoking topics when it comes to research and restoration.”
Tyburczy said although there were four different sessions and nearly 30 presenters there was still so much to discuss about the constantly changing state of the ocean and coastal lands.
The topics ranged from the California drought and El Niño to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps and climate change within the North Coast.
A prevalent topic was sea level rise within Humboldt Bay.
Speaker Aldaron Laird talked about the vulnerability assessment as well as adaptive measures that would need to take place over the course of 50 to 100 years to guarantee safety in the coastal residential zones.
“The city of Eureka doesn’t have the authority to enforce flood insurance, that’s allocated for federal powers,” Laird said. “How do we factor in the next 85 or so years when it comes to convincing developers to build according to future predictions of the bay? There’s no precedence for that right now so we’ll just have to encourage proactivity.”
Hank Seeman with Humboldt County Public Works said the recently updated maps from FEMA could potentially help create a better system for predicting and preventing disasters related to flood risks which were more frequently during extreme weather.
“The communities in the most danger are Field’s Landing, King Salmon, Samoa, Fairhaven and South G St. in Arcata,” Seeman said. “FEMA maps provide accurate information on flood danger and intensity by presenting several risk factors like strong storms, erosion, water filled with debris and environmental problems.”
Seeman said FEMA’s 2016 update was monitored and certified by engineers and was now GIS based and could be accessed online.
Jennifer Kalt of the Humboldt Baykeeper presented observations of the local coast and beaches and their condition when it comes to bacteria levels.
“We’ve done several samplings of our beaches within the last few years and beaches like Calm Beach and Moonstone are a serious problem,” Kalt said. “While Moonstone received an A this summer, it doesn’t account for the next few months where water quality and cleanliness are not tested year round.”
Kalt also mentioned that six creeks in Humboldt County were listed for fecal bacteria, but they have not been able to test whether or not animals or humans contributed to the rise in bacteria levels.
“We all know it’s a problem, but nobody knows what the source of it is,” Kalt said. According to the county’s water quality test results, both Clam Beaches and Moonstone Beach presented more than 300 instances of e. coli, and Mad River Beach and Luffenholtz Beach at lower but still significant levels.
Humboldt State University marine ecologist Brian Tissot highlighted the effects of warmer waters on local species through his research with the Sea Star Wasting Disease which depleted a huge chunk of sea stars on the North Coast in 2013.
“It’s a long term investigation and some sea star populations haven’t fully recovered from the disease,” Tissot said. “We tested nine types of seas stars and 10 to 25 percent of them showed symptoms of the disease.”
Tissot said seas stars were a critical part of the ecosystem and helped maintain species diversity by controlling muscle distributions and also by keeping urchin populations in check.
Disease was an outlying effect of the warming waters, but according to NOAA presenter Eric Bjokstedt said CO2 emissions also played a huge role in changing the ecosystem when it came to increasing acidic levels on the coast which caused defects and growth levels to decrease within aquatic organisms.
“Whether or not you choose to believe in climate change is not the issue,” Bjokstedt said. “This is real and is happening now.”