Could MPAs become ‘marine polluted areas?’

by Dan Bacher

Fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, tribal members and clean water advocates have criticized the so-called “marine protected areas” created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative for failing to protect marine waters from oil drilling and spills, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing, wave and wind energy projects and all other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The failure to include aggressive protection of water quality in the designation of “marine protected areas” is particularly appalling when one considers the fact that the number of California rivers, lakes and coastal waters showing toxicity has increased dramatically since 2006, as exposed in a list of polluted waterways released on October 11.  (LINK)

The alarming list, submitted by the state of California to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and finalized by the agency, reveals that more of California’s waterways are impaired than previously known. Increased water monitoring data shows the number of rivers, streams and lakes in California exhibiting overall toxicity have increased 170 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to Nahal Mogharabi, spokesman for the California EPA, in a news release.

“California has some of the most magnificent rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the country,” according to Mogharabi. “However, of its 3.0 million acres of lakes, bays, wetlands and estuaries, 1.6 million acres are not meeting water quality goals, and 1.4 million acres still need a pollution clean-up plan, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).”

Ironically, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a strong supporter of the initiative, recently received an exemption from a state ban on dumping wastewater in a marine protected area in the bay, according to Susanne Rust in California Watch.

“Although famous for conservation and its sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is also one of the largest wastewater dischargers in the protected Pacific Grove area of the bay,” reported Rust. “Last week, the State Water Resources Control Board exempted the aquarium [PDF] from a state ban on dumping wastewater in a marine protected zone.”

In its brochure, the aquarium touts its environmental sustainability while admitting that its operation has a “substantial” environmental footprint.

“To achieve lasting marine conservation outcomes, we’re committed to an ongoing program of improvement that includes adopting sustainable business practices and encouraging others to do the same. Operating a large public aquarium requires substantial resources and a large staff, and we recognize that our environmental footprint is likewise substantial. We remain deeply committed to minimizing our environmental impact and to conducting our business operations in ways that reflect and advance our conservation mission,” the brochure states.

However, “the board decided the aquarium’s conservation and public education benefits far outweigh any dangers posed by the millions of gallons of treated fish, bird and mammal waste it dumps back into the bay,” Rust stated.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s beneficial uses include extensive public outreach and education on the marine environment, basic water quality research, and research to determine the needs and improve the quality of existence for marine life,” David Clegern, a spokesman for the water board, told Rust.

While an angler is prevented from fishing in these “marine protected areas,” the aquarium receives an exemption from wastewater discharges. What type of environmental justice is this?

Ken Peterson, the aquarium’s communications director, responded that, “The so-called ‘waste’ from the aquarium is seawater piped in from Monterey Bay and returned to the bay after circulating through the aquarium’s exhibits to sustain 35,000 sea creatures: from giant kelp and strawberry anemones, to sharks, shorebirds and sardines.”

“It does not include water from the sea otter exhibit, which is diverted to a municipal treatment plant. It is virtually as clean when it returns to the ocean as it was when it came into the aquarium hours earlier — as rigorous daily water quality testing confirms,” he continued.

“Aside from rain runoff, all of our freshwater waste goes into municipal sewer lines for treatment, including the water we use to hose down our awnings and sidewalks, which we divert before it makes it into storm drains and flows into the bay,” he stated.

He added, “There’s no question that coastal waters, inside and outside of marine protected areas, are affected by human activities. The aquarium is part of an unprecedented research effort, the Pacific Nearshore Project, that’s trying to measure those impacts on marine life. Research efforts like this, and effective action to control significant sources of urban and agricultural pollutants, can make a real — rather than a rhetorical — difference for the health of our oceans.”

I agree that effective action is needed to control significant sources of urban and agricultural pollutants in our river, lake, bay and ocean waters. This must be done by rigorous enforcement of the state and federal Clean Water Acts – and by including aggressive protections from oil drilling and spills, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing, wave and wind energy projects and other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering in the enforcement of the Marine Life Protection Act.

Things get even more bizarre when you consider that PG&E will start seismic testing next year to determine the earthquake safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant off the Central Coast, in the wake of the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

“The tests will be done using high-powered sonar guns, in near-shore waters along an 18 mile stretch of coast – with the potential of killing fish and marine mammals for up to 10 miles from the test site, most of which is in a so-called Marine Protected Area,” said Mike Hudson, President of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen?s Association. “That’s 180 square miles of death and destruction that’s perfectly legal in the MPA. Just don’t get caught with a fishing pole in that area.”

California game wardens often refer to “MPAs” as “marine poaching areas” because an already grossly understaffed warden force doesn’t have enough personnel to patrol new no-fishing zones, let alone the existing ones.

With the failure to aggressively tackle water quality in marine protected areas under the MLPA Initiative, I suggest that the acronym “MPAs” could also stand for “marine polluted areas!”

MLPA Initiative Background:

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA “Initiative” to “implement” the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of “marine protected areas” included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public “partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).


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