Humboldt Bay Symposium unites residents to discuss changing environment, future development

CA Sea Grant Extension Specialist organizes regional science forum
October 26, 2016
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Eureka, CA – At the 8th Humboldt Bay Symposium held October 21-22, area residents had the opportunity to speak directly with local experts on the region’s latest updates in coastal science, restoration and development.

This year’s conference theme of “Changing Tides, Changing Times” focused on large-scale environmental changes including sea level rise and ocean acidification. The symposium’s topics ranged from changes in flood risk and water quality to new development in aquaculture and coastal trails.

“I’m really excited we got this going again, because I think it’s an excellent venue for our community of scientists and managers and restoration experts to share their work with each other and with the public,” said Joe Tyburczy, a California Sea Grant Extension Specialist based in Eureka and the lead organizer of the symposium.

Speaker Adam Wagschal, a regulatory specialist with ICF, joined the symposium to discuss the future of Humboldt Bay’s growing aquaculture industry, which he says has permits under consideration for expansion in the subtidal and intertidal zones.

“Right now there are about 95 full-time equivalent jobs in the shellfish culture industry here. Depending on how the permitting goes, there’s potential for 200 to 300,” said Wagschal, noting that they are taking projected ocean changes in the bay into account.

“[Ocean acidification] is definitely part of the discussion. Preliminary research in Humboldt Bay suggests that ocean acidification is less than it has been in other locations,” said Wagschal, “We’re cautiously optimistic that we might be in a little better position here.”

Tyburczy just received a two-year research grant from the Ocean Protection Council to investigate ocean acidification within Humboldt Bay, the extent to which eelgrass may buffer acidity, and how bivalve aquaculture operations may benefit from this buffering. The project will also establishing a program to monitor the abundance and distribution of eelgrass beds in the Bay.

Dr. Tom Torma, cultural director of the Wiyot Tribe, also spoke at the symposium, providing introductory remarks on the cultural challenges of adapting to a changing Humboldt Bay environment.

“We’re coming to the conclusion that many of the challenges we face today have to do with ceremonies, lifeways, and our larger relationship with the place, that you don’t get by just seeking out just the information you want,” said Torma.

“For example, we know about the science of climate change - what’s happening, what’s causing it, what we need to do to fix it, and the consequences of not fixing it. But we’re not doing it. That comes from not having a relationship, and not having meaning beyond the information and data. From a Wiyot perspective, if people who work to protect the Bay are going to do something about it then we are going to have to redefine what the relationship to the Bay is.”

More than 120 professionals and residents turned out to hear the discussion and ask questions, something Tyburczy hopes will help the community find solutions in the years ahead.

“It’s about sharing challenges and thinking about how our area can move forward on them,” said Tyburczy.  “It’s really helpful to get everyone on the same page.”

The Humboldt Bay Symposium is held every two years to share the latest developments in scientific research, ecological restoration, sustainable use of natural resources, recreational facilities, and maritime infrastructure and industry in Humboldt Bay.

The symposium was sponsored by both the Humboldt Bay Initiative and its associated non-profit, the Coastal Ecosystems Institute of Northern California. The Humboldt Bay Initiative is an informal collaboration of local stakeholders including scientists, agency staff, Tribes, non-profits, local government officials, and other professionals as well as interested community members working together to plan and carry out ecosystem-based management (EBM) of Humboldt Bay. The Coastal Ecosystems Institute of Northern California was established in 2011 to promote ecosystem-based management of the region’s coastline through collaborative applied research, planning, management, and stakeholder outreach.

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.