Gabriel Hongsdusit for Reveal

Last year saw the most destructive Atlantic hurricane season on record. As climate change pushes ocean temperatures ever higher, scientists predict storms will continue growing more severe. 

How did we get here? And what steps are we taking to ensure that rising seas and catastrophic weather don’t swallow American communities whole? This week’s episode investigates. 

Nancy Pelosi, Jared Huffman, and Lynn Woolsey
KRCB/Steve Mencher

This morning in Sausalito, Representative  Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) convened  a packed meeting that had the look and feel of a Congressional hearing. Several hundred people listened to politicians and ocean activists discuss President Trump’s threat to make local marine sanctuaries, vastly expanded by President Obama, shrink by about half. This would remove protections against drilling and mining that a bipartisan group of leaders has long agreed were important. Reporter Steve Mencher was there.

Greater Farallones Sanctuary Map
National Ocean Service | NOAA | Department of Commerce

When the Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries were expanded in 2015, advocates happily described them as "permanently" protected. That protection is now threatened by an April 28 presidential executive order which seeks to review the expansion, as Steve Mencher reports in the second part of a two-part story.

NOAA/Google Earth

Time is growing short to make your voice heard on the president's Executive Order to review and possibly shrink the National Marine Sanctuaries off the coast of Northern California, and elsewhere around the state and nation. The sanctuaries were expanded by President Obama in 2015 after extensive public input and hearings. In the first of two stories, Steve Mencher describes what the protections mean and what's at stake now.

Map of National Marine Sanctuaries off North Bay coast.

(Editor's Note: The comment period for public input on these National Marine Sanctuaries has been extended to August 14.)

A Struggle for Survival on the Ocean Floor

Nov 7, 2016

The die-off of starfish along the Pacific coast has disrupted the underwater ecosystem, with a radical impact on other sea life on the region’s ocean floor. 

  Kelp has an unusual two-stage life cycle, explains Fish and Wildlife environmental biologist Cynthia Catton, and the large plants we see are actually just a small part of that.


Sonoma Museum Opens Surfboard Exhibit

Jun 30, 2016
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

  Surfboards---from rough-hewn slabs of wood to carefully shaped pieces of fiberglass, and from Hawaii to Africa—are all on display in Sonoma this summer.

  Every surfboard in the exhibit has a story behind it—including the one that curator Richard Henvin is holding in the photograph at the right.

Included in the Surf Craft show are rare boards designed by the early and influential board-maker Bob Simmons.

Tall Ships Return to Bodega Bay

Apr 11, 2016
Bruce Robinson

  They’re back! After a four-year absence, a pair of tall-masted wooden sailing ships will sail back into Bodega Bay Wednesday for a 5-day stay, offering public tours and excursions.

  The Lady Washington’s companion vessel is actually older, and an original. The builder synthesized elements from several different historic ships to create the Hawaiian Chieftain, explains first mate Matthew Callen, but the first impression most modern observers have is “pirate ship.”


Erosion Watch on the Sonoma Coast

Feb 18, 2016
Bruce Robinson, KRCB

  King tides, El Nino, and sea level rise pose a triple threat to homes built too close to the edge of northern California’s seaside buffs. Some homes above Gleason’s Beach on the Sonoma Coast have been lost in years past, while others remain at risk.

  Gary Griggs, a professor of  Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz , has been tracking the eroding cliffs at Gleason Beach for the past decade and a half. He says his periodic return visits show that the problems there continue to advance slowly but persistently.


The state waters off California’s coast are one of the final frontiers. As KRCB reports, a group of scientists are now mapping the seafloor and the new charts are proving useful in surprising ways: protecting habitat, addressing erosion and even warning of earthquake hazards. 

Watch the video below to see a flyover of Central California’s seafloor --- from Bolinas to Pescadero --- created by the Seafloor Mapping Program.

Keeping Up With White Sharks

Jul 8, 2015

  Researchers have come up with an estimate of the number of great white sharks that circulate in the waters off the northern California coast. And there are not as many as you might guess.

  Sharks are generally solitary creatures, says George Burgess, but they can be found in sizable groups at locations where their preferred food sources are abundant.


The Sonoma and Marin coast is dotted with such “aggregation” sites for the Whites, Burgess adds, such as Goat Rock Beach near Jenner, and around the mouth of Tomales Bay.


Understanding 'Jellies'

Jul 7, 2015

  There may be a lot of beached jellyfish on the sand along the coast these days, but that’s just an indicator of a productive year for these strange and ancient creatures.


  Two common types of jellyfish often found along the North Coast are the Moon jellies (above, right) and the valella valella, which has a sort of "sail" that can catch the breeze on the surface of the sea to propel it. But if it happens to catch on onshore wind, it may end up stranded on a beach.

The California King Tide Project

Jan 19, 2015
Jeff Poskanzer

  The highest tides of the winter are rolling up on the Pacific Coast today, and the California King Tides Project is watching them with an eye toward the future.

There will be another, slightly lower series of King tides next month, on Feb. 17th  & 18th.  Information about uploading pictures to the California King Tides Project is posted on their website. There's a further explanation of the project in the video below.

Scouring the Seas for Plastic

Dec 18, 2014
Carolynn Box, Five Gyres

Carolynn Box is a Sonoma County native and 1996 Analy High School grad who has spent much of the past four years at sea, trawling the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans for plastic particles with the activist non-profit, Five Gyres. And finding them virtually everywhere.

 It has been suggested that specially outfitted ships could scoop up plastic particles from the gyres and recycle them. But having seen the scale of the problem first-hand, Carolynn Box is skeptical.

Banning Microbeads

Dec 4, 2014

  The California legislature came within a single vote, earlier this year, of passing a bill to prohibit the use of tiny plastic microbeads in cosmetic products sold in the state. Backers of the measure are vowing to try again next year. KRCB’s science reporter Danielle Venton examines why they are a problem.

Counting California's White Shark Population

Aug 18, 2014

  How many white sharks are swimming in California’s coastal waters? A new survey debunks an earlier claim that the marine predators’ numbers are declining, and that the species as a whole is endangered.

  Sharks are generally solitary creatures, says George Burgess, but they can be found in sizable groups at locations where their preferred food sources are abundant.

The Sonoma and Marin coast is dotted with such “aggregation” sites for the Whites, Burgess adds, such as Goat Rock Beach near Jenner, and around the mouth of Tomales Bay.

Expanding Protections on the Sonoma Coast

Jun 16, 2014
Ocean Foundation

  For years, even decades, there has been an ongoing effort to permanently protect the Sonoma Coast from oil drilling. That’s close to being finalized now, with a last round of public hearings on the North Coast this week. Today’s Exchange has details for you.

The Ocean Foundation's guide to the expansion plans and the hearings can be downloaded here.

New local site to monitor ocean radioactivity

Jun 2, 2014

Radioactive contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is slowly making its way across the Pacific Ocean. Ken Buesseler, research scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is determined to keep an eye on it.  On Sunday morning, June 1, a group of volunteers gathered at Bodega Head to inaugurate a new sampling site that will be maintained with the help of Santa Rosa Junior College Students.  

Brook Haven Students Aim for Zero Waste

Apr 11, 2014

  All this week, students at a Sebastopol elementary school have been seeing how close they can get to generating zero waste. It’s part of a program sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with a big emphasis on cutting down the use of plastics. We hear today from the teacher who’s been guiding that effort.

Although many other schools observed Zero Waste Week last month, the actions students are encouraged to take remain the same:

A Scaled Back Salmon Season in 2014?

Feb 26, 2014

  Last summer, North Coast salmon fishermen enjoyed their best year since the catch began to decline in 2005. The coming season, however, is projected to be somewhat smaller again.

Citizen Help Sought to Reduce Ship Strikes

Dec 5, 2013
NOAA Marine Fisheries Service.

It's dangerous out there. Heavy cargo traffic poses a deadly threat to whales. Now, the government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is harnessing mobile technology and citizen involvement to help protect whales from fatal ship strikes. 

NOAA and the United States Coast Guard are testing Spotter Pro, an application to collect real-time data about whale location. 

Sea Star Wasting Disease Hits the West Coast

Nov 21, 2013
Danielle Venton/KRCB

From as far north as Alaska, and as far south as Orange County, sea stars are disappearing, decomposing in a matter of hours as they suffer from a mysterious illness known as 'sea star wasting disease.'