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CSUs tackle urban coastal crises

March 15, 2012

Category: A Closer Look

Fishing boats docked in Monterey, CA

In California, sustainability doesn’t stop at the seashore. The state’s urban coastal waters face many environmental threats including fishing, pollution and chemical runoff. Cal State Long Beach and CSU Monterey Bay are among six California universities selected to take part in a research grant program aimed at making the state’s urban coastline more sustainable.

Long Beach and Monterey Bay researchers will join those from the University of Southern California, Stanford University, Mills College, and the University of the Pacific in an integrated program, which involves both research and public outreach—to help Californians understand and conserve their coasts.

The National Sea Grant is administering the $727,700 research program through USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. All of the applicants were reviewed by outside experts for scientific merit and relevance to current marine issues—such as fish contamination, habitat diversity, urban runoff and the role of ocean water toxicity. The two CSU-led projects illustrate the universities’ connection, commitment and care for the urban coastline.

The project led by CSUMB marine ecologist Corey Garza will take a closer look at the importance of tide pool areas to California’s lobsters and sheepshead fish. The two species use these areas to eat and reproduce. However, fishing and pollution has impacted the important role the tide pools play in their lifecycles.

Garza says he plans to compare an intertidal area in unprotected urban water with a marine-protected area, where fishing is prohibited.

“The study will compare a protected with an unprotected tide pool area, looking at factors like the species’ reproduction conditions,” Garza said. “The differences will help us gauge the communities’ importance to the animals.”

Garza, who received $39,000 for the study and an additional $25,000 to fund two student researchers, will initiate the research this June. He says he hopes this investigation will help to integrate the tide pool habitats into marine protected areas so these key economic species can maintain sustainable populations.

“This habitat is critical to these species, but the species are also an important part of the coastal ecosystems,” Garza said. “The study will provide more evidence to support their conservation efforts.”

At CSU Long Beach, biologist Kevin Kelley will join scientists from the Orange County Sanitation District and the Pacific Coast Environmental Conservancy to study thyroid disruption in coastal fish, which are getting thyroid disorders caused by environmental chemicals common to urban areas.

Thyroid hormones are critical for normal growth and metabolism in fish and other wildlife, so these related disorders are a major concern in impacted coastal environments.

The CSU studies will tackle just a couple of the many urban sustainability challenges keeping California’s scientists hard at work. Since city-dwellers may be less aware of their role in the ecosystem, one of the main challenges is boosting awareness.

Garza says that understanding a problem is the first step to solving it.

“When people are aware of their impact on the environment, they are more likely to make changes that can prevent these problems,” Garza said.

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