Core Areas 5 and 6 of the Proposed Marine Sanctuary Expansion
Coastal and Nearshore Core Areas from Point San Luis to Santa Rosa Creek
by Carol Georgi and Karl Kempton
former Energy Planner for San Luis Obispo County
and Lead Author of "Proposed Central Coast National Marine Sanctuary, 1990"
Unless otherwise credited, underwater photos are by Terry Lilley with Sue Sloan doing the lighting.
Our coastal veiwsheds offer magnificent views and vistas that are enjoyed by millions of visitors. The following are internationally and nationally significant features, some that are seen, and others that are unseen, hidden below the surface in the nearshore environment between Point San Luis and Santa rosa Creek.
*Significant California kelp forests
*Significant portion of the California sea otter range
*World-class fish diversity and densities in rocky intertidal regions
*Morro Bay National Estuary http://www.mbnep.org/index.php
*Large numbers of pinnipeds,including a significant percentage of harbor seals and sea lions
*Marine life spawning areas and rookeries
*Whale migration lanes and foraging areas
*Chumash archaeological sites continuously occupied between 8,000 and 10,000 or more years.
Core Area 5: Point San Luis to Morro Bay
Core Area 5 includes the shore line of the Pecho Coast, located between Point San Luis and the Morro Bay Sandspit, the Morro Bay Sandspit to the north flank of Morro Rock and the inner waters of Morro Bay National Estuary Program, and the nearshore waters out to the 200 meter bathymetry line. This area is situated approximately in the northern area of the proposed expansion area of sanctuary protection.
The Pecho Coast marine environment consists of a 13 mile stretch of intertidal rocky reef beginning at Hazard Canyon in the north to Point San Luis. The shoreline is characterized by sheer, wave-eroded cliffs, jutting headlands, and massive offshore submerged and exposed rocks. Above shoreline the narrow coastal bench is flanked by hills. The tidal zone is generally narrow and may terminate abruptly where protection from wave shock is minimal and deposition is reduced or absent. These topographical features form a highly irregular coastline. The coast provides many different exposed and protected habitats which extend or control the abundance and composition of marine plants and animals.
Long sandy stretches of coastline are found north and south of the reef. The reef supports important communities of vertebrates and invertebrates each integrally dependent upon each other and upon dense stands of canopy formed of kelp and lower growing algae. Damage to or extermination of reef fauna would result in a extremely slow recovery due to the reef's isolation from other rocky coastal habitats and the nonmigratory behavior of indigenous species.
This stretch of coast receives two extremes of human impact. One is the estimate of over half a million visitors per year to Montana De Oro State Park. Camping, fishing, walking, tidal collecting, surfing and seasonal whale migration-watching are the primary visitor activities. Because of the beauty of the area, a scenic trail from Point San Luis to Montano De Oro has been given the highest priority in a new county scenic trails program.
South of the park, controlled industrial activity is the only human activity. The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has created, by its demand for security, an absence of active human presence along the coast within the plant's sphere of influence. As a result, the Pecho Coast now contains California's only mainland haulout area for the sea otter (1990), and a mainland haulout area for elephant seals (1990).
Because of the combination of rocky intertidal zone, a seasonal upwelling off Point Buchon, large offshore rocks, kelp beds, climatic and oceanographic province transition zone, and lack of direct human interference, the area between Point Buchon and Point San Luis remains a lush floral and faunal habitat. The area supports a significant and growing population of breeding female sea otters, a large breeding population of sea lions which haul out at Lion Rock, a population of elephant seals which haul out on the mainland, a community of harbor seals, and a large number of seabird species populations. During their migrations, gray whales stack at Point Buchon waiting for a navigator whale to cross open bays on either side.
Waters within the area are considered pristine not only due to the abundance of life as indicators, but because of the presence of Allopora Coral, an hydrocoral. This hydrocoral, a tree-like form usually found in waters 50 meters deep, has been discovered near Lion Rock in waters only 15 meters in depth.
Studies at Diablo Canyon have provided a basis for revolutionary understanding of the age of the Chumash culture. A site here was the first which identified 9,500 years of continuous occupation by the Chumash along the California coastline. The information, for the most part, was based on artifacts dug up and removed from the Chumash Village burial grounds. Several other Chumash sites remain undated.
Diablo Cove has been one of the primary focal points for intertidal research in the proposed sanctuary area. Financed by PG&E, numerous investigations have resulted in descriptions of an abundance of flora and fauna. Among a host of important finds, research shows the area to be an important nursery for both rocky reef and deep water fish. The research supports conclusions that the San Luis Obispo County coastline supports one of the richest intertidal rocky reef fisheries in the world. This research, however, neglected to make public the extensive damage the once-through cooling system of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant has done to marine life. See the threats section of this article for more detail.
Offshore seismic studies have also been extensive, resulting in detailed studies of fault zones. Ocean faulting creates habitat for sea life.
Morro Bay is a young geologic feature, less than 15,000 years of age. Rising seas at the end of the last glacier period eroded coastal sands, developing a barrier beach in front of an eastward migrating beach system. The barrier beach, known as the Morro Bay sandspit, extends along the western edge of the estuary. Dunes migrate along the spit, which is about 4 miles long and a quarter mile wide. The spit connects to the mainland at the south end; having no roads or off-road vehicle trails allows a high value animal and plant habitat.
Morro Rock is an ancient volcanic plug which stands at the harbor entrance. It is the most prominent rock feature along the coast of California. A rookery and roost for a number of birds species including the peregine falcon, Morro Rock has been designated as the Morro Rock Ecological Reserve with an estimated one million visits per year.
Morro Rock is one of a chain of plugs; most are onshore, but the westernmost volcano is submerged 59 fathoms below the ocean's surface 7-1/2 miles due west of Morro Bay. The Chumash attach spiritual value to the volcanoes, with Morro Rock being a pivotal feature in their world-view. The Spanish referred to the plug as the Gibraltar of the Pacific.
The entire sandspit-estuary complex at the center of the broader Estero Bay extends from Point Buchon on the south to Cayucos Point on the north. Estero Bay is a closed littoral cell, from which beach sand apparently does not escape. Large areas of older sand dunes cover much of the shoreline in the southern parts of Morro Bay.
Morro Bay is the only major California estuary south of San Francisco not significantly altered by human activities. As wetlands continue to disappear, Morro Bay's international significance continues to grow. Morro Bay supports many birds protected by international treaty and provides a secure harbor for offshore marine fisheries.
Located within the climatic and oceanographic transition zone province, the bay's unique environment provides habitat for a rich mixture of northern and southern species at the ends of their respective ranges. These and other significant characteristics have brought about the designation of this area as the Morro Bay National Estuary.
Morro Bay contains the only eel grass bed between Monterey Bay and Seal Beach. This bed acts as a vital nursery for fish and invertebrates. Seventy fish species are listed as occurring in Morro Bay. Thirty fish species are economically important, while most of the rest are ecologically important foraging species.
Besides hosting a commercial fishing fleet, Morro Bay is a site of commercial sea farming. Oysters and mussels are cultured and harvested. Along the southern end on the ocean side of the sandspit a pismo clam reserve has been created.
With over one million visitors a year, tourism dominates the local economy, employing almost 40 per cent of those working in the City of Morro Bay. Morro Bay State Park Campground recorded over 1 million visitor days for fiscal year 89-90. Associated with the park is the Morro Bay Natural History Museum which recorded almost 80,000 visitors for f.y. 89-90.
Recently, over 60 new Chumash archaeological sites were recorded in the area of Los Osos. Where the mouth of a creek once entered Morro Bay, an old Chumash village stood. The village's age is unknown; it was destroyed to make way for an industrial use. Hundreds of Chumash sites ring Morro Bay.
A large number of state and federally listed species reside in or depend on the Bay. Some of these species are the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, the sea otter, the kangaroo rat, and the golden eagle.
Core Area 6: Northern Estero Bay Intertidal Core Area
The northern most core area begins on the north side of the Cayucos pier, moves northward along the coastline passed Point Estero to Santa Rosa Creek, arcs outward to the two hundred meter bathymeteric line and southward back to the north side of the pier. Santa Rosa Creek is the southern Boundary of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This section of the coastline, with lowlying benches rising to small coastal hills, contains jagged rocky coastline and offshore reef. Facing southward and protected by the hills, a portion of the area north of Cayucos is protected from prevailing northwest currents, winds and harsh storms. The Cayucos Creek mouth is on the area's southern boundary, and Villa Creek, just south of Point Estero, drains into the heart of the area. Numerous small coves are found along the coastline.
Comprised of rocky intertidal zones associated with dense kelp forests and other algae populations, the area supports a wide diversity of life. One of the largest sea otter population clusters resides within this zone. Offshore rocks provide rookeries and roosting sites for birds and haulouts for pinnipeds. 500 to 600 harbor seals are found here. Whales other than gray whales occasionally visit within this zone. Gray whales stack at Point Estero during migrations.
Between Villa Creek and Point Estero is a commercial abalone farm was established in 1968. It ships its harvest to various national and international customers. From its web site, "The Abalone Farm is a proud participant in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program."
The Chumash village site, Cayucos, is found adjacent to the area. Its age seems to be nearly 8000 years of continuous habitation. Further north in Cambria, but south of Santa Rosa Creek, two Chumash village sites have been dated 10,000 years old. Other large sites are also found in the area.
Several threats to marine life were discussed in the October issue of the SLO Coast Journal. Additional threats to marine life are once-through cooling and poor regulatory oversight leading to possible corruption by power plants and waste water treatment plants.
Nationally, "once-though cooling systems take in billions of gallons of river, lake, and coastal water to cool power plant machinery. Along with the water, these intakes devour fish and other small marine life, resulting in the death and destruction of billions of tons of marine animals a year. " Once-through cooling (OTC) has been used at PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant since 1985, and is expected to be continued until 2024.
The Morro Bay Power Plant also used OTC, and the power plant's future is still unknown, as reported by Colin Rigley in his recent article, "Exit Strategy - What's in store for the Morro Bay power plant?"
Once-through cooling destroys marine life in two ways—"Impingement" (the capture of larger organisms such as fish and shrimp on screens protecting the small bore tubes of the heat exchangers from blockage) and "entrainment" (the combined effects of temperature, pressure, biocide residual and turbulence/shear on smaller organisms entrained with the cooling water and then expelled back to the aquatic environment in the effluent). Cooling water intake structures cause adverse environmental impact by pulling large numbers of fish and shellfish or their eggs into a power plant's or factory's cooling system. There, the organisms may be killed or injured by heat, physical stress, or by chemicals used to clean the cooling system. Larger organisms may be killed or injured when they are trapped against screens at the front of an intake structure.
As reported by San Luis Obispo's Mothers for Peace, "Two nuclear power plants in California, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre,continue to degrade coastal waters indefinitely. The Federal Clean Water Act requires that cooling water intake structures minimize the environmental impacts to aquatic organisms due to impingement on intake screens and the killing of eggs and larvae as they pass through the cooling water systems. But Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) admits in its License Renewal Application that "For all regulatory and assessment purposes, entrainment losses caused by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (DCNPP) are considered 100 percent of all organisms withdrawn from the Pacific Ocean with the intake flow under all conditions. Annual entrainment of larval fish is estimated to range between 1.48 and 1.77 billion."
According to the California State Waterboard, as reported by San Luis Obispo's Mothers for Peace: "Diablo Canyon entrainment impacts an average source water coastline length of 74 kilometers (46 miles) out to 3 kilometers (2 miles) offshore, an area of roughly 93 square miles, for nine taxa of rocky reef fish. These rocky reef fish included smoothhead sculpin, monkeyface prickleback, clinid kelpfishes, blackeye goby, cabezon, snubnose sculpin, painted greenling, Kelp/Gopher/Black-and-Yellow (KGB) Rockfish Complex, and blue rockfish. In that 93 square mile source water area, an average estimated proportional mortality of 10.8 percent was calculated for these rocky reef taxa. The rocky reef fish species with the largest calculated coastline impact was the smoothhead sculpin, having an estimated proportional mortality of 11.4 percent over 120 kilometers (75 miles) of coastline during a 1997-98 sampling period. (Water Quality Control Policy on the Use of Coastal and Estuarine Waters for Power Plant Cooling, State Water Resources Control Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, at 30,)
Further, as reported by San Luis Obispo's Mothers for Peace, the California State Waterboard stated In its 2000 Staff Report:
"the CRWQCB noted that: The most significant and consistent biological effects caused by PG&E'sDiablo Canyon thermal discharge occur mainly along the intertidal and shallow subtidal marine environment. The intertidal and shallow subtidal zone in Diablo Cove is the most heavily impacted, with major reductions in important species such as habitat forming algae and intertidal fish. (at 1) Regional Board staff contends that thermal effects exceed those anticipated by the State and Regional Board when the plant was permitted and so do not protect beneficial uses as required by the Thermal Plan. (at 1) The entrainment study at Diablo Canyon was overseen by a technical workgroup that included independent consultants for the Regional Board (Dr. Greg Cailliet, MLML; Dr. Roger Nisbet, UCSB; Dr. Allan Stewart-Oaten, UCSB), a consultant for the League for Coastal Protection (Dr. Pete Raimondi, UCSC), and PG&E and its consultants from Tenera. The technical workgroup reviewed all aspects of the study, including sampling equipment, sampling periods, target species selection, larval identification, and analyses of the results via a process that continued for almost five years. Entrainment Studies at Diablo Canyon began in October 1996, and continued through June 1999 (about 2 ? years of sampling in front of the intake structure). (at 2) The results show that: the amount of larvae lost for nearshore species is relatively high. These non-harvested near shore species have no direct dollar value in terms of commercial fisheries, but are important in an ecological sense. For several nearshore species (sculpins, kelpfish, blackeye goby, monkeyface, prickleback), the amount of larvae taken by the power plant is large relative to the amount available in the source water body. (at 3) Since several of the ETM values for nearshore species are relatively high (up to 32% for clinid kelpfishes), and related monitoring data indicate potential population declines, staff believes that the intake system causes an adverse impact on nearshore species. (at 4) Recent state studies show that the use of OTC by power plants contributes to the degradation of estuaries, bays, and coastal waters."
Impingement kills marine life and is also a threat to the safe operation of a nuclear power plant. For example, in 2008, a large quantity of jellyfish became impinged and the power plant had to be manually shut down.
Jellyfish Shut Down Diablo Canyon Power Plant
Wiggly, Jiggly Invaders Cause Both Reactors to Be Taken Offline
Thursday, October 23, 2008
"An unprecedented invasion of jellyfish earlier this week managed to accomplish what decades worth of activists have failed to do: Shut down San Luis Obispo County's Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday, alarms began to sound at the Pacific Gas and Electric's Avila Beach facility. Water pressure readings for the power plant's cooling system were skyrocketing and no one could figure out why. After a team of scuba divers surveyed the underwater scene of the bay that feeds the plant's intake valves, they determined the culprit: Hundreds of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) had jammed the pipes, prompting officials to power down the plant.
While no permanent damage was done, according to PG&E spokesperson Sharon Gavin, the two-reactor facility - which pumps out about 18,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year - was severely hamstrung by the invasion with one reactor operating at half capacity and the other completely shut down for about two days. As of press time, the unit 1 reactor was back up to 97 percent of operating capacity while unit 2 remained totally shut down. The moon jellyfish is no stranger to area waters, but the impact of this week's swarm is unheard of, Gavin said. And while no PG&E customers have lost service as a result of the intake attack, the mess is far from an easy cleanup.
"Our divers are not seeing anymore jellyfish action right now, so that's a good thing," Gavin said.
But there is still work to be done before the plant will be fully operational. With hundreds of jellyfish "about the size of a basketball" caked on the filter screens found in the bowels of the intake pipes, divers have been working to scrape the jiggly invaders off in hopes of getting the second reactor back up to speed before the weekend."
To repeat, Diablo Canyon power plant's once-through cooling system impacts fish larvae 47 miles along the shore and in nearshore waters as far as 2 miles out. As shown above in Core Area 5, the kelp forest along the Pecho Coast is of great significance as well as the inner waters of the adjacent Morro Bay National Estuary waters where the now rare eel grass provides shelter for fish nurseries. The direct and indirect destruction reaches south into Core Area 3 and north into Core Area 6. Our San Luis Obisbo (SLO) County coast line is about 109 miles in length. This means almost half our SLO County nearshore waters are negatively impacted by PG&E's nuclear power plant.
The threats posed by this nuclear power plant to our environment are many, ongoing, and potential.
The ongoing environmental destruction is caused by the once-through cooling system. When the nuclear power plant began operation, sufficient data was already available pointing to the destruction of incredible numbers of larvae . The information was established at San Onofre nuclear power plant where a large 'sand bar' of dead sea life formed. Only recently has the public been given the statistic of one and a half billion fish larvae become entrained yearly with 90 per cent killed. Then there are the eggs and plantonic flora also being destoryed. By multiplying this number by the number of years the plant has been in operation (since May 1985) gives one an idea of how much richer our area would be without this destruction. Licensed to Kill Executive Summary
An example of poor regulatory oversight leading to possible corruption was found at the PG&E Diablo Canyon power plant in the spring of 2000, as documented by a quote from San Luis Obispo's Mothers for Peace article, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), for many years, provided state water authorities with skewed data on its Diablo Canyon nuclear power station. The data showed that the plant's intake of billions of gallons of water a day did very little harm to surrounding marine life. PG&E's conclusions were based on the unscientific formula that the amount of sea life drawn into the system at the intake port could be accurately measured by the amount of small fish and other organisms at the outflow of the cooling system.
In the spring of 2000, Diablo Canyon's operators were discovered to have withheld information from environmental regulators for two decades revealing the true effect of the reactor's hot water discharges into the coastal waters off Diablo Cove and miles beyond. The concealed data included infrared images indicating more extensive thermal plume impact zones than previously admitted and time-series photographs showing the progressive deterioration of biologically important marine habitat in coastal waters around the reactor. The damage was catastrophic to the indigenous marine life community, including the near obliteration of the already threatened black and red abalone populations. The concealed findings also revealed up to a 90 percent destruction of many varieties of sea life as they passed through Diablo Canyon's cooling system. These findings had never been reported to state or federal agencies.
From Water Quality Control Policy on the Use of Coastal and Estuarine Waters for Power Plant Cooling, State Water Resources Control Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, at 1,
Also, what remains hidden from public awareness is the ongoing low level radiation exposure to the marine environment. In the 1990's what was once public record has now been removed, cancer rates by zip code. A nuclear power plant cannot ‘economically' operate without release of low levels of radiation. So-called oversight regulators deemed such levels not harmful.
Lastly, another example of poor regulatory oversight leading to possible corruption is currently being investigated at the San Luis Obispo County's waste water treatment plant. Accusations include improper water-testing and inaccurate record-keeping.
Worker Claims Ulterior Motive Allegations of Misdeeds Dog the Sewage Plant
Banner Image of Otter & Pup by Cleve Nash