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MacKenzie Elmer's biweekly environmental news roundup (Mondays)
San Diego is gathering public feedback for the next iteration of its Climate Action Plan, the sky and the sea are glowing and more in our biweekly roundup of environmental news.
Welcome back to the ocean, San Diego. Let’s not screw this up.
San Diego County lifted restrictions on ocean and beach access Monday for swimming, surfing, walking and running. The city of San Diego and Coronado were among the first to reopen access. (Coronado was also among the last to close.) But you still need to wear a face covering if you want to be within six feet of someone who isn’t a housemate.
The heat wave of the last few days drove thousands to the still-open Newport Beach. Photos suggest that most of these weekend warriors threw face masks and Frisbees to the wind. Now, the city’s elected officials are thinking about shutting down the beach for three weeks, just as ours are gearing up to return.
At the same time, confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed to more than 18,500 in Los Angeles County. The National Guard sent medical teams to assist a handful of L.A. nursing facilities. Still, hospitalizations are, basically, flat and officials are considering plans to slowly ease stay-at-home orders.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday it’s still too early to lift social distancing rules and urged people to stay home as COVID-19 became the leading cause of death in Los Angeles County. The L.A. mayor isn’t budging, though, on reopening beaches.
“A day or two of fun, leading to weeks more of us being in our homes and not being able to go out, simply isn’t worth it,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.
The city of San Diego launched an online survey to gather public feedback for the next iteration of its Climate Action Plan, approved back in 2015.
Dubbed “Our Climate, Our Future,” the survey took me about 10 minutes to fill out. It gauged citizens on how willing they are to reduce their ecological footprint. For instance, one question asked whether you’d take shorter showers on purpose or replace lightbulbs with LEDs.
Another asked where else energy might be reduced, but the pre-written options available didn’t mention commercial and industrial businesses or getting cars off the road.
That’s significant because, according to the U.S. Energy Commission, industrial businesses in California consume almost a quarter of the state’s energy. Homes and apartments eat up about 18 percent; commercial businesses use another 19 percent and that last chunk — 40 percent — goes toward transportation.
It’s notable, too, that the city included questions about telework — the work-from-home-not-the-office rule that has become a norm for many under COVID-19 social distancing orders. San Diego puts the question in the form of an affirmative statement: “I can reduce emissions by working from home at least once per week.” Then the city asks whether you’re already doing this or would consider it.
I reported a few weeks ago that the lack of cars on the road due to the pandemic produced significant drops in emissions, which cause our planet to warm up rapidly. The director of San Diego’s regional planning agency thinks telework could be key in reaching climate goals faster, and it seems like the city agrees.
Tuesday marks 40 days and 40 nights of lockdown. San Diego County lifted access to the beaches just shy of that religiously loaded number. In the meantime, nature seems to be serenading us with showers of shooting stars across both the sea and sky.
Look up: Tuesday also marks the final day of the Lyrid meteor shower, which happens this time each year as Earth revolves around the sun it passes through “cascades of comet waste,” writes Nicholas St. Fleur of the New York Times. Comets are like “dirty snowballs” and leave behind a “dusty trail of rocks and ice” that linger in space long after they leave.
Then, look down: Since San Diego County opened beaches Monday for recreation (no sitting, standing or lying out, remember), you should definitely visit the shoreline at night to witness the massive bioluminescent algal bloom bringing electric blue waves to San Diego. You’ve probably caught this viral video of dolphins swimming through bio-luminescence like water fairies.
“Whenever there is turbulence created in the water, that’s where you’ll see it light up,” said Clarissa Anderson, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. That causes a chemical reaction and the hypnotic light show that lingers on the rocky shore, looking something like friendly radioactive goo.
By day, the ocean looks red because microscopic plants called phytoplankton give off a rouge appearance as they gather and capture sunlight to reproduce. It’s often referred to as a “red tide,” though the term often carries a negative connotation. For instance, in 2015, a bloom of algae that’s known to be deadly turned toxic, causing mass animal die-offs and hitting the coastal economies of Alaska to California hard.
Scientists are just beginning to understand why some red tides turn deadly. But the bloom we’ve seen in San Diego for the past three weeks is very common and has not been known to create toxic waters here, Anderson said.
“The red color just tells you there’s a lot of it. Not whether it’s poisonous,” Anderson said.
This bloom is made up of a particular organism that’s very common along the California coast, she said. Scientists were aware the bloom started to form three weeks ago thanks to instruments placed off the coast of Del Mar. These robotic microscopes can aid in the real-time interpretation of what’s blossoming out there.
Curiously, this red tide has lasted longer than normal. Anderson said ocean temperatures are really high right now and that certainly could keep that bloom going.
“I’m sure the phytoplankton are quite happy out there,” Anderson said.