environmental resource analyst, Ventura County Public Works Agency
The following items are based on material sent to me by Catherine French, Channel Islands Naturalist Corps; David Torfeh, an Audubon Society member; Deborah Pendrey, director, Ojai Valley Green Coalition; and Shana Epstein, general manager, Ventura Water. If you would like the Eye on the Environment column to look at your environmental story, contact email@example.com
Catherine French, a naturalist and 12-year volunteer with the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps, has noticed recent changes in the migrations and visitation patterns of whales off our shores. In the last few years, humpbacks have been arriving as early as February and March, and the blue whales have been coming around May.
We are lucky to have whales swimming near shore just off the coast during their annual round-trip migration between their Arctic feeding grounds and their mating and calving lagoons in Baja California. Now is a good time to see and be inspired by these awesome creatures on their incredibly long migration back to Alaska. Gray whales make their approximately 10,000-mile round-trip journey at about 4.5 miles an hour, powering their 45-ton bodies with flukes (tails) that can span 12 feet.
For the best views of these whales on your own boat, head out to Santa Cruz toward the oil rig line between platforms Gina and Gail about eight miles offshore. For the humpback and blue whales, head toward the gap between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. Even better, take a whale-watch trip provided by vessel operators in Channel Islands, Ventura or Santa Barbara Harbors.
Also watch for dolphins, porpoise, sea lions and local and migrating seabirds. Of these, dolphins are the most likely to interact with passengers, surfing on a boat’s pressure wave. All of these species are protected, so keep 100 yards away, and enjoy nature in the wild.
Mid-March through mid-September is the nesting season for two local bird species that need our help to survive. The California least tern is an endangered species that hovers and dives to eat small fish along our shores. The western snowy plover is a threatened species that forages in wet sand of our beaches, picking through kelp for meals of insects, kelp flies, beach hoppers and other invertebrates.
Both birds construct nests in the beach sand above the surf line, exposing them to potential harm from dogs or off-road vehicles.
Even if your dog does nothing more harmful than bark and even if you carefully drive your ATV only on the wet sand, you can still harm these sensitive birds. If frightened from their nests, the tern and plover often abandon their chicks.
If you see a light-duty fence made of protective mesh, rope or cable, be especially aware of nearby nests. Most importantly, keep out unleashed dogs, which are often able to dig underneath barriers.
How much can be accomplished if a tight-knit, environmentally aware community commits to spreading solar energy and makes a deal for discounts from solar installers and manufacturers? Solarize Ojai was a group-purchasing initiative the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and the Community Environmental Council coordinated for two months last year with REC Solar and California Solar Electric.
Following workshops, e-mail outreach, person-to-person marketing, and a variety of efforts, they found 44 Ojai Valley homeowners interested in installing solar. Following evaluation of sites, consideration of costs and other follow-up, many of these prospects dropped out of the program, but five homes have installed a total of 2,380 watts of sun-powered capacity so far, and the groups are starting a new incentive period again in July.
As weather warms, we use more water, putting pressure on local resources. In an innovative effort to educate the public and spur new thinking, water-focused short films are being accepted at www.watertake1.com to be entered into the 2013 Water: Take 1 Online Short Film Contest. Presented by Ventura Water, Patagonia and iThentic, the film contest will close Sept. 3. The grand prize, $1,500, sponsored by Patagonia, will be presented at an event hosted by Brooks Institute of Photography. Other prizes will be awarded for an entry filmed in Ventura (sponsored by the Crowne Plaza), Best Student Short Film, and the film with the most on-line votes (sponsored by E.J. Harrison and Sons).