Southern California environment news and trends

Trout, salmon threatened by water shortages in California wine country

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wallyg/Flickr Creative Commons License

Generally, wine and fish can be paired quite nicely. In California wine country, however, the relationship between the two has not been so harmonious. New research has found a correlation between markedly higher death rates in steelhead trout with lowered summer water levels and the amount of vineyard acreage upstream.

The study, conducted by biologists at UC Berkeley, discovered that the fish are especially vulnerable during the drier months of summer. They found only 30 percent of the juvenile trout present in June survived to see the end of the season. The number of surviving fish increases in years with more rainfall and in watersheds with less vineyard activity.

"Nearly all of California's salmon and trout populations are on the path to extinction and if we're going to bring these fish back to healthy levels, we have to change the way we manage our water," said Theodore Grantham, lead author of the study in Science Daily. "Water withdrawals for agricultural uses can reduce or eliminate the limited amount of habitat available to sustain these cold-water fish through the summer. I don't suggest we get rid of vineyards, but we do need to focus our attention on water management strategies that reduce summer water use. I believe we can protect flows for fish and still have our glass of wine."


Pacific Ocean’s ecology affected by floating debris

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Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

A team of researchers working off the coast of California has determined that the amount of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean has increased at least one hundred fold over the past 40 years.

The scientists, who are from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, have also discovered that this growing mass of trash (known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”) has begun altering the ecology. As reported by CBS News, the water-skimming marine insects known as Halobates sericeus lay eggs on the water’s surface, usually organic matter like seabird feathers and shells. With the preponderance of tiny bits of plastic, however, the insects have found plentiful new real estate to spread their eggs.

"We thought there might be fewer Halobates if there's more plastic - that there might be some sort of toxic effect. But, actually, we found the opposite. In the areas that had the most plastic, we found the most Halobates,” said Scripps researcher Miriam Goldstein to BBC News. "So, they're obviously congregating around this plastic, laying their eggs on it, and hatching out from it. For Halobates, all this plastic has worked out well for them."