Proposal for new A's stadium next to Lake Merritt and Laney College: Resources and articles

In light of the recent proposal by the Oakland A's to build a new stadium right next to Lake Merritt and Laney College, we're posting some resources and articles about the issue.

This project has CCNH and many other organizations concerned about how a very large, high-traffic stadium in the area would negatively impact communities, wildlife, and the gem of Oakland.

Learn more about the issue:

Video from the September meeting of the Peralta Board of Trustees (Oakland North)

What you can do:

What's Living In Lake Merritt? A lot, it turns out.

Hedgpeth's Sapsucker, a photosynthetic sea slug that lives in Lake Merritt. Photo: Damon Tighe

Hedgpeth's Sapsucker, a photosynthetic sea slug that lives in Lake Merritt. Photo: Damon Tighe

"Come check out some cool Lake Merritt creatures!" 

It seems like a hard sell at first, given how much people watching there is to do at the Lake. Lake Merritt on a sunny weekend afternoon is packed with families and friends, joggers, bicyclists, drummers, dancers, ice cream vendors with their tinkling bells.  Still, curious folks come to our table  to see the shallow tubs we've set up - a PopUp Aquarium - which allows them to see and touch some of the Lake's lesser known inhabitants: tube worms, bubble snails, tunicates, hydroids, anemones... 

Reactions follow a predictable pattern: shock, followed by wariness, and then finally, amazement.

First people express disbelief that anything lives in the Lake. Long-time Oaklanders have not-so-fond memories of the Lake as smelly and full of trash. Since Measure DD funds were put to use water quality has improved and marine life has increased.  Large fish like bat rays, striped bass, and sturgeon have been seen in the Lake. In August,  a harbor seal was spotted in the Lake. Seals and other large marine animals feast on smaller fish and mollusks like the ones we are showing off in our PopUp Aquarium. 

"So these creatures come from the Lake?", people ask. I point to a spot near the shore where I had waded in, wearing my rubber boots. "I pulled this rock up right over there, and these anemones were on it!"

 

Orange-Striped Green Sea Anemone. Photo: Damon Tighe

Orange-Striped Green Sea Anemone. Photo: Damon Tighe

 

Everything in the tanks is touchable, nothing will bite or sting enough to hurt a person. Still, it takes coaxing for folks to put their hands in the water. I pull out a compressible yellow-grey blob and place it gently in their hands. "What does it feel like?", I ask. "It feels like a sponge." That's because it is a sponge! Sponges are some of the simplest animals on Earth. They grow in small clumps on the docks along the Lake. 

After they connect with one creature, people become more comfortable. It's time to introduce the sea vase tunicate. The sea vase is a translucent cylinder with two translucent tubes arms branching from one side. When I pull one out of the tank, the tubes retract. Its surface is perfectly smooth and soft, like a peeled grape. Pressed gently, water squirts from the lower tube. This never fails to delight. Maybe you've heard the phrase "sea squirt"?  Weirder: of all the animals we are displaying- snails, shrimps, worms- the sea vase is the closest relative to humans. In its larval stage, the sea vase has a rudimentary notochord, a structure shared by all vertebrates. In human embryos the notochord becomes part of our vertebral column. Tunicates have no backbone. Their notochord is reabsorbed as the creature develops, leaving the adult a gelatinous, boneless glob.  Still, it's a glob that shares a common ancestor with us!

Sea Vase Tunicate. Photo: Damon Tighe

Sea Vase Tunicate. Photo: Damon Tighe

Within a few minutes, folks become believers. The fear of getting their hands wet is long gone. They notice incredible details of the structure and habits of the wildlife. "What's that? Why is it doing that? Is that a shrimp?" It dawns on them that Lake Merritt is full of amazing creatures, and it's been right here this whole time. People leave our table genuinely excited about what they've seen and learned. They continue their stroll or their jog with a newfound appreciation. All in all, a great afternoon at Lake Merritt.

 

We get lots of questions at our PopUp Aquariums. Here are a few common questions we fielded last week:

How did Lake Merritt form? During the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago, a channel was created that connected a low-lying area to the San Francisco Bay. Bay water flowed in and out with the tides, resulting in a salty marsh surrounded by mudflats. Human development in the last few centuries has dramatically impacted the landscape and ecosystem. Mudflats have been removed.  Nonnative species  have entered the waterway, often hitching a ride from distant lands via ballast water of international shipping tankers coming to the Port of Oakland.

Is Lake Merritt salty water or fresh? Both. Storm drains bring "fresh" water in the form of street runoff into the Lake. It's a mix of rain-water and all the nasty junk thats on the street (trash, dog poop, motor oil, plastic). If it's on the street, it flows into the Lake! Salt water comes in with the tides through the channel at the south end. Salinity in the Lake varies by time of year - less salty during the rainy season, saltier in the dry season. 

Are there fish in the Lake? Yes, I'm just not fast enough to catch them with my bare hands. There are lots of small bait fish living in the Lake. You can see brown pelicans dive-bombing from the air to catch them! Larger fish have been seen, too. Keep your eyes pealed.

Where did you get this stuff? We mostly collect samples from pier pilings and from rocks along the shore. Mussels and algae grow in clumps which act as a microhabitat for other organisms like worms, barnacles, tunicates and anemones. We try to return creatures as close as possible to where we found them. 

What kind of shellfish did the Native Americans eat?  Ohlone people lived along the marshy banks for thousands of years. They ate clams, mussels, and oysters and amassed the shells into massive heaps known as shellmounds.  Hundreds of shellmounds were documented around the Bay, including one at Lake Merritt. Some of these were also sacred burial places and ceremonial sites. For more information about shellmounds, check out the fight to preserve the West Berkeley Shellmound.

Is the Lake getting cleaner? Yes. The restoration of Lake Merritt is ongoing. The Lake Merritt Weed Warriors meet each month to plant and maintain native saltmarsh plants, which restore habitat and nutrients for other Lake dwellers. You can join them at a work day!

 

 

DIY Moth Light

DIY Moth Light

If you are attracted to seeing ephemeral organisms and like staying up late into the night doing so, moth lighting might be the past time you’ve been looking for. Don’t worry long hikes aren’t necessary, but there is a key piece of equipment that will make your new found sweat-less hobby more fruitful; a moth light....learn to build one here

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Back to school: Enroll now for Natural History courses at Merritt

Merritt College in Oakland provides great natural history courses. For the Fall semester we're recommending three courses for anyone interested in California ecology and natural history. All of these classes have field trip components, so they're perfect for hands-on learners and folks who want to get out of the classroom. Click the links to view the course fliers. Enroll through the Peralta Community College system here.



A Seaweed Journey

 

Reams of scientific studies are showing that our oceans are warming and acidifying from the vast plumes of fossil carbon that are combusted into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by oceans which turns into carbonic acid. Calcifying organisms like molluscs (oysters, squid), crustaceans (crab, prawns) and corals depend on a more basic pH and the increased acidity interferes with their ability to calcify. In recent years California has suffered catastrophic collapses of many of its commercial fisheries, sardines, dungeness crab, urchin and salmon. Contributing factors are many, indubitably over-fishing is implicated in some cases but scientists are increasingly casting attention towards warming and acidification as key factors.

A pragmatist might beg the question: can our marine ecosystems adapt? As consumers of seafood it behooves us to chew on the insatiable appetite for carbon of one of the fastest growing plants on the planet: kelp. This macro algae an grow 2 feet per day and up to a couple hundred feet in height. Recognized as one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet, kelp forests are home to, and food for, a veritable festival of marine life.

More bad news: northern California's kelp forests have been reduced by 93% in the last few years. Where vast swaths of fronds once swayed now march hordes of kelp-devouring sea urchins, areas that biologists sullenly call "urchin barrens". Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, most of the urchins predators have been wiped out. Before the California Gold Rush was the California Fur Rush and sea otters, consummate urchin eaters, were hunted to near extinction. Another prolific predator of urchins, the sea star, have suffered major die-offs since 2013 due to a mysterious disease dubbed "sea star wasting syndrome", which could be caused by warmer waters.

A fascinating footnote to this maritime drama is the story of an unemployed fisherman named Bren Smith who started a lucrative kelp farm in Connecticut. Unlike terrestrial farming his ocean farm is zero input, meaning no fertilizer and no antibiotics are used. Even more striking is that unlike most farming his kelp forest is attracting so many native species, some might even call it restoration.

With these stories in mind, a small group spent a weekend exploring the rocky inter-tidal coastline of Mendocino. Sea vegetables were foraged. Octopi and eels were encountered. Legions of half-starved urchins and abalone scavenged the inter-tidal. And despite the calamities of human industry, the sea still delivered a pulsating throb of life.

- Nik Bertulis