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Hi, everybody. Thanks for being here and welcome to Ocean Solutions, a NOISE Lab podcast. I'm Dr. Morgan Reed Raven, a biogeochemist and a professor at the university of California in Santa Barbara. In this podcast, we're talking with inspirational individuals who are working on some of the largest issues of our time.
At the intersection of climate, ocean conservation and human wellbeing. Today, we're going to dig into a topic. that is very close to home for all of us along the West coast of North America. Areas that were kelp forest rich and all sorts of cool and quirky invertebrates just a decade ago are now bare- coated in piles of unhappy looking purple urchins.
What can we do? Scientists with the state of California are on the case.
Morgan Raven: [00:01:16] I am here with two guests today. Both of whom are environmental scientists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on issues related to urgent barrens and ecosystem health off the coast. So Anthony Shiao comes from the invertebrate management program and he has a background in law and policy issues. Hi, Tony, thanks for being here.
Anthony Shiao: [00:01:36] Thank you for having us.
Morgan Raven: [00:01:39] Second guest, two for the price of one is James Ray, who is associated with the finfish program with California department of fish wildlife, and has more of a science background with a master's in aquatic ecology. Hi, James.
James Ray: [00:01:52] Hello. Thanks for having me.
Morgan Raven: [00:01:54] So he's the one with the British accent. You can keep them straight this way.
before we dive in, I wanted to highlight something that James brought to my attention, which is a fantastic looking book by Dr. Sarah Ray, , which is called field guide to climate anxiety. How to keep your cool on a warming planet, which I am quite looking forward to reading and is probably relevant for many of us.
James Ray: [00:02:17] Yeah, I I think for anybody who's working in natural resources or Any arena that, , involves potential declines of natural systems. Then this is a good one to try and communists and think about sensible ways to forge ahead
Morgan Raven: [00:02:31] badly needed advice. I think I'm excited to have both of you here today to learn more about urchin Barrens, because as a scuba diver myself in California, you cannot miss the fact that huge areas underwater are just overrun with these small purple spiky urchins. And the kelp are just obviously struggling.
It's really quite dramatic. Could one of you us started by explaining a little bit about what this phenomenon is .
James Ray: [00:02:58] Yeah. Sure. Absolutely. urchin Barrens are essentially, a situation kelp communities or seaweed communities are, shifted to nonproductive systems by intense grazing by urchins. shifts from kelp forests or, algal communities to, , nonproductive Byron's can really be triggered by anything that causes significant increases in arching grazing.
so that can be things like, large recruitment events of urchins for one. Or the depletion of various urchin predators, allowing urchin populations to increase, but also decreases and kelp drift as a food source can also, trigger, a behavioral shift in urchins that cause them to become more expensive and veracious feeders on algal communities.
And so that in itself can sort of be a negative feedback loop that triggers a barren as well. in California, urchin Barrens have been , documented at least in Southern California, relatively consistently on variable scales from at least the 1950s. But certainly probably before that also, whereas in Northern California and central California, what we're seeing now with the extent of urchin Barrens, it's a lot more significant particularly in the North.
In recent years, since about 2014, then we've seen previously and it's having devastating effects for the kelp communities. further North in the state.
Anthony Shiao: [00:04:25] James just gave us a very good, very comprehensive overview of what's happened along our North coast, far state. one of the things I would like to add is, that. in our situation on a North coast, one of the most significant development in recent year was also, this, loss of predatory sea stars.
the sun stars . due to, a wasting disease, the cause of which we're still not entirely sure of. but we do know that it's likely not climate related because the wasting started during a cold water a year before. the phenomenon known as the warm blob actually hits our coast, the sea stars were dying from this disease.
the kelp forests got hit by the warm blob and their productivity just crashed in those few years. And we have not really seen any significant recovery until recent years.
Morgan Raven: [00:05:17] got it. So we're talking then if we back up just a step about an ecosystem that is kelp at the bottom. Urchins that eat the kelp sea stars that can eat the urchins and then presumably bigger things that can eat the sea stars. Yeah.
Anthony Shiao: [00:05:31] Yes. there's an interesting finding that came out of, a paper. it's actually lab by a team at SPI this year, discussing the dynamics of kelp, barons on the California coast. And what they've found out is that, It's very important to, for a kelp forest to have an entire suite of predators to, maintain, population control on urchins being recruited to healthy kelp forest.
And they could essentially picks them off before they grow to bake and exert too much of a grazing pressure on the local help population. and in Southern California. Historically, urchins populations have been controlled by, California sheep heads and California's spiny lobster.
And in Northern California, historically, they've been controlled, by a combination of, Sunstar predatory pressure in Sea otter predatory pressure in a lot of places in Northern California, right now, a lot of, sun stars, if not most songs, stars have succumb to the wasting disease and sea otters.
having an extirpated from there known habitat for decades now. And so the ecological setting was set up for this type of events to occur.
Morgan Raven: [00:06:50] So
Anthony Shiao: [00:06:50] we
Morgan Raven: [00:06:50] have both what you would call top-down and bottom-up ecological issues that are driving these urchin populations too. Explode spread. Is this, when you say it's up and down the California coast, is it just a particular depth? Is it really close to the coast? Is it patchy? What does it look like down there?
James Ray: [00:07:10] Yeah. just in general, Barrens can really be very variable in their extent, so they can be from sort of tens of meters in extent to thousands of kilometers in various places, in the world. And so along the California coast right now, much of the North coast for the last several years, back to 2014, has been dominated by purple ch and barons.
And so that's, 350 kilometers or so of coast that still has some very minimal patchy, kelp and algal communities, but is, shifted to being dominated by purple ch environments, in central California, this story is a little bit different. There are some pretty intense, Byron's a variable scale, but the situation is much more patchy.
And so you sort of see this mosaic currently, obviously H environs, and then still immediately adjacent to that healthy kelp forest, which, raises some interesting questions, in itself about the dynamics that are going on there.
And so in Southern California, the situation I suppose, is a little bit more similar to, that of central California in that even though some of the barons can be quite large, they are still patchy. And certainly not as extensive as seen on the North coast. urchin Barrens have caused declines in kelp in both those regions over the course of time. but then on the North coast, as Tony mentioned, we had what people referenced as this perfect storm of drivers that have caused calc declines, which is a Marine heat wave coupled with a large recruitment event of purple urchins, coupled with, declines in predators of purple urchins.
Which shifted the bull kelp forest ecosystem on the North coast to almost entirely, purple urchin barren. And one of the issues that remains now is even though oceanographic conditions, water temperature has sort of shifted away from that Marine heat wave in the last few years, really.
so it would be really amenable to kelp growth. there's very high densities of virtue and still persist. And so, in many locations that still suppressing recovery of Calvin algal communities in that area,
Morgan Raven: [00:09:17] If there's not a , healthy kelp forest there, what are they eating?
James Ray: [00:09:21] yeah, it's a great question. They're eating whatever they can find. And that includes, the transect tapes of scuba divers
pretty much anything.
Morgan Raven: [00:09:30] yeah, that tape thing sounds like a story. Did they eat your tape?
James Ray: [00:09:35] Everybody's tape it's actually , anybody who's like dives in itch and Byron's they say we put the transect tape down, we came back, it was eaten through, by our chins,
Morgan Raven: [00:09:47] How was that food? I don't understand.
James Ray: [00:09:49] new and they must smell it. And they're like, all right, I'm starving. This is probably food. So, Again, certainly in the, into tidal areas, that's still awesome. , high quality, algal communities. And so there are patches where, the populations are in shallow and they're still getting quite decent feed.
But throughout much of the barrens again, that there is no algal community or kelp left. And so the urchins are in fact, in this starvation state, like zombie urchin state in which they are, very sort of low metabolic rates. they're not feeding barely at all. and that just persisting, but , not reproductively viable for the most part, and sort of locked in this sort of stasis and any food that comes along, they make short work of it.
Morgan Raven: [00:10:40] How long can they see stay in stasis or are they eventually gonna die off? If this lasts for too many years?
James Ray: [00:10:47] Yeah, that's a great question too. so urchin Barrens can persist for many decades, and in lots of cases There is some reproduction going on in these pockets of, where had some food sources exist. And so recruitment still seems to occur even in situations where expensive barons are the sort of dominant condition.
and so that in itself seems to have the capacity to maintain some of these, you know, urchin numbers in these barons. But also urchins are very long lit species. You know, Reddit shins can live for a hundred years or more and purple urchins. it's suggested that they can live up to 70, but I think people will think that they mostly live 20 or 30 years on average in the wild, but still it's a very long lived species.
Morgan Raven: [00:11:36] Remarkable to me. I would've never guessed that an urchin could be a hundred years old. I would have been like, I don't know. What's a rabbit. They're like rabbits of the sea. I would have been like three years maybe.
James Ray: [00:11:46] Yes slow and cold, I suppose.
Morgan Raven: [00:11:48] Yeah.
James Ray: [00:11:50] but yeah, so, I mean, I don't want to suggest necessarily that urchins and Byron conditions are living that long, but they can persist for some time. And so urchin Barrens themselves , can last for decades. unless, some other driving force shifts those densities of urchins, and that can be things like disease outbreaks in the urchin population, which can reduce , the numbers, and then potentially allow kelp recovery after that.
Or physical factors like big storm events can clear out large sections of the coast of urchins and allow a kelp response in a similar way. Once the grazing pressure is reduced.
Morgan Raven: [00:12:30] If you remove urchins from an area, how do they come back? do they release their young into the water and let them colonize? Do they actually walk around ,
James Ray: [00:12:40] specifically related to the barons themselves, if you, clear an area of urchins, depending on the timescales that you're talking about, that you can re colonize those areas through a couple of mechanisms. the most short term and common one is just incursion through animals, simply walking into your site.
moving from adjacent reef into the area that you've cleared and that happens quite frequently. And so. In restoration strategies and management strategies. Ideally, you're thinking about ways that if you're going to invest time and energy into removing actions, you're thinking about ways of doing that, where you select the site.
To maximize, your capacity to defend it and minimize the routes with which urchins can come back into that site. , in addition to that, there are urchins reproducing and putting larval urchins into the water up and down the coast. so yeah, both of those mechanisms come work.
Morgan Raven: [00:13:37] what does an urgent look like when it's walking? Does it like hover, like a Seastar or does it like hop along? Does it have one big foot or like many, many feet what's under there?
Anthony Shiao: [00:13:49] so an urchin basically looks like, it looks like a ball of spikes and then you'll see these little two feet that look a little, like little tentacles sticking out of them. And. Those are the apparatus that it used to, both, catch food and also to move around. like the sea star, it's also in the kind of older.
And so they do move like sea stars and you can see them just slowly creeping using their to feed along the bottom when they move.
Morgan Raven: [00:14:15] So you said maybe a feet, like all over themselves or is it just like on the bottom, like a star?
Anthony Shiao: [00:14:21] they have to be all over their bodies.
Morgan Raven: [00:14:24] like roll and tumble when they.
Anthony Shiao: [00:14:26] not that we know of now, now the interesting thing is, Some people, including, our colleagues believe that another kind of, sea cucumber might potentially do that when they move long distance. So you can imagine little thing of sea cucumbers it's really honestly see full arch to the great beyond,
Morgan Raven: [00:14:45] Just like doing a barrel roll and.
Anthony Shiao: [00:14:48] guess.
So I, I have nasty seen any definitive evidence, but, it has been proposed.
Morgan Raven: [00:14:53] Well, I hope that's true.
James Ray: [00:14:57] I mean, I don't think it's necessarily an active form of movement, but, Urchins, certainly sort of tumbleweed along if they find themselves in, you know, severe wave conditions or current conditions. And think it's been well-documented that they can end up in locations from other locations at the whims of, water force by that mechanism just by tumble weeding around.
But I don't think it's typically by choice.
Morgan Raven: [00:15:25] got it.
Let's talk just a little bit more about the causes here. We've mentioned a lot of different things that have contributed to these in both Northern and Southern California. Why does warm water support urchin Barrens? What's the connection.
Anthony Shiao: [00:15:40] it's not so much that supports the urchin barren in so much as it reduces kelp growth by reducing the amount of nutrients available to kelp in water.
James Ray: [00:15:51] that's absolutely right. And so, that can have two effects essentially. So one, reduction of density in kelp can have implications for greater pressure on the remainder of the kelp. But in addition to that urchins, actually don't preferentially feed on live kelp. They quote unquote, prefer to feed.
on drift kelp. So kelp that's detached from the kelp forest and the understory, algal community and that's broken loose and ended up on the substrate. Typically urchins much preferred to hunker down in cracks and crevices and wait for kelp drift to come to them. and that's when they feed on it.
And that's the preferred strategy. However, if there's a reduction in that food source, urchins have this very well documented behavioral shift, whereby if they start to be depleted of food, they actually shift behavior from this sort of hunker down strategy. And then they start actively in large numbers coming out of these locations and then actively looking for food.
and that is really sort of the impetus for many urchin Barrens where large numbers of urchins have had food sources reduced. for various reasons, and then they just essentially go on the rampage, looking for food and start mowing down understory, kelp community, algal communities, and then kelp forests through that mechanism.
Morgan Raven: [00:17:14] okay. So there's almost like a threshold in this system where all of a sudden your urchins reach a certain level of stress, and then they'd go out and exert a much larger stress on the surrounding ecosystem.
James Ray: [00:17:24] that's exactly right.
Anthony Shiao: [00:17:26] Yeah. And as we lose the kelp, we also lose the physical structure of these kelp forests. So we then in turn, lose the higher trophic level predators that we need to control these urges and growth. so it's yeah. Definitely, kind of a vicious cycle in ecological sense.
Morgan Raven: [00:17:43] So those kelp are also providing really important habitats for your spiny lobsters and other organisms like that.
Anthony Shiao: [00:17:50] Yes,
Morgan Raven: [00:17:51] Very cool. Is there a direct connection between warmer water and what's happening with starfish?
Anthony Shiao: [00:17:58] not that we know of. as we mentioned earlier, we started seeing this wasting disease, , before the, ridiculously resilient Ridge forum before the warm blob actually, formed off, Northeastern Pacific. So we don't think that the two are directly connected though.
the nature of, these issues, , there perhaps could be, we just don't know.
Morgan Raven: [00:18:23] is it a virus?
Anthony Shiao: [00:18:25] maybe, maybe not. there are labs along the coast that have worked on this issue that may still be, but as of now, we don't have any definitive answers yet.
Morgan Raven: [00:18:34] So what can be done about the starfish? is there a vaccine for starfish or people trying to identify more resilient starfish that they could potentially, return to the wild. Yeah.
James Ray: [00:18:46] So, there are a couple of entities right now. the nature Conservancy in collaboration with university of Washington, really the leaders in this, a reader at the moment. firstly, it's really just been documented sort of the absence of picking a podia sea stars, throughout the North and central coasts
Morgan Raven: [00:19:04] and when you say absence, do you really mean absence?
James Ray: [00:19:08] yes. And, and I suppose I'm sort of going back and forth here between talking about California and the West coast, but to clarify the declines in picking the podia have been. very significant throughout the entire West coast. there are still some what seem like remnant, numbers of ping the PTC stars.
in Northern Washington, on the Washington coast, but throughout Oregon and Northern California, and much of the rest of California, they are essentially functionally extinct. and so several folks, including, the university of Washington folks and, Oregon state university folks in collaboration with TNC have been doing sort of great work, firstly, documenting that.
and then secondarily, starting to fund, various lines of study that are looking at potentially being able to raise, pick the podia sea stars via agriculture. and the long-term thoughts here are that, that, there may be some kind of feasible re-introduction sometime down the line.
However, everybody recognizes that there's a lot of, hard work to do between now and then, and a lot of science that needs to be investigated. you know, not withstanding all of the rest of the technical issues about re-introductions as far as we know right now the syndrome, the sea star wasting syndrome is still present in the ambient environment, off the California coast.
And so, obviously it makes no sense to reintroduce a species that's vulnerable to some kind of disease. If the disease is still present in the environment. And so I'm not entirely sure about research along the lines of inoculating them.
I'm sure it's not impossible,
Morgan Raven: [00:20:46] Okay. So maybe one of the things we can do is deal with the Seastar population. Maybe reintroduce them at some point in the future, but you guys are working on a different approach, to addressing urchin Barrens. What is your preferred piece of the solution .
Anthony Shiao: [00:21:00] Yeah. so the main reason, that brought James and I together to collaborate on this work is , actually, we're trying to get a regulation adopted that allows, recreational divers, scuba divers, like yourself to go up to, Monterey or Mendocino County at two specific test sites to help.
what's essentially calling Sierra trends underwater. And what our hope is, is to create these small, calc reserves, essentially that can provide a necessary spore bank to repopulate the entire North coast and central coast. When conditions are favorable, both from like a trophy perspective or an environmental perspective.
Morgan Raven: [00:21:42] calling urchins with divers, what exactly does that mean?
Anthony Shiao: [00:21:46] so correct me if I'm wrong, James. But, my understanding is that right now, the most efficient way that, divers have developed two color trends on the water is to take your screwdriver and basically poke a hole in their tests, their skeleton, we just
stab them and hopefully they bleed out Okay. So the vision is you have. A bunch of recreational divers just all equipped with screwdrivers. And along the way, they just let's call it. Poke. I don't know, is that better? They, they screwdriver the urchins as they go along and theoretically, then those urchins, they die and that allows the kelp potentially the regrow in that area.
Morgan Raven: [00:22:26] Is that right?
Anthony Shiao: [00:22:27] That's my understanding of it.
Morgan Raven: [00:22:28] Have you ever tried to do this yourself either? Have you done this before?
James Ray: [00:22:32] no, I have not done it yet, but I'm sure it's coming, have you Tony? So I mean, what you said there just to take a step back is, is essentially right. there's quite a bit of research that shows if you can reduce grazing pressure by urchins in these barons, then if ocean conditions are sufficient to promote kelp growth at the same time, by reducing those densities of urchins, reducing that grazing pressure.
you can. Get some kelp and algal community regress. And so that's sort of the premise of this work. in California, we have a really engaged citizenry when it comes to environmental issues, particularly associated with the ocean.
and, recreational divers up and down the coast have really embraced this idea. this has actually been proposed by, members of the public.
, we are in the process of reviewing that proposal and, aligning ourselves with parts of it that we think are appropriate and might work in this case, What we think is a feasible approach is this test approach at these two locations on the North coast and on the South coast where, recreational divers are allowed to essentially have unlimited take of, urchins in these two different locations.
and what that really means is as Tony noted, you can use hand tools and that will mean that divers underneath the water can kill those actions in place, but it's not, it's, you know, there's a couple of things that aren't lost on us here.
And one of those things. Is the idea that there may be some kind of negative consequences from this action. And so we are teaming up with our colleagues at Monterey Bay, national Marine sanctuary, and then colleagues at sea grant as well. to come up with some monitoring strategies around, this method of, grazing pressure reduction.
and so we're hoping to be able to assess how effective this method might be in terms of bringing callback, but also get a sense of.
potential consequences of this method. if they exist for either the reef or, other species.
Morgan Raven: [00:24:43] Yeah. Well, I love how you mentioned that you have this community of divers and locals and Californians who have noticed that this is a problem, and who are very invested in wanting to have these. Ecosystems that they enjoy for their recreation that they can be engaged in this kind of work.
That's a really cool approach. You also mentioned though, that it actually came from the public as an original idea. What did that look like?
Anthony Shiao: [00:25:09] Yeah. So any citizen of California can actually petition the state government, specifically to the California. Fish and game commission, which is appointed by the governor to approve, or in some cases, disapprove regulations, regarding take of fish and other wildlife.
and what happened here? It was actually, a very avid diver, from up North. Came to the fish and game commission with a form of petition and the commissioners saw enough merit in his proposal and referred it to us, the department fish and wildlife, which is the administrative agencies with, the scientific staff and staff to, iron out and execute the details of the projects.
Morgan Raven: [00:25:56] Were any of these petitions to actually take or collect the urchins or other alternatives to just smashing them in place
James Ray: [00:26:04] I mean, initially, I suppose the earliest elements of this process started in 2018 when they were actually petitions, brought to the commission, to increase the bag limit of urchins. To allow people to remove them as you might do, if you are harvesting them. and so that was the sort of initial, proposal and that was approved by the commission. And in essence, in Mendocino, Sonoma and Humboldt counties, where, the impact of the urchin barons was considered the greatest, the bag limit for recreational harvesters. urchins went from 35 urchin, to 40 gallons of urchin per person per day.
And so, there was a lot of initial interest in that, but as it turns out, it's really logistically difficult to remove 40 gallons of urchin per person per day, from any given location. And it requires really well organized and orchestrated events, boat support for the divers and so on and so forth.
And so even though there was an initial flurry of activity around that method, it didn't take long for it to go by the wayside, because it was just so difficult to do.
Morgan Raven: [00:27:22] What would you do with 40 gallons of urchin? is that a good thing? Do I want 40 gallons of Virgin?
James Ray: [00:27:29] it depends on what if you've got a big garden or not. So, lots of people utilize, that many urchins as a soil amendment, essentially, , as compost. that is what primarily people were doing with that. But again, the end use of the urchins was the least of the problem.
Anthony Shiao: [00:27:51] Yeah. my impression of all those efforts is we managed to remove generally in the hundreds of thousands. Max, I think the highest number was 200,000 urchins, but even a small area like Casper Cove. There could potentially be North ward of a million urchins.
Requiring people to take urchins out of the water is just requires a lot of logistics that, we think is, a little too optimistic for, recreational divers and the equipment available to them.
Morgan Raven: [00:28:25] That makes sense, but people also intentionally farm urchins, right?
James Ray: [00:28:30] Yeah, correct. the petitions that we're talking about right now, for recreational divers to go in and try and remove, or reduce, in grades pressure. but. Redditch shins, are a commercial commodity. So they're marketed commercially, in California, however, purple etchings, which are the primary issue with regard to urchin barrens and kelp loss have never really been a significant marketable product.
and so right now, even though there's millions and millions of urchins along the coast, urchins are generally marketed for food because of the uni, it means the purple urchins along the coast, that unmarketable for food resources.
And so one Avenue is to, figure out, other ways to market those urchins that are essentially empty. On the reef. there is, the potential for harvesting those purple urchins and then sending them to aquaculture facilities where they can be essentially fed up. on various feed sources to get them to marketable quality in terms of uni content. Moss landing Marine lab is experimenting with that process, as well as a private company called ergonomics, which is currently based in bodega Bay.
Morgan Raven: [00:29:42] Let's talk a little bit more about the process. of creating a policy and turning it into reality where you could actually impact urchin populations. what do you do to make this policy happen?
Anthony Shiao: [00:29:55] my main job at the department it's actually, I helped provide. Policy and regulatory support for, the rest of my team on the invertebrate project and other teams, like in this case, I'm collaborating with James. and what generally happens in an ideal world is when we have a management issue, like, urgent Berets on the North coast, ideally we should be approaching, Our stakeholders and talk to them about potential solutions and work out.
Okay. What are plans? . And our strategies and to execute these strategies, do we need to make changes to regulations and what is the timeline and the necessary data that we need to, get those regulations adopted? And once we have those details ironed out, then we will present our findings to our upper level managers and to our, fish and game commissioners and their staff.
We will run through those regulatory processes and upon the adoptions, we keep collecting data, perform adaptive management as we plan them and adjust our adaptation strategy as time persists.
Morgan Raven: [00:31:03] are you set up then with teams that are issue specific, what is the structure like in your department?
Anthony Shiao: [00:31:10] the department of fish and wildlife is divided into many, Components, one, type of component is called a region. a region is basically in charge of the scientific and policy work of a specific geographic area. James and I, belong to the Marine region and
our work basically encompass the entire California coast. our regional manager is actually also based here in Santa Barbara. and underneath him are, several teams of scientists that are in charge of the scientific work and policy work.
These are the , substantive subject specific teams , I belong to the inverter bread management programs. There are about 20 of us give or take, and we are responsible for All the invertebrate fisheries related issues , along the coast.
And, James here belongs to the state managed, finfish project, which also encompasses kelp and, agriculture or, and I believe James, your team is about 20 people or so, too, right?
James Ray: [00:32:10] Yeah, that's correct.
Anthony Shiao: [00:32:12] And, yeah, we have several others. We have another team that's dedicated to, the management of highly migratory species and pelagic species.
And we have another team dedicated to groundfish and salmon. Those two teams work very closely with the federal government and participate and represent our state's interests in the Pacific fishery management council that convenes about once every two months. and that's where, the federal government, us, Oregon, and Washington and Idaho, actually, because of salmon or representatives all convened to figure out how to manage our jointly shared stocks.
Morgan Raven: [00:32:51] Coordination between the West coast States does seem like it would be pretty important to make this effective
Anthony Shiao: [00:32:57] ocean does not have boundaries but , our governments and our, management delineations too. So we have to figure out a way to make it work.
Morgan Raven: [00:33:05] So besides petitions from the public, do you also get to come up with your own policy ideas?
Anthony Shiao: [00:33:11] we do. but actually , that's actually a very interesting question, Morgan is, you know, what is the role of us as civil servants, in a democracy, because, if let's say this as like a real monarchy, Presumably a keen or Queens advisor can just unilaterally decide what the policy direction of the state is.
But for us, James now we're civil servants. So there's a limit to what we can do in terms of making our professional decisions. And , ultimately at least I believe that our job in an ideal world is to get people together and. facilitate dialogues and help develop, policy solutions that are, democratic and fair, but also effective.
Morgan Raven: [00:33:55] What is your relationship with the legislature? Do you have to follow directions from them as well?
Anthony Shiao: [00:34:01] yes. So oftentimes we have, or receive mandates from the legislature who are also. I like to buy the people. So they're representatives of the people and they do, adopt, statutes laws that require us to locate specific management issues. one that I can think of off the top of my head is the recent, increase in entanglements of protected whales in one of our fisheries.
And in that instance, we did get, Legislative statute that, came down to us and gave us a goal and a deadline to, develop management strategies and responses.
Morgan Raven: [00:34:41] So in terms of what you're doing with your day, it sounds like it's a lot of coordinating with having meetings with different stakeholders, meeting with your team. What other sort of activities do you normally do?
Anthony Shiao: [00:34:53] Yeah. Well, I also spent a lot of time staring at my ceiling thinking about how to consolidate and integrate information. Um, I do miss the days when I could go out on boats and deploy rosettes, but, , fortunately, or unfortunately I spent my life in front of a computer screen now.
Morgan Raven: [00:35:10] James is your day to day pretty similar or a major differences.
James Ray: [00:35:14] I'd say it was a bit more mixed. think my role falls into two camps. and one of those which I've been spending much of the last year on, is, helping to implement various. restoration strategies for kelp on the ground. one of those, projects or strategies that we're working on is, , coming up with a project to collaborate with various state partners, like the ocean protection council, and, the, non-profit organization, recheck California.
And, commercial urchin divers on the North coast to reduce surge in densities, various locations and see if we can get some kelp recovery. Another project is, this, regulatory package. working with the, recreational community to try and get some of their ambitions on the ground in terms of, kelp restoration.
So really talking with folks in communities, talking with scientists, talking with partners to try and actually develop a tangible project. That's going to go on the ground and then be monitored. that does involve getting out on site and, hopefully increasingly doing field work associated, with, those projects.
And then the flip side of the coin is trying to build relationships with academics and NGOs, and federal and other state partners to think about, various strategies for kelp management that might be centered around either restoration.
Or, kelp harvest management cause kelp itself is a harvested species in many places throughout the world, including California. So that side of it is more planning and coordination. but either way, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is. I get to spend a lot of time with clever people who are thinking about really interesting issues to do with Marine ecosystems and Marine management.
I am constantly learning a lot of things that I didn't know. And, and, and that's good.
Morgan Raven: [00:37:12] Is that your favorite aspect of the job?
James Ray: [00:37:15] Yeah. I mean, I enjoy it very much. the biologists get into the field because they like poking around at stuff and being in the field. that's a massive aspect of the job that I just thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy, like I said, collaborating with, smart people who can teach me a bunch of things.
But also, as , Tony mentioned earlier, we are working for the state civil servants and I actually take seriously and really enjoy. The service aspect of my job, because, you know, I do believe, as the California department of fish and wildlife were trustees of various natural resources for the people of California.
And so I don't take that lightly in how I, deal with , the responsibilities of my job and deal with, the public and their opinions about resources and various other stakeholder groups. Communication with various groups can sometimes be trying and complicated because we don't always want the same thing, but at the end of the day, it's always very rewarding.
Anthony Shiao: [00:38:14] Yeah, and I think that's a very important , For anyone looking to working for, government management agency is, it can be a really awesome, because a lot of work you do have an immediate impact. And, when things work out, you're really helping the environment.
You're really helping, vulnerable species. And you're really helping the public's enjoyment, cultural heritage, and, people's livelihood, but what makes it awesome. Can. Also sometimes, make an intense, because when things don't turn all as well, whether through our own work or through exigent circumstances, it can be very, intense, because people's livelihood are on the line, vulnerable species the ecosystem, they are on the line.
Morgan Raven: [00:38:59] It's a great power and great responsibility kind of opportunity.
Anthony Shiao: [00:39:03] Yeah, for sure.
Morgan Raven: [00:39:04] Yeah. On some level, it's got to be great though, to be in a position where you can put your hands in there and actually make changes.
Anthony Shiao: [00:39:11] I wouldn't dismiss, the absolute importance of, non-government representatives and also researchers like yourselves because , everyone has an important role to play in the system. And when things are working efficiently, effectively, I it has a very good.
Feeling to have going through these processes?
Morgan Raven: [00:39:35] So how did you get into this field? Did you always know you wanted to work on ocean conservation issues?
Anthony Shiao: [00:39:41] not necessarily policy at first. I've always liked the ocean as a kid. In terms of like how you can never see the end of it. just the overall, expensiveness of it. You know, I remember as a kid, my family would go to the Monterey aquarium and then
I'll just stand in front of the pelagic tank and stare at it for like an hour. but I became very interested in policy. And, , just how all encompassing it is. probably in college. And at that time, one of my TAs, he suggested that, Hey, you know, Tony, if you're interested in policy, instead of going to grad school and get a PhD, you don't go to law school, then get a master's you spend exact number of years.
And. You have more bandwidth to cover the various aspects of policy work. And so that's essentially what I did. And I got into the state service, after I graduated from grad school
Morgan Raven: [00:40:40] What did you study for your masters?
Anthony Shiao: [00:40:42] so I went to, the Scripps institution in San Diego. They have, an interdisciplinary master's degree and there, I mostly studied, physical oceanography and how to apply them to the management context.
Morgan Raven: [00:40:58] Got it. And you did a law degree after that.
Anthony Shiao: [00:41:00] No, I didn't law degree
Morgan Raven: [00:41:01] Oh, the other way around.
Anthony Shiao: [00:41:03] Yeah. So I got a law degree first. And then, after I graduated, I took my bar exam and then I started my masters and while I was getting my master's, I was also working for a think tank based on DC. And after that I got into the state fellowship. and, so, if you have any students that is really interested in this, They'd be happy to know that, after graduate school, California has, and every state does actually have this fellowship program through their state sea grant programs.
And also the federal government has a similar counterpart as well, where they take, recently graduated, masters and PhDs and they fit them to an agency that's related to ocean management , and, the fellows basically pay that by the state for a year where they get a taste of what's it like working on policy issues for a government agency.
and yeah, for me, after I finished my fellowship, No, James send the rest of the apartment figure. Oh, you know, he's cool. We'll keep him. so the rest of us, history. I've been working for the department ever since.
Morgan Raven: [00:42:11] That sounds like a really important program to know about. It's wonderful that this exists. So how would I Google that program?
Anthony Shiao: [00:42:19] you will Google California sea grant fellowship.
Morgan Raven: [00:42:22] Good to know. How about you, James? What's your path to here?
James Ray: [00:42:26] When I was a kid, I grew up in rural central England, which is as far away from the coast as you can get in England. But even that being, so it's not very far
um, But however, I was always that kid who just spending time outside all the time with bugs and fish and birds and whatever you can imagine.
And so I always knew from a very early age that whatever I was going to do, it was going to involve species and ecosystems , and thinking about them and being outside. my undergraduate degree was sort of a broad based interdisciplinary degree in environmental science.
And then my graduate degree is in aquatic ecology, which was actually primarily focused in freshwater systems. but through the course of my career, which is about, I would say 17 years now, in, research and management of natural resources. I crept closer and closer to the Marine environment.
so I worked for the Oregon department of fish and wildlife. I worked for the us fish and wildlife service up in Alaska.
And then since I've been, in California, I've been with the Marine region initially started in Bay and estuary systems and regulatory management around agriculture, but transitioned recently to kelp restoration specifically. I've always felt very comfortable in.
resource management agencies. and one of the primary reasons for that is I think that, to the extent, that this is possible anywhere you have the opportunities to do monitoring and research, as well as be involved with, various regulatory components,
and that can be, really quite satisfying.
Morgan Raven: [00:44:04] Cool speaking if you start working with one state agency, is it pretty common or simple to move between agencies and States or are States pretty much within their own towers?
James Ray: [00:44:17] Yeah, they are States are independent and have their own rules for hiring within their own state government agencies. I happen to move around. Quite a bit over the last few years, because my wife who is now a professor at Humboldt state university was getting her PhD. And then she took her first assignment as an assistant professor.
And, on the West coast. At least there are more research agency opportunities, than. professorships universities on the West coast. So, you know, that provided some guidance for us. but yeah, each of those federal entities and state entities that they operate independently.
Morgan Raven: [00:44:53] got it. And I hear she's got a great new book called the field guide to climate anxiety, how to keep your cool on a warming planet.
James Ray: [00:45:02] It'll save
Anthony Shiao: [00:45:02] great.
Morgan Raven: [00:45:03] Fantastic. Okay. Last question for each of you. If somebody is really inspired by all of this, and this sounds like something that they would like to do in their life or career, what advice would you give them ? You want to go first, Tony?
Anthony Shiao: [00:45:16] Yeah. so I think the most important thing is you do have to be passionate , about the environment, , not just the natural environment, but also the human. Yeah. and our society's wellbeing. And because there are a lot of highly charged and sometimes political issues that we deal with , in terms of how to really enter into this field. as let's say a college student, I would say don't just take classes and biology and physics and chemistry, but go out there and take classes in, International relations, in programming, in law, in society.
I think having an interdisciplinary mindset is incredibly invaluable to, policymaking because policymaking is inherently, The take and choose of, different, important things and the best way to really help getting out a set of policy that's cohesive that is making, the rice sacrifices for the right gains.
it's important to really understand the details of all the factors behind those sacrifices and gains. And that's where different disciplines can really help.
Morgan Raven: [00:46:27] Absolutely. What proportion of people that you work with have some sort of law background.
Anthony Shiao: [00:46:32] well, the, attorneys at the office of general counsel do, actually, there are many wonderful attorneys or people, Leo background who currently work for the various non-government organizations, like, you know, TNC, like, CBD R and NRDC that have legal background too.
Morgan Raven: [00:46:51] Cool
James Ray: [00:46:52] I I'd say the two things. Yeah. There's a lot of room in natural resource management and research for all sorts of different strengths and approaches. And so I think if folks who want to get into various aspects of this work really need to figure out, what makes them happy.
and what they enjoy the most , and where they think they would be most useful because, I don't think there's a need necessarily to sort of shoe horn yourself into a certain type. Or a certain strategy to get work in this arena.
So that's the first thing. And then, some of the things Tony was referencing too. I think that, having, a foundation and a good understanding of biological systems and what have you is of course critical for this type of work. But much of the work we do is with people it's with, stakeholders it's with.
Private citizens. It's with, research entities, it's with non-governmental entities, it's with all sorts of community groups and, being able to communicate with various folks, through writing and just through discussions and being able to listen and being able to, understand people's perspectives without wanting necessarily to enforce your own perspective.
into the conversation is super critical. communication is everything I would say. And it doesn't matter how smart of a biologist you are. If you can't listen to people and can't, convey your thoughts to them equally. So then, you know, you're dead in the water.
Morgan Raven: [00:48:23] That's great advice.
Well, thank you so much to both of you for taking the time to talk to me today. I really value your expertise on this. I feel much more informed about what's going on in the urchin Barrens, and I'm really excited to hear that there are some of these. Activities and process things that maybe I could even go do with a screwdriver to help with this problem.
so thanks so much for your work on this.
James Ray: [00:48:46] Yeah. Thanks for having
Anthony Shiao: [00:48:47] thank you for having us. this has been awesome.
Thanks for being here and thanks as always to Eleanor Durand and to Dust on the Radio for our theme song, one way trip to Mars. We're rounding out our exploration of ocean solutions in the worlds of policy, international law, local activism, climate modeling, engineering, and more. But next week, we'll be bringing it home to geoscience research.
Asking how rocks that record the past can tell us about Earth's present and future with Dr. Raquel Bryant of Texas A and M. See you there.