Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area proposed for General Plan

The City of Alameda is in the process of updating its General Plan.  The current draft of the updated plan draws attention to wildlife habitat, a welcome addition.  However, it misses the largest contiguous wildlife habitat in all of Alameda – that is, the waterway on the south side of Alameda Point.  

To address this oversight, a proposal supported by stakeholders listed below has been submitted to the City recommending a policy that brings together both the habitat values and the recreational values of this area.  The proposal calls for designating the area as the Alameda Point Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area.  This area includes the deepwater ship channel, the ship harbor, the harbor extending to the mudflat and beach, and the rock walls and rocky shoreline.

This waterway hosts a complex web of life, from the creatures and vegetation living in the seabed sediment and on the rock walls and rocky shoreline, to the fish, marine mammals and birds that depend on it for food, resting, reproducing and raising offspring.  This waterway also is popular with non-motorized water sports enthusiasts.  It is unique among the open space areas of Alameda and deserves special recognition not only because of its multiple values to the community, but also because “water” is part of Alameda’s identity.

The proposed policy and actions to be added to the Open Space, Recreation, and Parks Element would read as follows:

Alameda Point Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area.  Partner with regional, state and federal conservation agencies and volunteer nongovernmental organizations to enhance and protect habitat values, ensure safe public access, and foster appreciation of the natural environment.

Actions:

    • Seek funding to visually map the sea bed and rock walls to establish a biological inventory.
    • Seek funding for quarterly or semi-annual removal of trash that accumulates on the rocky shoreline, rock walls and beach that is detrimental to wildlife.
    • Seek funding to establish signage on Breakwater Island that acknowledges this marine formation as the largest night roosting site for CA Brown Pelicans in San Francisco Bay. 
    • Restore the historic light beacon at the western end of the breakwater. Seek funding for annual pelican counts.
    • Seek funding for a dedicated oil spill boom to be stored at Alameda Point to protect this sensitive habitat area in case of an oil spill on the Bay.
    • Seek funding for construction of a safe public access structure on the long rock wall that begins at the beach, which will allow safe fishing and wildlife observation and safe access for trash removal.
    • Partner with non-motorized recreational watercraft organizations to promote safe and responsible enjoyment of this waterway and an appreciation of the natural marine environment.

Rationale

The waterway is regularly used by the Alameda Community Sailing Center, O Kalani Outrigger Canoe Center, Stacked Adventures (kayak rental) and Mike’s Paddle (paddle board rental).  Boating competitions are also held occasionally that originate from the beach.  These activities make this area one of the most popular recreational sites in Alameda that is not a park.  All of these organizations have a deep appreciation of the ecological value of the marine environment and wish to protect it.

The shoreline and the rock wall are popular spots for fishing.  The Bay side of the long rock wall and Breakwater Island is a popular area to fish from a boat.

Ecosystem highlights:

Birds feed in this waterway.  Some of the more prominent birds are:

    • California Least Tern             
    • Forster’s Tern
    • Caspian Tern
    • Elegant Tern                                   
    • California Brown Pelican
    • Double-crested Cormorant
    • American Coot
    • Western Grebe
    • Eared Grebe
    • Great Blue Heron
    • Great Egret
    • Snowy Egret
    • Black Oystercatcher
    • Willet
    • Various gull species
    • Various duck species

Dozens of fish species pass through this waterway throughout the year, such as jacksmelt, topsmelt, northern anchovy, bay goby, grunion, and surfperch, to name a few.  There are 12 species of smaller fish that are preferred by the nesting Least Tern adults to feed to their small chicks.  It is the abundance and variety of small fish species in the central Bay that is believed to be a major factor in the sustained success of the endangered Least Tern colony at Alameda Point.

Pacific herring do more than pass through this waterway.  They lay eggs in the waterway in December and January, and their arrival attracts birds and harbor seals during the spawning period.

One interesting fish common to this waterway is called the Plainfin Midshipman.  Their eggs are laid among the rocks that form the rock walls.  They are a nocturnal fish that are active at night and spend most of their time floating just above the sea bed.  They are distinguished by having small nodes on their bodies called photophores that glow in the dark and are used to attract prey.  About the only time they are seen is when a diving bird like a cormorant brings one up to eat.

Eelgrass is present in the harbor area near the ferry maintenance facility as evidenced by the presence of Bay Pipefish that live and breed only in eelgrass.  Pipefish are frequently caught by diving birds in this vicinity and brought to the surface.  Eelgrass is the ideal habitat for Pacific herring to deposit eggs on. Sea lettuce and kelp are abundant.  Periodically the beach and shoreline is blanketed by green sea lettuce as it is washed ashore by the tides.  The decaying plant matter eventually becomes food for smaller organisms.

Mussels are ubiquitous on rocks and serve as a food source for a variety of birds.  Barnacles are another living creature that are also ubiquitous on rocks, even though they look like mineral formations.

Ghost shrimp are present throughout the mudflat that extends out from the beach.  Their burrows also provide shelter for tiny fish like the Arrow Goby that live symbiotically among the shrimp and benefit from food morsels dropped by the shrimp.

Marine mammals feed in this waterway, and also rest, most notably the harbor seals on the specially-built harbor seal float.  Occasionally Bottlenose Dolphins visit the area near Breakwater Island, most likely due to the presence of fish.  A humpback whale named Allie also spent time in these waters in 2019 before returning to the ocean.  Sea lions also visit occasionally.

Other creatures living here that are evidence of a thriving marine ecosystem are Bat Rays, Sea Slugs, Red Rock Crabs, Jellyfish, Leopard Sharks, and Striped Crabs.

Supporters of the Marine Conservation, Wildlife, and Recreation Area proposal:

    • Sierra Club
    • Golden Gate Audubon Society
    • Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve 
    • Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda
    • Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors
    • San Francisco Baykeeper
    • O Kalani Outrigger Canoe Center 
    • Mike Wang (Mike’s Paddle) 
    • Joe Stack (Stacked Adventures) 
    • Mary Spicer (I Heart Oakland Alameda Estuary)

The City is hosting a virtual forum on the General Plan update on November 9th at 7 PM to discuss “Protecting the environment, responding to the climate crisis and meeting regional responsibilities,” which includes “protection of natural conservation areas.”  Details are here.

Updated November 3, 2020, 9:08 AM – The virtual forum will be held at the Planning Board meeting scheduled for November 9th at 7 PM.  The agenda item and staff report for this forum is here.  The public can participate in the meeting via Zoom.  Here is the Zoom link to the Planning Board meeting.  If you wish to submit a written comment ahead of time, address your comments to Andrew Thomas, Planning, Building and Transportation Department Director, and ask that they be posted as “Correspondence” under Agenda Item 7A – General Plan Update – Public Forum #3.  Problems connecting to the meeting?  Try going to this link and clicking on the agenda and check the public participation info.   

Photo gallery highlighting some of the species that frequent the waterway at Alameda Point

Author: richard94501

My blog is Alameda Point Environmental Report covering environmental issues from wildlife to cleanup at the former Navy base in Alameda now called Alameda Point. Articles on my blog are frequently printed in the Alameda Sun newspaper. I also host a Twitter site and a Flickr photo site. I hope you find my stories and photos of interest. Richard Bangert Alameda, California

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