Alameda Point’s harbor seal population fluctuates between single digits and 50 during most of the year on the specially-built harbor seal float. But when the Pacific herring arrive in the winter to lay their eggs, many more seals arrive to feast on the herring, causing a sudden spike. Last winter, a spike in seal numbers to a record 70 came on January 5, 2017, in the midst of the herring run. This winter, the herring arrived sooner, in December, and so did more harbor seals, causing a spike to a new record of 73 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
In the brief time span since the new harbor seal float was set in place, local monitors have assumed that it was simply the colder water temperatures that enticed greater numbers of seals to use the float in the winter. But in fact, they discovered it’s not the full story.
It turns out that dropping water temperature indeed has an effect, but the effect is on the herring. Ideal water temperature for herring spawning is between 50 and 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature at Alameda Point dropped below 54 degrees the afternoon of December 16 and continued dropping another 2.3 degrees, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This brought on the herring run and, in turn, the voracious seals.
~More bike space, faster boarding, quieter ride, lower emissions
Ferry riders at the Alameda Main Street Terminal will soon be boarding the MV Hydrus, the cleanest running 400 passenger ferry in the world. The state-of-the-art ferry is designed for quicker on-boarding and off-boarding, faster speeds, low noise and vibration, and low emissions. The bicycle storage capacity will be more than doubled to 50 from the current capacity of 20 on the MV Encinal, which it will replace.
Captain Al Lewis and the Hydrus crew were running through training exercises in the Oakland Estuary on March 28. They stopped at the Main Street Terminal just after the Encinal departed with passengers. The Encinal was built in 1985 and was owned by the City of Alameda during the period when the city operated the ferry service to San Francisco. At 27 meters in length, the Encinal looked small by comparison to the 41-foot-long Hydrus.
The rain ended, the sun came out, and so did the harbor seals at Alameda Point. So many of them came out of the water to warm up on their new float on January 5, hardly any of the structure was visible. The number has many observers asking for a second float.
The regional ferry agency installed the new float after removing an old Navy dock used by the seals, in order to make way for a ferry maintenance facility.
“I nearly keeled over when I saw the platform,” said Lisa Haderlie Baker, harbor seal monitor and Alameda resident. “So many seals packed cheek by jowl, literally, that I had to count them four times using binoculars to make sure there were 60 of them, at least, basking in the sun, which I knew had to be close to a record. It was a tremendous thrill.” Continue reading “No vacancy on float for harbor seals”
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) issued a new regional planning document on August 30, 2016, suggesting the amount of housing needed in Alameda to meet state goals. MTC is requesting input from local jurisdictions.
Alameda City Planner Andrew Thomas slammed the commission’s recommendations as being woefully out of touch with Alameda’s existing land uses and its limited regional transit connections.
MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas.Continue reading “Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda”
Ferry riders driving to the Main Street Ferry Terminal began using an extra parking lot in May. The city-owned O Club parking lot across the street from the terminal provides 121 spaces under a temporary license agreement with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). Despite the added parking lot, the street shoulder and unpaved lot west of a dog park continue to absorb overflow.
“Ridership has grown 29 percent since May, the month we opened the lot,” said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development. “Given that the street and dirt lot were basically full at that time, it makes sense that the O Club has absorbed the additional riders.”
A ferry access study conducted by WETA in 2014 led to the O Club interim parking solution. The option of converting the nearby dog park to ferry parking was put on hold until the dog park could be moved a mile away to the planned Estuary Park.
Dog owners interviewed this past weekend at the Main Street dog park don’t see why the area they use for exercising their dogs should be blocking expansion of ferry parking. “I believe that it would be a better use of taxpayer money by relocating this dog park and turning it into a parking structure,” said Jennifer Keene, who lives near the Bay Farm Bridge. Keene drives across the island because it’s less crowded than Alameda’s other dog park.
“I really like the idea of moving this dog park to Estuary Park because it has a lot more trees, and it’s a better area for the dogs,” said Madison Walzberg, a resident of Coast Guard Housing. “It doesn’t take much to make a dog park. If they just fence it in, it would be a great solution for anyone with dogs,” said Walzberg.
Construction work on the first phase of Estuary Park on Mosley Avenue, featuring sports fields, began in August. Phase 2 of park construction, featuring an open meadow, picnic area and dog park, has yet to be funded. This four-acre section near the Alameda Landing residential area, which is already fenced in on three sides, could serve as an interim dog park by adding fencing to the remaining 500 feet along the street, according to Walzberg.
The demand for added ferry service at the Main Street Terminal prompted WETA to add five additional weekday departures last year. The enhanced service was set to expire this fall, but WETA will be extending the enhanced service through the end of 2017, thanks to a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
In her report to the WETA Board of Directors in August, Executive Director Nina Rannells said, “The service enhancement would coincide with the delivery of two new vessels for central bay service, the Cetus and the Hydrus in early 2017.” Both vessels will have capacity for 399 passengers and up to 50 bicycles. “The new vessels represent a significant improvement over today’s operations, where average capacity in the AM period is 324 seats and bikes are sometimes limited to 30 spaces,” said Rannells.
Combined monthly ridership for the Oakland and Alameda Main Street terminals increased by 18,234 passengers from July 2015 to July 2016, representing an increase of 15.69 percent. The systemwide increase for the same period was 7.78 percent.
“All the parking spots get full very early, and you have to fight for a spot,” said Keene. “They park all the way down the road past the nursery, and that’s kind of a hazard, especially early in the morning or late in the evening trying to cross the street.” Keene said that she would gladly pay to “park in a legit parking structure.”
Dog owner Jeff Anderer, a resident of Marina Village, says he uses both dog parks but does not use the ferry. “I come to this dog park on the warmer days for the sea breeze,” said Anderer. “Strictly speaking as a dog owner and not as a ferry user, I do think the parking is more important.”
Asked about costs for expanded parking, Connolly said, “That’s something we will be studying in the coming year or two as part of a comprehensive look at Main Street and its capital needs.”
The city council will be discussing the goals and objectives of a $400,000 citywide transit and transportation plan on September 6.
A new concrete float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. It is the first-of-its-kind on the West Coast. With seals starting to use the new platform, a milestone has been reached culminating two-and-a-half years of citizen advocacy to maintain a resting site for harbor seals at Alameda Point. A ferry maintenance facility is slated to begin construction this summer where the seals have been finding solitude for over a decade. The new float will be anchored 300 yards away to the east.
In an effort to acclimate the seals to their new float and surroundings, the float is being moved in stages to its permanent location. It will be anchored a hundred yards offshore from the Bay Trail near the soccer field on West Hornet Avenue.Continue reading “Harbor seals adapting to new float”
Three thousand tons of sand was added to the nesting grounds for the least terns at Alameda Point in late February and early March. In the weeks that followed, volunteers from St. George Spirits and the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts came out to help make the site ready for the arrival of the terns in mid-April.
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) paid for enough sand to cover half of the 9.6-acre nesting area with three inches of sand, as well as for grading. The weeklong delivery of sand was a conservation mitigation requirement for the impact that WETA’s new ferry maintenance facility will have on the terns’ feeding area. As many as 12 ferries will make up to four passes per weekday through the Alameda Point Channel where the terns frequently dive for small fish.
Wind and water erosion take their toll on the sand substrate lying atop old airfield taxiway pavement, requiring periodic replenishment. This latest delivery of Angel Island coarse sand has built up the sand depth on much of the site to the point that it’s starting to feel like a real beach underfoot. Beaches are the traditional nesting habitat for terns.
In March, virtually all of the employees of nearby St. George Spirits showed up on a rainy Sunday morning to help distribute cinder block grid markers and clay tile chick shelters throughout the site. The high-spirited and determined crew trudged through puddles of water determined to get the job done regardless of how wet they got. Some of the volunteers worked in the old Quonset hut repainting and numbering the plaster markers that the Fish and Wildlife Service uses to identify each nest. Others re-stenciled cinder blocks.
The cinder blocks and the plaster markers allow for systematic data collection on nesting success. The blocks and markers were removed prior to the sand delivery and grading work.
In April, Alameda Boy Scouts of Troop 73 joined the Cub Scouts from Pack 1015 for the final preparations for the least tern arrival. “Overall, 25 youth from 4th grade to 12th grade and 15 parents joined this final chilly work day putting out oyster shells, flattening the area after a week of rain and pulling the last of the weeds,” said Dorinda von Stroheim, Webelos Den Leader Pack 1015. “The kids loved placing the shells and took extra care to make sure all the shells were evenly distributed.” The scouts were supposed to get pizza delivered at noon, but they hustled through their assignments so quickly that the pizza parlor was not even open yet. They accepted a rain check from the Audubon Society.
The least terns, an endangered species, have enjoyed phenomenal success on the old airfield at Alameda Point. Pushed to the brink of extinction by human encroachment on their traditional Southern California coastal nesting areas, the terns began taking up residence on a number of military bases in California during the past four decades. With early and continued stewardship by the Navy through 2014, and the addition of volunteers after the base closed, the Alameda Point colony went from a few nests to over 300 today.
During the 2015 nesting season, the Alameda Point terns were the top performers statewide, both in terms of the total number of fledglings produced, and the key data point — ratio of fledglings per nest — according to recently released data.
The public is invited to see the terns during the annual “Return of the Terns” event on June 18. Tours by bus leave from the Crab Cove Visitor Center after an educational presentation. Reservations are required for one of the three tours via the visitor center, or the East Bay Regional Park District’s website https://apm.activecommunities.com/ebparks using the search keyword “terns.”
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.
2016 sand delivery at Alameda Point least tern nesting grounds.
St. George Spirits volunteer laying down half clay tile used by least tern chicks for shelter.
St. George Spirits volunteer with makeshift rain poncho next to grid marker.
St. George Spirits volunteer placing a cinder block grid marker.
Scouts smoothing out sand against the least tern fence.