Sierra Garcia
About the author

Sierra Garcia is an interdisciplinary marine scientist and environmental writer with a focus on oceans, climate, and communities. She is Estuary's multiplatforms editor, and does outreach and planning as well as some reporting for the magazine. Her work has appeared in publications serving a wide range of audiences, including Grist, JSTOR Daily, and the Oxford Climate Review. She was proudly born and raised in Monterey County.

Articles by Sierra Garcia


Resurrecting the Carmel River Floodplain

When the storm hit, it was lucky that my parents had a habit of leaving one car on each side of the Carmel River as they commuted from Big Sur into Monterey each day. The 1995 El Niño rainfall had pushed the Carmel River into hundreds of homes, and destroyed the Highway 1 bridge that connected Big Sur with the rest of the world. Most Big Sur residents were trapped during the week it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair the freeway bridge. But in the era before Zoom, my mother couldn’t just stay home from nursing school. So my parents trekked past the mud of submerged artichoke fields on the river’s south bank and onto the...
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Climate change is heating, salinizing, and expanding the San Francisco Estuary, a review of nearly 200 scientific studies concludes.

Sea level rise, changing snow and rainfall patterns, and warmer waters are some of the changes already observed in the Estuary and expected to continue through the rest of the century as greenhouse gas concentrations rise. Changes to water are at the heart of the documented and further expected impacts; there’s less of it entering the system overall, but more arriving in torrential bursts, and more saltwater creeping inland from the Bay. The scope of the research is expansive even for a review article, in part because climate changes aren’t happening in isolation from other threats and habitat impacts. Writing in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, the authors attempt to summarize not only all known research about climate change...
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Cutting Green Tape

A novel exemption lawmakers passed to California’s landmark Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in late 2021 has helped fast-track at least four habitat restoration projects so far, with more to follow in the next couple years. The Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects, or SERP, offers a rare reprieve from California’s stringent environmental review and permitting process — and a clear indication of the urgency the state’s leaders feel in advancing ecological restoration work. “When [SERP] passed, it was a little bit controversial,” says Sara Johnson, executive director of the fledgling California Ecological Business Association. Sluggish regulatory approval timelines are the top grievance member organizations of the association share, she said at the Society for Ecological Restoration’s conference in Carmel Valley in...
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Gone Fishing

As the weekend dawns and California slumbers, the sportfishers descend, like clockwork, on the banks and waves of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They carry nets for herring or poles for sturgeon, heavy and light tackle, bloodworms or anchovy or any number of delectable morsels to attract the desired target. They tread industrialized East Bay shorelines and marshy Delta banks, hop aboard sporty six-pack boats for more ambitious trips or humbler craft for a leisurely solo excursion. They catch (and often release) a smorgasbord of species: halibut, kingfish (white croaker), or sturgeon around the Bay, or striped bass, salmon, and black bass in the many tendrils of the Delta. “Here, you get both worlds, fresh and salt,”...
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A new partnership is pushing to tally the “blue carbon” in marine and coastal ecosystems.

Seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and even the seabed can all lock away carbon—but exactly how much is still up in the air for these and other ocean ecosystems. The Seascape Carbon Initiative, a partnership formed in late 2021 between four environmental problem-solving organizations and one independent carbon verifier, is pushing the science forward so protecting and restoring these valuable ecosystems can join mangrove forests and terrestrial forests as certifiable nature-based carbon capture projects.   “Conceptually, the science is pretty good,” says Steve Crooks, the lead wetlands and coastal management scientist for Silvestrum Climate Associates, which is one of the organizations working to accelerate the research. “But when you actually get down to the detail of trying to develop market mechanisms...
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Can Birds and Solar Float on the Same Ponds?

In the late 2000s, small-aircraft pilots gliding above the Napa countryside began to notice an odd, glassy glint reflecting off a tennis-court-size patch of land between vineyards. Large solar arrays were less common back then, but the solar panels themselves likely weren’t the reason planes doubled back, flying low, for a closer look: it was their placement in the middle of a pond. Floating solar panels, like the ones Napa’s Far Niente winery finished installing in 2009, could be a real windfall for a watery Bay-Delta region seeking carbon-free energy. Secured to buoyant platforms or pontoons, low over the water’s surface and at a slight angle, the panels can cover a large area without competing with agriculture or housing for primo sun-drenched land. They slow evaporation from the water sources they...
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