8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 22-28, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com news A farmworker housing project proposed in Pajaro abuts another such development under construction that faced litigation by neighbors. The County of Monterey Planning Commission was scheduled to consider the project on Wednesday, Feb. 14, but agreed to postpone its decision to April 10. Proposed by property owner Anthony Nicola, Inc. of Prunedale, the plans call for two three-story buildings to house up to 250 seasonal farmworkers on a 1.3-acre site at 124 Gonda St. Nearing completion next door on Susan Street is another project expected to house 360 farmworkers. Both projects sit next to the Pajaro River Levee, which breached a couple of miles east in March 2023 and flooded the town of Pajaro. A $599 million project to rebuild the levee is expected to begin in the summer. Christine Shaw, who lives on Susan Street and sits on the planning commission, joined other neighbors in suing the county in January 2023 following the board of supervisors’ approval of the project, saying a thorough environmental review should have been required. A Superior Court judge rejected the suit. Shaw is now questioning the safety of the current residents of Gonda Street as well as the future residents if the new project is approved, saying the narrow road leading into the property would be dangerous for people to evacuate in the event of an emergency. In a letter, she urged the county to conduct a full environmental review. “These three-story monstrosities, that loom over the neighborhood, will have an adverse impact on the human ecology of our neighborhood,” Shaw wrote. Seasonal Digs Farmworker housing proposed in Pajaro, next to another one under construction. By Erik Chalhoub Tucked away on the Moss Landing Harbor, mostly out of sight except for anyone driving along Sandholdt Road, is one of the world’s epicenters for marine science innovation—the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. There, scientists and engineers are free to experiment with new ways to understand marine life while harnessing the organization’s considerable technological assets. It’s that kind of creative freedom that allowed Jared Figurski, an MBARI ocean observatory engineer, to follow a hunch: could MBARI’s long range underwater autonomous vehicles, aka LRUAVs, be outfitted with cameras and attractors so they could observe predators and prey? “It’s a needle in a haystack issue,” Figurski says. “Predators can be very rare, they’re highly mobile, and they can be highly migratory. To adequately sample them, you have to be out in the ocean for a long time and at vast distances, which was prohibitively expensive before LRUAVs.” Figurski started working on the idea three years ago. After two years of pilot testing, he was able to present it to MBARI’s management team, who agreed to fund it indefinitely, but at a minimum of three years. The system, called Piscivore—animals that eat fish—is affixed to the LRUAV and records hundreds of hours of video in deployments which are then processed by MBARI’s artificial intelligence technology and matched with data the LRUAV is recording. The hope, Figurski says, is to give marine scientists reliable data on predator and prey ecosystems that are both dynamic with the seasons, but that are also changing as marine life evolves with climate change. Currently, MBARI’s Piscivore system is deployed about 10 days at a time, only at depths of down to 120 feet. The system isn’t yet equipped with lighting and must rely on ambient light, but Figurski says they’re working on that. The system aims to help resolve a longstanding problem for researchers: sonar technology detects biomass and acoustic devices pick up sounds. However, the picture is always blurred—what, exactly, is in the water right now? Such data could help inform not just scientists, but also regulators of fisheries, who are often forced to make decisions based on limited data. Figurski says MBARI engineers are at work on a deeper-ranging vehicle that can go as far down as 1,500 feet below the surface, and that Piscivore can be deployed on that once the lighting is solved. That would help Figurski learn more about the presence of salmon sharks and swordfish around Monterey Bay, something he’s taken an interest in—young salmon sharks, which look like great whites, wash up from time to time on local beaches. While they’re known to be abundant in Alaska, he thinks they just might be deeper here. As for local swordfish, he says, “They’re probably a lot more here than we think.” Figurski believes that MBARI will fund the system for many years to come—the possibilities for gathering data are vast, and presents immense potential value to regulators. “If they don’t have data, they have to make a lot of guesses,” Figurski says. “We can fill in the gaps. I think that’s going to be an important role of Piscivore, particularly for adaptive management—a lot of time policies need to change on the fly.” Attached to an autonomous underwater vehicle, MBARI’s new Piscivore system may answer questions about the ocean’s predators and prey. Prey Tell Harnessing new tech, MBARI engineers are unlocking the predator-prey cycle in Monterey Bay and beyond. By David Schmalz A housing development for farmworkers is currently under construction on Susan Street in Pajaro. Another project is proposed one block over on Gonda Street. “If they don’t have data, they have to make guesses.” MBARI Daniel Dreifuss