A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour San Quintin Bay with my WILDCOAST colleagues through the invitation by Terra Peninsular, a conservation organization who has helped to conserve much of the bay. We had a great time and were also able to sample the delicious sustainably harvested oysters of Francisco Aguirre and his family. San Quintin is a center for the oyster harvest in Baja (along with Laguna San Ignacio). Congratulations to Terra Peninsular for their effort in preserving such a unique and delicate area that is in such great shape.
In 1971 when I was seven, I accompanied my mother and little brother Nicky to the sand dunes on the southern edge of the Silver Strand’s bayside in Coronado.
I can still remember the shock and fear I felt when a security guard with a gun approached us.
“This is private property and you are trespassing,” he said as we bathed along the shore (the area was later developed as the Coronado Cays).
My English mother, who had first encountered the very public beaches of England after surviving the Battle of Britain while a child in war torn London, was outraged.
“How dare that man scare us with his gun while we enjoy the beach.”
That incident occurred just before the California voters approved the passage of the Coastal Act in 1972, which authorized the formation of the Coastal Commission.
“Without the Coastal Act and the Commission, the coast would be inaccessible to ordinary people,” said Patricia McCoy a former member of the Coastal Commission who lives in Imperial Beach.
My oldest son Israel spent the summer working as a California State Lifeguard at the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado. “I really noticed how truly happy people are at the beach and how many different types of people use the beach,” he said.
“I never take for granted the California’s stunning coast, or the foresight of those who passed the Coastal Act four decades ago to keep it accessible to people all over the state,” said Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The problem with the Coastal Commission is that the agency, “Can set the rules, but it can’t enforce them,” said Chad Nelsen of the Surfrider Foundation. “Imagine what the roads would be like if the police couldn’t issue traffic tickets. That is essentially the plight of the Coastal Commission with regard to beach access.”
Ten years ago, Wallace “J.” Nichols (who worked with me at WILDCOAST at the time) trekked the 1,200 miles from Oregon to Mexico along the coastal trail. “I witnessed first hand the diversity of people who love the ocean and I saw how some people, particularly around LA, were fighting to keep it for themselves, despite clear laws protecting the coast and providing public access for all.”
For Warner Chabot, “The Coastal Act initiative was the result of public outrage over landowners blocking access to the coast. Now there are more than 1,944 Coast Act violations of which 690 are in Los Angeles County and of those 533 are in Malibu, and 123 are in San Diego.”
To remedy this situation, Assemblymember Toni Atkins from San Diego has introduced AB 976, which would give the California Coastal Commission the ability to levy limited fines for Coastal Act violations. A similar enforcement tool is already in place for 21 other state regulatory agencies, including the State Water Board, Air Board and the State Lands Commission.
“Free and open coastal access is critical to the health and well-being of our communities,” said Ben McCue of Outdoor Outreach, an organization that takes kids from low-income communities on outings to the beach.
Making sure everyone can use the beach will require agencies to enforce the laws that voters passed. We should ensure that private property owners cannot continue to obstruct the natural and legal rights of the public to enjoy resources that belong to us all.
After all, “A day at the beach is a right all Californians are entitled to enjoy,” said Marce Gutierrez of Azul.
- Coastal Protection in Question: How Strong is a Law You Can’t Enforce? (greenroots.pcl.org)
Marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has worked tirelessly to preserve the world’s endangered sea turtles and raise awareness about our need to conserve our oceans. He just returned from a trip to Baja California’s Magdalena Bay, where he spent time in the field with fishermen who help preserve endangered sea turtles.
Through his BLUEMIND annual conferences he is helping us understand the role the ocean can play in our health and cognitive function. J. and I co-founded WiLDCOAST together in 1999. Today he is one of the the world’s most passionate and innovative ocean conservationists.
Dedina: In the past few years you’ve helped shed light on looking at connections between neuroscience and the ocean, which will be the subject of a new book you are writing. What are some of the insights you’ve gained into the new emerging field of neuroconservation?
Nichols: Our successes in Baja with sea turtles, apart from the mountain of scientific ecological research, depends heavily on the emotional commitment to saving the animals among the many people working so hard along the coast.
It’s said that conservation is really about managing people and changing behaviors. If we don’t understand what’s happening in the human brain, we’re really in the dark. So the idea of studying neuroscience has been on my mind for a long time. In recent years we’ve connected the best neuroscientists in the world with the best ocean advocates and explorers to ask some very interesting questions about “our brains on ocean.”
If Coca-Cola can use neuroscience to sell sugar water, we can use neuroscience for the ocean.
Dedina: You have your third BLUEMIND conference coming up. What is the purpose of the conference and why is it being held on the East Coast this year?
Nichols: Each year we hold BLUEMIND at a different location, with a slightly different general theme. This year the theme is “Last Child in the Water” and we’ll explore the role of water in healthy cognitive function. Holding the summit on Block Island makes it easy for our colleagues in New England to attend. We may jump the pond and take the conference to the UK in 2014.
Dedina: Why is the ocean so vital to human health and well being?
Nichols: The list of biological, ecological and economic services that the ocean provides is long, and fairly well known. Oxygen, our climate, food, transportation and so on. But the “cognitive services” the ocean provides are just as important. For many of us the ocean, and other bodies of water, literally pulls the stress from us.
It’s a form of daily therapy. People go there to relax, re-create and vacation. Artists, musicians and writers go there to be inspired. I’ve met countless people who’ve told me that they do their best thinking when they are in, on or near water. Neuroscientists have shown that even the color blue doubles creativity and being seaside provokes an enhanced felling of well-being.
If we were to lose all of that, the world and our lives would be vastly diminished. I hope that when people learn about how healthy water makes them better at being themselves it gives them another reason to join the fight to protect our blue planet.
Serge Dedina: How did you get involved in carrying out research on sea turtles?
Wallace J. Nichols: I was into turtles as a kid. We used to catch snapping turtles in Chesapeake Bay, paint numbers on their shells and throw them back. Sometimes we’d recapture them and doing some simple algebra we’d estmate the number of turtles in the bay. Little did I know that 10 years later I’d be doing essentially the same thing with sea turtles for my doctoral thesis. My first sea turtle job was in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.
From there I worked with Jeff Seminoff to survey all of the sea turtle nesting beaches along Mexico’s vast coastline, driving a 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser. We then started to focus on northwest Mexico, especially the Baja Peninsula.
Dedina: You moved from studying sea turtles to advocating for their conservation? What happened that caused you to initiate your conservation
Nichols: We’ve published a mountain of sea turtle science, literally hundreds of papers and reports in some of the best journals. But science doesn’t turn into action on its own. And back then there were no government agencies or NGOs to take our science and act on it.
Sea turtles were being killed by the thousands and it was clear that if we just continued to produce research papers, nothing would happen. Given the lack of official capacity to respond, we started by creating a grassroots network of fishermen interested in the plight of sea turtles. We called ourselves the Grupo Tortuguero. This year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Grupo Tortuguero, which is now a robust network of thousands of people in 50 coastal communities and involving dozens of NGOs, managed by a strong team of Mexican scientists and advocates.
Dedina: Back in the early 1990s you tracked a loggerhead sea turtle from Baja to Japan? How did that come about and what eventually happened to the sea turtle?
Nichols: Fellow scientists were somewhat baffled by the presence of loggerheads along the Baja coast, since the closest nesting beach was all the way over in Japan. The status quo was that Japan was just too far away to be the source of the animals. In 1996, working with biologists Antonio and Bety Resendiz, we had the opportunity to put a satellite transmitter on a mature loggerhead. We named the turtle after the daughter of the fisherman who helped us and released her off the Pacific coast outside Santa Rosaliita, BC.
That turtle was ready to swim home, and home was due west, 7,000 miles away in Japan. We tracked Adelita for 365 days until she reached the Japanese coast. We did something that was radical at the time by sharing our data in real time, allowing millions of kids, teachers and researchers around the world to join the project. I guess you could say that built our own social network before there was such a thing.
When Adelita reached the Japanese coast, her track did several strange things. There are several viable ways to interpret the data from her final days, but it appears likely that she was caught in a squid net near Isohama, Japan and broght back to the dock, before the signal went dead.
Dedina: What are the primary threats to sea turtles and what can people do in their everyday lives to help in sea turtle conservation efforts?
Nichols: Sea turtles interact with our activities in more ways than people realize. They get hung up in our fishing gear, their beaches get developed for hotels, they swim through oil spills and they eat our plastic. Climate change is impacting the sex of sea turtles, their food sources and the dynamics of their nesting beaches. Virtually any move you make towards living more sustainably is good for sea turtles.
Dedina: How can people help preserve the ocean?
Nichols: The first way is to touch it. Connect. Get wet often. Bring your family and those you love with you to the water. Consider your brain on ocean for a moment. If you enjoy and value the way your brain responds to a healthy ocean and you think it’s worth protecting, look around and ask questions and the next steps to becoming an ocean protector will become clear–and consider becoming one of the 100BlueAngels.org.
A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated the “no-otter zone” in Southern California south of Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to allow the return of sea otters to the region.
Biologists will continue to monitor the population to see if sea otters migrate to Southern California.
I sat down with Jim Curland from the Friends of the Sea Otter to talk more about the type of environment needed to support sea otter populations and the the history of the animal in California.
Serge Dedina: Why should we care about sea otters?
Jim Curland: Sea otters are both keystone and sentinel species. Their keystone role is that they have a profound effect on the health of nearshore kelp forests. When sea otters were nearly exterminated, there wasn’t a top predator to keep the kelp forests in check and sea urchins proliferate, denuding the vibrant, biodiversity-rich kelp forest system. Their sentinel, or indicator species role is one where the health of sea otters is a gauge of the health of the nearshore ecosystem.
Dedina: It appears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer restrict the sea otter population north of Point Conception. Can we expect sea otters to inhabit the kelp beds of San Diego County anytime soon?
Curland: As of December 18, 2012, and officially on Jan. 17, the “no-otter zone” in southern California has been eliminated so that sea otters are now legally allowed to occupy historic habitat south of Point Conception. It is hard to predict when sea otters might expand their range into kelp beds off of San Diego County. That is something to look forward to and welcome.
Dedina: What do sea otters feed on?
Curland: Sea otters feed on over 60 different invertebrate species including abalone, crabs, sea urchins, turban snails, and much more.
Dedina: What is the current range of sea otters?
Curland: Worldwide, sea otters are found in California, Washington state, Alaska, British Columbia, and Russia. There are a handful of animals found in Japan.
Dedina: Where are they found in California?
Curland: From Half Moon Bay in the north to Point Conception in the South. Sea otters are sometimes spotted up above Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco, but this is not a common place for them to be found.
Dedina: What are the current threats to sea otters in California. How is the population doing?
Curland: Disease, most of which are associated with land based origins; food limitations; shark attacks are some of the key ones. Historically in California, sea otters were caught in gill nets. Currently, there is some uncertainty as to if negative interactions with fishing gear are an impact. These are just some of the threats, but we are still somewhat puzzled with what all contributes to the stagnant growth patterns of sea otters in California and the increased mortality. The current population survey from spring 2012 showed a very slight uptick in the three-year average, but what continues to concern scientists and conservationists is that we don’t see sustained growth over years.
Dedina: There used to be thousands and thousands of sea otters along the Pacific Coast of North America. What happened to the population? Did sea otters die off naturally?
Curland: The estimate for the number of sea otters that existed in California before the 18th and 19th century fur trade is believed to be between 15,000 and 17,000 sea otters. It was this expansive fur trade that decimated the population of sea otters worldwide. In fact, until a small population of between 50-100 were found off the Big Sur Coast in 1938, it was believed that sea otters were extinct in California.
Dedina: What is the role of sea otters in ecosystem management?
Curland: The presence of sea otters in the kelp forest ecosystem has a profound effect on the health of that system. When sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction, sea urchins and other invertebrate grazers proliferated, denuding the kelp forest and turning them into urchin barrens. When sea otters returned, the system became more balanced and rich in biodiversity.
Dedina: What is the best way that we can continue to conserve our sea otter populations and help to increase the population in California?
Curland: We first need to understand better what is killing sea otters and then we can begin to mitigate these impacts with proper advocacy and changes in policy. Improving water quality will certainly benefit the habitat sea otters occupy and has the potential to reduce direct problems that sea otters face, like certain diseases. Contributing to the California Sea Otter Fund, which is line 410 on the California State 540 Income Tax Forms is a way that Californians can help in the recovery and conservation of sea otters.
Dedina: What are some of the current things that Friends of the Sea Otter is doing to conserve the population?
Curland: This year Friends of the Sea Otter celebrates its 45th Anniversary. We are the oldest sea otter conservation group in the world working on policy and education efforts that will help sea otters. Over the years, we’ve worked on ending the no-otter zone, Alaska sea otter issues, negative interactions between sea otters and fishing gear, educating the public on sea otter natural history and conservation, water quality issues, recovery planning, and many other issues.
- Study: Otters Eating Sea Urchins Reduces Greenhouse Gas (alaskapublic.org)
- California sea otters may now roam freely (seattletimes.com)
- No-otter zone ends in Southern California (ksbw.com)
- UCSC biologist: Sea otters could help fight climate change (mercurynews.com)
- Southern California Sea Otter Ban Lifted (naturalhistorywanderings.com)
Our WiLDCOAST staff in Ensenada (Baja California, Mexico) worked with local artists to create this super cool mural in the surfing and fishing community of El Sauzal. Due to the prevalence of graffiti it is critical to create ocean art that educates the public and inspires people to love our coast and ocean. It was very cool to work with Napenda Love, a hip hop and visual artist who helped us carry out projects in southern Baja.
- WiLDCOAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2012 (sergededina.com)
2012 was a great year for WiLDCOAST, the international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems that I run. With offices in Imperial Beach, Ensenada, Los Cabos and Oaxaca, our fast-moving and strategic coastal conservation team made a big difference this year in protecting some of the most iconic and biologically significant coastal and marine sites along the Pacific coast of North America. Since 2000, WiLDCOAST has helped to preserve more than 3.2 million acres of coastal and marine ecosystems including 340 miles of beaches in Mexico protected through conservation concessions and acquisitions.
Some of our accomplishments in 2012 included the following:
- Preserved 2,970 acres of 9.3 miles of Baja California pristine coastline through private acquisitions.
- Challenged the abysmal response of PEMEX to respond to and clean up an oil spill in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, that impacted more than 120 miles of beaches including the world-class right point breaks of southern Oaxaca and some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.
- Pushed the Mexican Attorney General to file legal claims again PEMEX for impacts to coastal ecosystems and wildlife from the oil spill.
- Helped to manage and conserve more than 15,000 acres of marine ecosystems protected as MPAs in San Diego County.
- Worked with 3,050 volunteers to clean up 154,546 lbs of ocean-bound trash in the U.S. and Mexico.
- Protected sea turtle nesting beaches in southern Mexico where more than 20 million sea turtles hatched and 650,000 sea turtles laid eggs.
- Reached more than 430 million people wiht 928 media pieces through campaigns.
- Successfully convinced Mexican President Felipe Calderon to halt the proposed Cabo Cortes mega-project on Baja’s East Cape that would have built a new city larger than Cancun next to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, the world’s most robust marine reserve.
- Carried out 228 public outreach events attended by more than 16,000 people.
- Worked with community residents in Los Cabos, Magdalena Bay and Ensenada to create vibrant coast and ocean conservation art murals.
- Established a new conservation network in Mexico, Red Costasalvaje to help bring together and train community leaders and residents to carry out coastal protection efforts on their own.
- Supported the ongoing management of three WiLDCOAST chapters in Baja California Surf, Mexico.
- Worked with PBS to produce an episode of the series, Saving the Ocean, on sustainable fishing and whale watching in Punta Abreojos and San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico.
- Received the NBC-Universal 21st Century Solutions Award for our efforts to restore and preserve the Tijuana Estuary and Tijuana River Mouth MPA.
Thanks to all of our donors, members, staff and partners 2012 was a groundbreaking year for conservation and WiLDCOAST. We look forward to working with all of you and all of our amazing network of coastal conservation leaders in the U.S. and Mexico to continue preserving our coastal and marine heritage.
If you only watched the presidential campaigns, it would have been hard to believe that we actually live on a changing planet. Due to the false “debate” over the causes and consequences of human-induced climate change (the entire “debate” is financed by retrograde energy companies), President Obama rarely even mentioned our need to address the critical problem of a changing climate that is fueling drought, super-storms (e.g. Sandy), sea-level rise and ocean acidification.
But during his victory speech President Obama made a statement that stunned environmentalists.
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” he said.
Hurricane Sandy was a game changer on building consensus that our quickly evolving climate cannot be ignored and that its impacts has very real consequences. So in anticipation of the road ahead for protecting our coast and ocean, here are the top issues we need to address in 2013 and beyond.
Climate Change: Hurricane Sandy showed us the very real consequences of warming temperatures, sea-level rise and the rise of destructive super-storms. Surfrider Foundation activist Mark West argues that, “Since superstorm Sandy, I think two issues are critical: rising ocean temps from global warming and coastal restoration projects.”
What is clear is that addressing the causes and consequences of climate change has to be a top priority. In San Diego, cities such as Chula Vista have already embarked on climate adaptation planning (I was a member of the advisory committee) that should be a model for San Diego County and even nationally.
San Diego Foundation also coordinated a sea level rise adaptation strategy with the particpation of coastal cities and nonprofit organizations.
Ocean Acidification: While this is a consequence of human-induced climate change, the increase in carbon in our oceans is literally changing the chemistry of our oceans.
Rising acidity doesn’t just imperil the West Coast’s $110-million oyster industry. It ultimately will threaten other marine animals, the seafood industry and even the health of humans who eat affected shellfish, scientists say. The world’s oceans have become 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution began more than two centuries ago. The ill effects of the changing chemistry only add to the oceans’ problems, which include warming temperatures and expanding low-oxygen “dead zones.” By the end of the century, said French biological oceanographer Jean-Pierre Gattuso, “The oceans will become hot, sour and breathless.”
Coastal Restoration: San Diego has always been a national and even global leader in coastal restoration efforts. But we need to do more in the way of restoring our wetlands, watersheds and natural dune systems in order to strengthen our natural defenses against sea level rise and help to sequester the increasing amounts of carbon in our atmosphere. Additionally, restoration projects can increase our access to open spaces and trial systems that keep us healthy as well as protect fish and wildlife populations.
Sand Replenishment: For Oceanside surfer Rick Hahn, our biggest coastal issue is, “The consequences of constructing civilization in extreme proximity to our beaches, bays and waterways.” In many cases government agencies have only come up with one solution to that problem—dumping huge amounts of expensive sand on our coastline, often prioritizing the wealthiest coastal communities due to their capacity to hire expensive and well-connected sand lobbyists to game the system. However, what we saw with Sandy’s storm surge was the futility of spending billions of dollars on wasteful and largely pork-barrel sand replenishment projects. We need to rethink these projects so that they are smaller, more strategic and less costly.
This is especially the case in Southern California where the Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to dump sand on small patches of beachfront in Solana Beach, Encinitas and San Clemente. SANDAG planners also need to evaluate their current project in order to identify ways to reduce impacts to critical reefs and design future projects in a way that enhances rather than destroys surfing areas. We need a national debate on the most effective ways of preserving our beaches while maintaining our fiscal health.
Marine Protected Areas: With the enactment of a new system of state marine protected areas (MPAs)throughout our coastline, California has become a global leader in strategically preserving our most critical coastal and marine ecosystems. There is no better way to cost-effectively preserve our finfish populations than investing in the conservation of their spawning grounds. It is important to help to restore our new MPAs in order to bring back our commercially valuable fish and shellfish populations and preserve our treasures of the sea.
Coastal Pollution: We have to continue reducing the flow of polluted runoff and plastic from our watersheds into the ocean so that we don’t have to worry about getting sick when we play in the ocean. Watershed and wetland restoration help in this effort, but it is everyone’s job to Think Blue.
There are a host of other critical issues including seismic testing, oil drilling in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, preserving endangered marine wildlife such as sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles, and the expansion of offshore drilling.