Why Marine Protected Areas Benefit Surfers

Cabrillo MPA in Point Loma, San Diego.

Any North County or southern Baja vet most likely has run into Garth Murphy intensely evaluating surf conditions from shore and gracefully riding the best waves of the season. A California icon who partnered with Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in their infamous and pioneering Surf Research company, Garth is the author of the epic novel of California, The Indian Lover, and the son of noted fisheries biologist Garth I. Murphy, who was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s first PhD, and a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Garth, who has lived, surfed and advocated for coastal and marine protection in Hawaii, Australia and Baja California, was a member of the California Department of Fish and Game‘s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) Regional Stakeholder Group.

As a result of that effort a new network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in Southern California with reserves at Swami’s, Black’s-Scripps, South La Jolla, Cabrillo-Point Loma and the Tijuana River Mouth. These MPAs conserve key marine ecosystems such as kelp beds, reefs, sea grass beds – the ecological features that provide the foundation for some of our very best waves.

Serge Dedina: Why should surfers care about marine conservation and creating MPAs in Southern California?

Garth Murphy: Because we have 300 wave-rich surf spots to choose from and over a million Southern California surfers average 20 surfs a year – for 20 million yearly immersions in what usually happens to be our ocean’s most bio-diverse coastal marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes traditional surfing as a compatible recreational use of the ocean resource, permitted in protected areas except at mammal haul-outs, bird roosts and estuaries. A network of Marine Protected Areas, by protecting and conserving complete coastal ecosystems and habitat, enhances the biodiversity and abundance of marine life, enriching our experience, while minimizing and controlling potential habitat-destructive human activities, which directly affect us.

Looking toward the San Diego-Scripps MPA and Black’s Beach in La Jolla.

Dedina: Why is preserving marine ecosystems of Southern California so important for surfers?

Murphy: Southern California surfers and marine life share natural coastal ocean habitats of every important class: estuaries and river mouths, beaches and inter-tidal zones, surf grass and eel grass beds on composite reefs like Cardiff; rare cobble reefs like Trestles, Rincon and Malibu; rocky reefs like Windansea and Laguna; submarine canyons like Blacks, and sand bars at Newport and Pacific Beach; as well as man-made habitats like the Piers at Huntington and Imperial Beach, rock jetties like the Wedge and Hollywood by the Sea, and artificial reefs.

As a boon to surfers, thick coastal kelp forest canopies, which shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, also protect us from the afternoon winds, refining ocean surface texture and grooming the swells to extend our surfing hours and the carrying capacity of affected surf spots. Habitat-based marine protected areas preserve everything within their boundaries, including our cherished surf spots.

Dedina: What about water quality? Would marine reserves help our efforts to keep beaches free from polluted runoff?

Murphy: Coastal ocean water quality is not just a function of land pollution runoff. Over-exploitation and depletion or collapse of important food web components causes imbalances that degrade marine ecosystems and make the ocean more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and opportunistic invasive species like stinging jellyfish, algae blooms and toxic red tides, diminishing water quality and habitat suitability for marine life and surfers.

On the contrary, robust, bio-diverse marine ecosystems with intact food webs are resilient, resisting and adapting to environmental change and pollution, maintaining water and habitat quality. Estuaries are marine life nurseries, fresh/salt water interfaces that empty into many of our finest surf spots. We absorb that same water through our eyes, ears, nose and mouths on duck-dives and wipeouts. Rebuilding and maintaining bio-diverse estuaries with a full range of marine life creates healthier nurseries, and encourages upstream compliance with pollution regulations. The result is better water quality for all of us.

Dedina: So in the end, how does preserving our marine heritage in Southern California benefit surfers?

Murphy: The California surfing style evolved in a unique marine environment of glassy peeling waves. Stylish surfing and our beach lifestyle have become an important part of California history and culture –and media focus – generating an endless wave of glossy-color surf magazines, surf videos and feature films. The success of the $7-plus billion surfing industry, centered in Southern California, depends on maintaining the high cultural value of the traditional California surfing experience: as exciting, invigorating exercise, as a get-away, as a sport, a meditation, a dance, a family get-together and photo opportunity –enhanced by a vibrantly alive and healthy ocean.

The ocean is Earth’s largest and most accessible enduring wilderness. Regular contact with wilderness is a human, and especially American, cultural value, manifested today in the ocean by the popularity of surfing. A full and abundant spectrum of marine species – from whales to hermit crabs to phytoplankton – is an integral part of our ocean-wilderness experience.

Marine Protected Areas enhance ecosystem awareness by exposing us to a broad diversity of marine life. They encourage monitoring of potential problems and upstream compliance with complementary air and water quality regulations. The positive water quality and life-giving effects of marine protected areas are a valuable gift to the surfers and marine species who share them.

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The 5 Best Ocean Films of all Time

I am attending The Blue Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit this week in Monterey. In attendance are some of the world’s best ocean filmmakers, explorers, researchers, and conservationists

Oscar-winning Director James Cameron is here, along with explorer Don Walsh, filmmakers Greg and Shaun MacGillivray, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco and Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel Cousteau.

There is something about ocean films that bring me back to my childhood. Maybe it was my love for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island or being mesmerized by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Add the wonderful memories of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on television with my family and I’m a sucker for anything to do with the sea.

In honor of the Blue Ocean Film Festival, here is my list of the top five ocean films of all time.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) 

A highly eccentric homage to Jacques Cousteau with a little bit of Fellini thrown in, The Life Aquatic features Bill Murray as washed up ocean explorer Steve Zissou who searches for the elusive Jaguar shark to revive his career and avenge the death of his longtime friend and partner Esteban. The film also stars Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Angelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and cult favorite Bud Cort. The cast partakes in an underwater odyssey and madcap adventures on Zissou’s research vessel The Belafonte. In The Life Aquatic, director-producer Wes Anderson creates a funny and unique film that is a love letter to our romance with the sea. Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo, provides the ultra cool soundtrack.

famous poster

2. Jaws (1975)

With Jaws, director Steven Spielberg launched Hollywood into an obsession with action-packed high-concept blockbusters and furthered the legend of the Great White shark.

While the mechanical shark doesn’t hold up, who could ever forget the dazzling brilliance of Robert Shaw as the maniacal sea dog Quint. The suspenseful scene in which Shaw tells the tale of being surrounded by sharks after surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II while Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss listen on and the shark silently closes in is still riveting. Based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling book of the same name, Jaws destroyed any opportunity to educate the public about the critical role that sharks play in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems and made the ocean a scary place for people who don’t know better.

Cover of

3. The Cove (2009)

The Cove is Ocean’s Eleven meets Flipper, an action-packed, emotionally charged, caper film that is so well made it received an Oscar for Best Documentary. Director Louis Psihoyos tells the tale of dolphin trainer turned ocean activist Rick O’Barry as he tries to uncover the brutal and unnecessary slaughter of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Unfortunately the massacres in Tajii continue, but Psihoyos and O’Barry with The Cove provide a clear understanding of why the world needs ocean conservationists.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

In Master and Commander, Australian director Peter Weir does an incredible job of translating Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series of books into a wonderfully romantic and epic ocean film that deservedly received an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Russell Crowe stars as Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey who commands the HMS Surprise to pursue the French privateer Acheron around the New World. The scenes of exploration in the Galapagos Islands are breathtaking, and the depiction of field surgery and the travails of trans-oceanic sailing remind us of how lucky we are to live in the modern age. This is an intelligent and beautifully made film suitable for the entire family. An added bonus: a boat used in the film, HMS Surprise, is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian in a screens...

5. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Has there ever been an actor more magnetic than Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and a villain so unlikable as Charles Laughton’s William Bligh? Laughton’s depiction as Bligh is a precursor to Darth Vader—a brilliant, flawed and evil servant of the empire. This Ocar winner for Best Picture tells the story of the HMS Bounty’s two-year voyage to Tahiti in 1787. The 1935 version of Mutiny of the Bounty is a romantic and classic example of old-school Hollywood at its best.

What are your favorite ocean movies? Share in comments.

Other notable ocean films include: Titanic, The Abyss, Das Boot, Hunt for Red October, The Big Blue, The Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Wind, The Secret of Roan Innish, White Squall and Captains Courageous.

How WiLDCOAST Saves the Coast and Ocean

Here’s our newest PSA on the efforts of WiLDCOAST to preserve the coast and ocean. I’ll be showing this on Tuesday during my luncheon talk at the Blue Ocean Film Festival on Monterey.

The Coastal Wonders of Oaxaca

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Mazunte is a small fishing village about an hour north of Huatulco in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its white sand beaches and tranquil waters obscure its deadly past.

“Up until 19990, when Mexico banned the legal sea turtle fishery,” said Manuel Rodriguez Gomez, the congenial Director of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center, “More than 2,000 sea turtles were killed each day in Mazunte.”

Today, Manuel and his team of biologists, manage a beautiful sea turtle aquarium and museum, as well as conserve some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.

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“It is amazing to me that a little more than twenty years ago fishing communities in Oaxaca that made their living from killing sea turtles are the ones who are now investing their efforts in protecting these amazing animals,” said Manuel.

I traveled to this unique corner of Mexico to hold an ocean film festival and meet some of the leaders who have made the sea turtle recovery and other coastal conservation success stories possible.

I brought along my surfboard in the hopes of catching waves at Puerto Escondido and Barra de la Cruz.

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Mazunte was a stop on my way north from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido where WiLDCOAST, the conservation organization I run, was holding the first night of the film festival tour.

Known as the “Mexican Pipeline” Puerto Escondido is a balmy pleasant town that reminded me of Rosarito Beach back in the 1970s.

The beach at Zicatela, where south swells funnel into shallow waters to create arguably one of the world’s heaviest beach breaks, is lined with palapas, restaurants, surf shops and hotels.

During south swell season some of the world’s best surfers such as Greg and Rusty Long descend on Puerto to catch dredging barrels with elevator drops.

During our event in the town’s main plaza just north of Zicatela, about 250 people, enjoyed our ocean films and learning more about preserving sea turtles.

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Sergio Flores of WiLDCOAST and Manuel Rodriguez of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center.

“We need to take care of our beaches,” said longtime Puerto surfer Roger Ramirez at the event who runs the the Oasis Surf Academy along with his lovely Uruguayan wife Sol.

The surfers of Puerto are fighting efforts to develop nearby Punta Colorada, a world-class bodyboarding beach.

The next morning, I wandered down to Zicatela. The wind was offshore but the surf was 1-2’ and closed out. I still enjoyed surfing the warm water micro-barrels.

“It needs to be a bit bigger,” said Jason, a surfer from San Diego who knows Puerto well. “But there is swell on the way. So maybe we’ll get lucky. “

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The following day I found myself at a remote beach south of Huatulco surfing dredging barrels at a right-hand point with a few local surfers and my WiLDCOAST colleague Ben McCue.

The first south of the season had arrived.

Later that afternoon we drove into the village of Barra de la Cruz, about 45 minutes south of Huatulco for the final leg of our film festival.

“You have time for a surf,” said Pablo Narvaez, a leader in this indigenous village that is host to one of the world’s most perfect waves and a critical beach for the recovery for endangered leatherback sea turtles.

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That's me surfing Barra.

“But the sand isn’t right yet,” said Pablo. “We’ll need a few more swells to drag the sand from the beach out onto the point.”

At the beach, Ben and I threw on our trunks and jumped into the water to  share a few head high point waves with an eclectic group of local surfers and visitors from Brazil and Ireland.

About an hour later, we caught up with Pablo and the town’s leaders as we screened films for about 200 local children and their parents.

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Pablo pointing making a point with me and Ben McCue in Barra de la Cruz.

“We aren’t interested in development,” said Pablo. “We went through all that after the 2006 Rip Curl Search Pro we hosted. People made offers to buy our beach. We’re beyond that though.”

The community of Barra de la Cruz is run in the old ways. The beach has been left undeveloped. Residents volunteer their time to staff a small surfside palapa restaurant.

Surfers pay a twenty-peso entrance fee to use the beach and clean bathrooms with showers. Revenues from surfing tourism are reinvested back into the community.

“We are not interested in money,” said Pablo. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. Money only brings us problems. But if we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

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The coast beyond Barra.

During my dawn patrol the next day the surf was even bigger. The right point I surfed the previous morning was firing.

I snagged a few hollow rights for a quick session before my return flight home inspired by the beauty of coastal Oaxaca and the determination of its people.

Thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Puerto Escondido, Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, Parque Nacional Huatulco, and the community of Barra de la Cruz for their hospitality.

A Great Day at the Dempsey

More than 150 surfers participated in the 8th Annual WiLDCOAST Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest–the largest field ever for the Dempsey. The surf sort of cooperated with 2-4′ south swell peaks. Unfortunately it was a bit windy all day. But the competitors made the most of it.

Surfers from Mexico and Venezuela showed up to participate as well, making this truly an international surfing event thanks to a partnership with United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO).

Thanks to all the Dempsey sponsors such as the County of San Diego, REI, Oakley, Billabong, Emerald City, Alan Cuniff, Pacific Realty, Pacifica Companies, URT, Cowabunga and all of the scholarship supporters and everyone who pitched in to make it “the best day ever!”

 

Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest

On October 16th, 2011 WiLDCOAST will hold the 8th Annual Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest in Imperial Beach, California from 7am-3pm at the Imperial Beach Pier. This annual family friendly charity event has become the largest surf contest in south San Diego County with over 120 competitors in ten different divisions and hundreds of spectators as well as music, prizes and other entertainment.

Proceeds from the event support WiLDCOAST’s efforts to protect the most threatened and ecologically important coastal areas and wildlife in Southern California and Mexico.  Since 2,000 WiLDCOAST has helped to conserve over two million acres of beautiful bays, beaches, islands and lagoons.

In 2011, the Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest will expand internationally. WiLDCOAST is partnering with the United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO), a bi-national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide surfing youths in Mexico and the United States opportunities in competitive surfing and cultural exchange.

Imperial Beach, California The symbol of this ...

Image via Wikipedia

Generous Dempsey sponsors include Billabong, County of San Diego, Pacific Realty, REI, Emerald City the Boarding Source, Oakley, Southwest Airlines, URT, Ocean Minded, The Surfer’s Journal, Pacifica Companies, Alan Cunniff Construction, APS Marine Services and Equipment, Firewire, Matuse, and PAWA. Additionally Cowabunga and Katy’s Café will be providing support and treats for the contestants. Jay Novak of Novak Surf Designs and Brett Bender of Natural Selection Surfboards have shaped boards especially for the junior winners.

Community residents can also sponsor a child for the Dempsey. This helps to provide scholarships for local needy children to participate. Over the past eight years hundreds of children have participated in the Dempsey thanks to the support of community supporters and sponsors.

Registration is still open but filling up fast. The event once again includes the popular menehune division in which every child receives a medal. This year surfers such as Kyle Knox, Sean Malabanan, Keith McCloskey, Sean Fowler, Josh Johnson, and Terry Gillard among others are expected to compete. Heats will be carried out on the south and north sides of the Imperial Beach pier providing maximum shredding and viewing opportunities.

Registration for the Dempsey can be done at http://www.wildcoast.net or email dempsey@wildcoast.net or call 619.423.8665 ext. 200 for more information. For information on sponsoring a child contact Lenise Andrade at 619.423.8665 ext. 201 or via dempsey@wildcoast.net

WiLDCOAST is an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. www.wildcoast.net

The Ocean Health Index and Cleaning up Our Coast

Paloma Aguirre and Diana Castaneda of WiLDCOAST at a recent Tijuana River Valley cleanup.

Last Friday I missed the first real north swell of the season to attend a meeting organized by the University of California-Santa Barbara on the development of an ocean health index.

The objective of the index is to have a monitoring scorecard that communities, scientists and government agencies can use to determine coastal and ocean health locally, regionally and nationally.

The group included fishermen, seafood harvesters (e.g. shellfish and seaweed), elected officials, energy company representatives, conservationists, scientists and the Chief of State of the Makah tribe.

Community members working together for clean water in the Tijuana River Valley.

Everyone in the room, especially the fishermen, made it clear that ocean water quality and biodiversity were the two most important indicators for managing the health of the coast and ocean.

The consensus was that without clean water and healthy marine life, it’s almost impossible to have a vibrant tourism and fishing economy.

Meanwhile many local leaders have spent the last decade in denial about ocean pollution.

They fear that discussing the issue will somehow negatively impact the economy and local property values.

The bay side of Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado was recently shut down due to a sewage spill from the Sept. 8 mass outage.

A cleanup kid.

In 2011 the main beach in Imperial Beach has been closed 56 days. The south end of the beach was closed 224 days.

In 2010 the main beach was closed 26 days. The south end of the beach was closed 226 days (and yes the south end of the beach is still Imperial Beach).

Meanwhile most south swell pollution goes unreported.

Today we continue to work with local residents on both sides of the border to clean up the tons and tons of garbage that wash into the ocean.

Last January WiLDOCAST notified authorities about a sewage spill in Playas de Tijuana that went unchecked for more than three weeks, resulting in more than 31 million gallons of sewage discharged into the surf zone in Imperial Beach and the border area.

Together with local, state and federal agencies on both sides of the border, our collaborative work has resulted in significant achievements.

These include the recent inauguration of a new international sewage treatment plant; the opening of three new sewage plants in Tijuana-Rosarito; progress on stopping the frequent discharges at Playas de Tijuana; and the cleaning up of thousands of waste tires and hundreds of tons of trash in the Tijuana River Valley by community members.

I invite everyone to join to help to clean up our region and make sure that our coast and ocean is as pristine as possible. Because even one day of beach pollution is one day too many.

There are plenty of opportunities to do so in October with Tijuana River Action Month. The next event will be held Oct. 1.

A small fence separates densely populated Tiju...

The U.S.-Mexico border near the TJ River Valley. Image via Wikipedia

My TEDx AFC Video: Sex, Soccer and El Santo

This is the video of my recent TEDx America’s Finest City presentation, Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean.

Sexing it up at TEDx America’s Finest City

I spoke on Tuesday at the TEDx America’s Finest City forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The venue was amazing, the surf was firing, the lineup of speakers was incredible. The organizers did a great job of attempting to bring together a “new” San Diego. I was honored to be invited to participate and to be able to speak about WilDCOAST campaigns.

Me and Grant Barrett of Public Radio's "A Way with Words." Photo: TEDxAFC

My talked was titled: Sex, Soccer and El Santo: The New Rules for Communicating about the Coast and Ocean. Photo: TEDxAFC

As always our "Don't Eat Sea Turtle" campaign poster went over very well. Photo: TEDxAFC

I always wanted to be one of those TED guys--with the headphone microphones in a blue shirt talking about "cool" stuff. Photo: TEDxAFC

The theme of the event was "Get your fix." Photo: TEDxAFC

Fighting Mega Projects in Guerrero

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo a few weeks,  we learned about plans by FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency to build a new mega-tourism project on top of the Barra de Potosi mangrove wetland and coastal area. Here is the video of our press conference denouncing the project.

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