Sea Otters May Return to Southern California

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

The WiLDCOAST Ensenada Ocean Art Wall

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. DSC_1632

 

 

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Napenda Love some rhyming at the opening of the wall.

Napenda Love some rhyming at the opening of the wall.

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WiLDCOAST ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2012

wildcoast accomplishments 2012

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.

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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.pulmo1

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.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

Coastal Issues That Matter for 2013

Sea level has been rising cm/yr, based on meas...

Sea level has been rising cm/yr, based on measurements of sea level rise from 23 long tide gauge records in geologically stable environments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Changes in sea level during the last 9,000 years

Changes in sea level during the last 9,000 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Ken Weiss recently reported on the issue of ocean acidification:

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.

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach

Stones on a Rocky Ocean Beach (Photo credit: epSos.de)

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.

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthr...

Change in sea water acidity pH caused by anthropogenic CO 2 between the 1700s and the 1990s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Fish populations returned more than 460% in the Cabo Pulmo MPA in Mexico.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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