WILDCOAST IMPACT 2013

WILDCOAST impact

Thanks to my great staff, board members and our partners, WILDCOAST had a banner year. You can make a difference and preserve the coast and ocean by donating to WILDCOAST here.

Miracle at Cabo Pulmo

In a small coastal community tucked away in a corner of Baja’s East Cape is Cabo Pulmo.

Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo (Photo credit: jeffgunn)

This seaside paradise inhabited by friendly fishermen and a colorful group of expatriates is ground zero for efforts to restore the ocean.

If in Cabo Pulmo, local fishermen can work with biologists, conservationists, divers and government park staff to make a marine reserve that is a global model for the protection of a marine ecosystem and fisheries, than our conservation efforts are on the right track.

I was in Cabo Pulmo last week to review efforts to preserve Cabo Pulmo from development threats. A Spanish company had proposed building a new city larger than Los Cabos adjacent to the reef.

My colleagues and I discussed future strategies needed to improve the protection of the coral reef that is home to humpback whales, sea turtles, manta rays, schools of giant fish and a growing population of sharks, including the elusive and docile whale shark.

“There really is nothing else in the Gulf of California like Cabo Pulmo,” said Dr. Octavio Aburto, a research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied Cabo Pulmo for years.

“Our family noticed that the reef and fish and Cabo Pulmo were not doing well,” said Judith Castro, the daughter of a fisherman and a longtime resident.

The Castro family has lived in Cabo Pulmo for generations. But by the early 1990s the fish were disappearing and, due to climate change, there were fears that the global wave of coral bleaching would forever damage the reef.

Breaching Mobula ray Schools of giant bat rays...

Breaching Mobula ray

I first visited Cabo Pulmo in 1996 as the founding director of The Nature Conservancy’s Sea of Cortez Program. Back then I attempted to develop a conservation program to manage the newly established national park at Cabo Pulmo.

But due to political conflicts, conservation efforts at Cabo Pulmo initially failed. Marine biologists who had studied Cabo Pulmo and had advocated for the development of the marine reserve were desperate.

It took a few years, but by 1999 conservationists, marine biologists, fishermen and the Mexican government came together to support a no-take reserve at Cabo Pulmo. Local fishermen, including the Castro family who had fished the waters of the region for decades, agreed to give up fishing inside the reserve.

“Our family had to learn to dive,” Judith said. Her family now runs a dive operation.

Ten years later Aburto and his Scripps team confirmed what marine biologists had only dreamed about, but that local fishermen and divers already knew was happening: The fish have returned to Cabo Pulmo. The reef is teeming with life.

“Fish biomass increased 460 percent over a decade, but even more critically the predator population increased over 1000 percent,” Aburto said.  “And abundant predators are key to healthy marine ecosystems.”

“No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery,” he said. “There are so many fish that species like tuna are coming from outside the reserve to feed around the reef.”

Last year I went diving more than a mile from the Cabo Pulmo shore and was amazed by the schools of huge fish that hugged the reef. In my more than 25 years working in the Baja California peninsula, I had never encountered so many large fish.

Even sharks, whose slaughter and decline has alarmed marine biologists and conservationists, have returned to Cabo Pulmo.

“You can stand on the rocks at the end of Bahia de los Frailes at the western end of the reserve and see schools of sharks swimming around,” said Sofia Gomez, my WiLDCOAST colleague who is coordinating our Cabo Pulmo conservation program.

With additional recent good news from California’s Central Coast about the increase in marine species in marine protected areas, there is reason to be hopeful that we can reserve the decline of the ocean and the species within it.

Marine explorer and conservationist Sylvia Earle has called Cabo Pulmo a “Hope Spot” because of its importance in demonstrating that we can restore our oceans.

I am just glad that there is at least one place left where the ocean is as it is supposed to be—filled with fish and undisturbed by man.

Top Five Ocean and Surfing Stories of 2012

 

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From Hurricane Sandy to the return of big-wave paddle surfing to the crowning of Parko as ASP World Surfing Champion, 2012 was a pivotal year for the ocean and for surfing.

1. Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change. This “Frankenstorm” slammed the Eastern Seaboard like a bomb, leaving a path of destruction and loss of life in its wake. Sandy’s storm surge radically changed the coastline, destroyed entire communities, and reminded us how vulnerable beaches and coastal cities are to sea level rise. Due to Sandy, 2012 was the year that will be remembered when policy makers, politicians and the public finally took climate change seriously. It remains to be seen if President Obama will have the political courage and conviction to address the very real threat of climate change that is altering our planet.

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2. The Return of Big Wave Paddle Surfing. With two days of epic conditions at the Cortes Banks just before Christmas, the world’s best big-wave surfers including Greg and Rusty Long, Mark Healy, Shane Dorian, Peter Mel, Twiggy Baker, Jamie Mitchell and Derek Dunfee, paddled into blue monsters and forever changed big-wave surfing. Those sessions followed another early season paddle session at Jaws on Maui in which veteran surfer Shane Dorian (among many) displayed his mastery of the sea. After the Coast Guard airlifted veteran big-wave charger Greg Long to a San Diego hospital after a multi-wave hold down at the Cortes Bank, we were also reminded about the very real limits to riding giant waves in the middle of the ocean.

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3. New Marine Protected Areas for Southern California. With the establishment of new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs, our most iconic coastal and marine ecosystems in Southern California–including Swami’s, La Jolla, Point Loma, Tijuana River Mouth, Laguna Beach, Catalina Island and Point Dum–are now protected forever. The establishment of MPAs in California is a globally important conservation initiative that will help to foment the restoration of our marine ecosystems and fish and shellfish stocks as well as provide recreational opportunities for our growing population. California now has 848 square miles of protected area, supporting ecosystems from Oregon to the Mexican border.

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4. Parko Wins the ASP World Title and the Changing of the Guard. After four years as ASP runner-up, Joel “Parko” Parkinson was finally crowned ASP World Surfing Champion after a brilliant performance and victory at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Parko, one of the most stylish and popular professional surfers, narrowly edged out Kelly Slater for the ASP title. It remains to be seen if Slater will return for the 2013 ASP Tour (most likely he will). But 2012 was a seminal year for professional surfing. With great performances by Josh Kerr, Kolohe Andino, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Ace Buchan, John John Florence, Yadin Nicol, Mick Fanning, and Dane (will he return full-time to pro surfing?) among others, the ranks of pro surfing is thankfully undergoing a much needed changing of the guard.

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5. James Cameron Explores the Marianas Trench. Earlier this year Oscar winning filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron proved his technical skill, oceanographic prowess and courage by taking his “vertical torpedo”, the Deepsea Challenger, down to a record depth of 6.8 miles or 35,803 feet in the Marianas Trench southwest of Guam. Ironically, we  seem to know more about deep space than we do about our own oceans, but thanks to Cameron and a new generation of ocean explorers and oceanographers, we are on the cusp of uncovering some of the mysteries of the origins of life.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Other worthy events include Hurricane Isaac, the loosening of federal restrictions on the movements of sea otters in California, the warming of Antarctica, the SANDAG sand replenishment project, the ending of La Niña, the expansion of federal marine sanctuaries in Northern California and the increasing acidification of the ocean.

Of course the most important ocean and surfing events in 2012 were those special days when we enjoyed the beaches and waves with our friends and family that belong to us all and are our responsibility to care for.

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.

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

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.

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