HOW WILDCOAST WORKS WITH COMMUNITIES

Carrying out conservation programs is challenging at all levels. It requires partnerships and collaboration with government agencies and officials, the private sector and the people in communities who are in and around the ecosystems, wildlife and protected areas that WILDCOAST strives to conserve. 

Scallop divers, Magdalena Baj, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva

Probably the most important part of the conservation coalitions that advocate for the protection of coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife are the diverse community members and organizations in coastal communities. 

Working them is essential and rewarding to protecting our coast and ocean. But it is not an end inself. That is because WILDCOAST is not a community development organization. Our mission is to carry out coastal and marine conservation and address climate change through natural solutions. 

We work with communities and local organizations because it is the right thing to do and it is the most effective way to advance conservation. There is no nature protection without community engagement, because people are part of nature everywhere WILDCOAST works. 

Here are some ways that WILDCOAST is working at a community level for nature protection and especially addressing climate change. 

Stewardship

One of the most important elements of conservation for WILDCOAST is the actual on site protection and management or stewardship of the protected areas we work in. To be effective, stewardship requires active local volunteers and organizations to help defend ecosystems and protected areas. 

In La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, Las Guardianas del Conchalito is a group of women who work with WILDCOAST, as well as Mexico’s Protected Area Commission (CONANP), to manage a mangrove reserve called  ”El Conchalito.” 

According to WILDCOAST’s Mangrove Conservation Manager Celeste Ortega, “These local conservationists have helped to install reserve information signs for visitors; painted murals with local artists and carried out really extensive cleanup campaigns.” 

More recently the Guardianas worked with law enforcement authorities to stop the destruction of mangroves by a poacher. The women of Conchalito illustrate the power of local stewardship to protect carbon sequestering mangroves, which combat the effects of climate change and help safeguard their community. 

Education

Working with local communities and especially students on education campaigns is critical in the defense of threatened ecosystems and wildlife. In the case of marine protected areas in California, WILDCOAST, carried out extensive in-field and classroom education programs about marine protected areas to reach the community at large as well as thousands of students. During the pandemic this helped to reduce the people illegally harvesting sea life from fragile tide pools in and around marine protected areas in California. 

One of the ways that WILDCOAST has gone deeper into the education side of things is to recognize the need for additional leadership to help advocate for our coastal areas. That is why we developed the Coastal Leaders Internship program.

 “I am thrilled for the opportunity to continue to work with our local Indigenous students and communities as well as to work for an organization that acknowledges Indigenous land and stewardship practices,” said WILDCOAST’s Jules Jackson. “The Coastal Leaders Internship is an innovative leadership program that provides a teaching platform for both Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and modern-day environmental conservation, thus enabling students the unique platform to develop their scientific understanding in a way which aligns with their culture and values while providing a pathway for future employment. 

Likewise, wildlife protection is impossible to carry out in rural and remote areas like southern Oaxaca without the involvement and education of local residents, especially in the indigenous coastal communities that help to protect nesting sea turtles. 

“The Oaxacan coast is home to two of the most important beaches in the world for olive ridley nesting,” says Luis Angel Rojas Cruz of WILDCOAST. “We have  educated more than 1,000 children and young people from coastal communities of Chontal and Zapotec origin on the issue of sea turtle conservation including developing outreach material in their native languages. 

As a result, we have noticed that community participation in the conservation of sea turtles has generated a change of consciousness in part of its inhabitants, especially in children and young people.” 

Restoration and Research Partnership for Natural Climate Solutions 

Carrying out natural climate solutions programs to restore coastal wetlands in California and mangrove lagoons in Mexico, requires extensive partnerships and participation through local conservation groups, students as well as academic partnerships with research institutions such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Queensland in Australia. 

To carry out a mangrove restoration project in Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico, “WILDCOAST partnered with local residents, especially youth and women’s groups in this remote UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected area,” said Francisco Martinez of WILDCOAST. “The mangrove project provides employment and training opportunities for local residents and helps create a natural defense system against coastal flooding in a region that is routinely hit by hurricanes.”

In California, WILDCOAST, is partnering with local conservation organizations such as the Batiquitos Lagoon Conservancy to restore wetland and riparian habitat in a state marine protected area, and involve local youth in restoration efforts as well. That way there is local buy-in for the project and local investment in supporting its success.

Volunteers at the Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad, CA help plant 100 trees as part of a commitment with San Diego Gas and Electric to plant 10,000 trees in 2021.

Right: Youth groups help remove scattered and submerged trash during an annual Batiquitos Lagoon Cleanup. Left: Students help clear invasives + Arundo plant, making room for local plants to thrive and enhancing the lagoon’s overall ecosystem function. Together, we are helping strengthen the lagoon’s ecosystem services such as recreation, carbon storage, and critical wildlife habitat. 

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To be successful in conservation, local ecosystems and wildlife need all the friends they can get. And that means that for every conservation action taken, a robust coalition of community members and organizations is involved every step of the way. That is because conservation must be a team effort all the way. That is why WILDCOAST will continue its deep partnerships and collaborative work with local communities and vibrant organizations in order to give our coast and ocean as well as our planet a helping hand.

Baja’s San Miguel Surf Break Protected as a State Park

On September 19, Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla signed into law the establishment of the 169-acre Arroyo San Miguel State Park, just north of Ensenada. The new park, the first state park in the history of Baja California, includes the beach at the famed San Miguel river mouth, a cobblestone point, as well as the riparian watershed of the same name. 

“The San Miguel break, which was the first place where surfing began in Mexico, is an iconic site for the surfing community, so we celebrate this decree,” said Eduardo Echegaray, president of the Baja California Surfing Association.

Daniel Dedina enjoys an early winter session at San Miguel. Photo: WILDCOAST

The new state park helps to strengthen the Bahia de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve that includes San Miguel, Todos Santos Island, and Salsipuedes among other surf breaks. The reserve proposal was supported by a coalition of organizations including Pronatura-Noroeste, Save the Waves, Northwest Environmental Law Center (DAN), Pro Esteros, Island Conservation Group (GECI)and WILDCOAST.  

That’s me surfing San Miguel during the annual contest there each January. It is a special place that the designation of the state park can help to safeguard.

“With this decree, Governor Bonilla has left a legacy for the people of Baja California, and in particular Ensenada,” said Gustavo Danemann, executive director of Pronatura Noroeste. “The Arroyo San Miguel State Park is the first natural protected area to be established under state jurisdiction, and with this, it sets a precedent on the vision we have in Baja California for the protection and public and sustainable use of our landscapes and natural areas.”

Similar to the San Mateo Creek watershed within San Onofre State Beach, Arroyo San Miguel State Park is a classic riparian oak watershed – a vibrant coastal and terrestrial ecosystem as well as a fabled surf spot.

“Arroyo San Miguel State Park is dominated by riparian habitats with oaks, willows and reeds as well as species of native vegetation, especially increasingly threatened coastal sage scrub,” said WILDCOAST Mexico director Mónica Franco. “It is also home to resident and migratory birds such as quail and peregrine falcons.”

Map of new Arroyo San Miguel State Park

The most important element for surfers is that it restricts development along the shoreline and along the western end of the watershed and is a big victory for the environmental and surfing community of Baja California. 

“The designation of the Arroyo San Miguel State Park is a truly community initiative,” said Danemann. “The Baja California government demonstrated fundamental support and commitment to make this possible. We are confident that the new state administration will also support the conservation of the Arroyo San Miguel State Park, and we reaffirm our commitment to continue collaborating in this project.”

Community cleanup prior to a surf contest at Arroyo San Miguel State Park, Baja California, Mexico. The Ensenada surf and environmental community have been very involved in the development of the state park and the protection of the surf break, wetland, and watershed. Photo: WILDCOAST

Originally published in The Inertia.

Why Saving Trestles Still Matters

I still remember the first time I walked down the trail to Upper Trestles, on the western edge of San Onofre State Beach in Southern California, to compete in a NSSA high school contest. While the memories of the waves I caught that day 42 years ago in 1979 as a 15-year old have faded, I still vividly recall the green canopy of San Mateo Creek and our first glimpse of the dunes and breaking waves beyond the train tracks. It was magical.

The over 2,000 acres of San Onofre State Beach as well as the watershed of San Mateo Creek provides habitat for 11 endangered species. Photo: Jeremiah Klein

I’m not the only surfer who feels that way. Greg Long, who grew up riding the cobblestone A-frames of Trestles prior to embarking on his career as a professional big wave surfer, calls San Onofre State Beach a “real treasure.”

“San Mateo Creek is one of but a few remaining unadulterated and channelized watersheds in Southern California,” says Long. “When I walk down to the beach it’s like entering a time capsule, home to multiple endangered species and the cultural history of the Acjachemen people, offering a glimpse into what coastal Southern California may have been like once upon a time before all the development.”

Trestles is on the village site known as Panhe, which is known to archeologists to be at least 9,600 years old. Photo: Danny Hardesty

Greg’s sentiment is echoed by Dan Silver, CEO of the Endangered Habitats League who has worked tirelessly to protect the park and the San Mateo Creek watershed. “San Onofre State Beach and Trestles remain important for a rare confluence of values – cultural, biological, and recreational,” says Silver. “It is rich in Native American history. An estuary, stream, and uplands shelter an astonishing 11 endangered species.”

But, before it was ever a state park or a world famous surf spot, San Mateo Creek, was an Acjachemen village known as Pahne, or “place at the water.” According to Callie Shanafelt Wong, “Today the Acjachemen consider what is left of Panhe to be their most sacred site. Pre-contact, the village spanned the entire valley now occupied by the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, San Onofre State Beach and much of the town of San Clemente. To this day the tribe conducts ceremony and an Ancestor Walk on a small designated area within San Mateo campground, which is also a burial site.” To learn more about the cultural significance of Panhe and San Onofre State Beach through the lens of the Acjachemen, see The Indigenous Coastal Stewards Who Helped Save Trestles.

Greg Long at the California Coastal Commission Hearing on the proposed TCA Toll Road at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, February 7, 2008 with groms from Imperial Beach. With thousands in attendance, it was the largest public gathering at a Coastal Commission meeting in California history.

For the Acjachemen Nation and the more than 2.5 million annual visitors who enjoy the beaches, waves, trails, and campgrounds of San Onofre State Beach, making it one of the top five visited state parks in California, clearly, this iconic landscape is irreplaceable.

It is amazing to think that even with all the love for San Onofre State Beach, and especially Trestles, by the public and especially surfers, that the Transportation Corridor Agency or TCA had the audacity to propose building a toll road through the middle of the park. But that is exactly what happened. Starting in 2005, thousands of surfers came out to protest the TCA’s proposed highway project that would have torn apart one of California’s most beloved state parks.

Video of Lower Trestles by Danny Hardesty 

“‘Save Trestles’ became a rallying cry for surfers and environmentalists in Southern California,” says WILDCOAST Associate Director Zach Plopper. “It was really inspiring.”

A foundational element in the campaign, was, according to Shanaeflt Wong, the development of the “United Coalition to Protect Panhe (UPCC) to assert the importance of the area to the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians/Acjachemen Nation.” The UPCC involvement played a major role in the California Coastal Commission’s decision to deny the TCA a permit for the highway project.

At a February 7, 2008 Commission hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on the toll road project, Rebecca Robles, an Ajcachemem tribal member from San Clemente told the Coastal Commission, “I encourage you, I implore you to uphold the California Coastal Act. Panhe is one of the remaining sites where we can enjoy our spiritual individuality. I ask you to protect this sacred site.”

The fact that the first-ever winner-take-all Rip Curl WSL Finals is being held at Lower Trestles, highlights the importance of what the World Surf League calls one of the most high performance waves in the world. – Photo: Jeremiah Klein

As a conservationist who has been involved in multiple environmental campaigns in the U.S. and internationally, I was continually blown away by the ingenuity, creativity, diversity, and energy of one of the most groundbreaking and comprehensive movements to protect the coast in California history.

“The decades-long Save Trestle campaign has provided a treasure trove of lessons on how to save our beloved coastal places for everyone and forever,” says Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation.

“First lesson, perseverance pays off. We refused to give up for decades and we won. Second, people power matters. We were outspent one hundred to one, but we had thousands of people on our side who showed up when it mattered and that worked. Third, it takes a village. We had a strong, well-led coalition where everyone could focus on their strengths, whether that was grassroots organizing of surfers or political and legal strategy. We needed it all to win,” adds Nelsen.

The campaign, that included a lawsuit by the California Native Heritage Commission on behalf of the Acjachemen and another one by the Save San Onofre Coalition (disclosure- WILDCOAST, the organization I am the Executive Director of is a member of the coalition), ultimately culminated last year in the signing by California Governor Gavin Newsom of Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath’s Assembly Bill 1426.

Surfers, indigenous peoples, youth, businesses, and ocean lovers in Southern California teamed up to save Trestles and protect San Onofre State Beach from the building of road projects through the middle of the park. Photo: Jeremiah Klein

“AB 1426 permanently protects San Onofre State Beach,” explains Boerner Horvath, “which is home to the last remaining undeveloped watershed in Southern California – the San Mateo Creek – from road projects that would have cut through the creek bed, ruined the popular campground, and disturbed habitats of rare and endangered species. As a third-generation North San Diego County resident, I’m proud to say we saved Trestles for the generations to come and will continue to protect this coastal gem.”

Currently, efforts are underway to renew the San Onofre State Beach lease which is crucial for its long-term conservation and management. The park was created back in 1971 through an agreement between Governor Ronald Reagan and President Richard Nixon that established a 50-year lease with the U.S. Navy. That lease is up this year.

“After six years of working with Steve Long and the San Onofre Parks Foundation on the San Onofre State Beach lease renewal, on August 31, 2021 a three-year extension to the 50-year lease that was set to expire at midnight that same day was signed by the Navy and California State Parks,” says longtime Trestles surfer and San Onofre Parks Foundation Founding President Bob Mignogna. “The San Onofre Parks Foundation is committed to working with the Navy and the State of California on an affordable 50-year lease renewal, so that the pristine surf breaks in the park, including Lower Trestles, will continue to be open to the public for generations to come. The three-year extension gives all parties the opportunity to prepare that contract thoughtfully.”

As a uniquely intact coastal ecosystem, Trestles is a constant reminder of why protecting and conserving our coast and ocean is so imperative to our sport. Photo: Jeremiah Klein

“If we learned anything from COVID, it’s that we love to recreate outdoors,” says Nelsen. “Our surf spots and coastal state parks in California are recreational gems that are more popular today than ever. We must protect these amazing resources for today, tomorrow and future generations.”

As a reminder, WILDCOAST, the World Surf League, and a coalition of over 90 NGOs and businesses are calling on world leaders to adopt a target at the 2021 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the global ocean, including international waters, by 2030. We urge world leaders to be driven by science, and led by an inclusive process that embraces all stakeholder communities and considers the ocean’s value to the peoples of every nation.

For more details and to sign and share the petition, visit weareoneocean.org

A version of this article was originally posted on World Surf League.

Five Reasons Why Protecting Coastal Oaxaca Matters

Diane Castaneda with a leatherback sea turtle in Oaxaca. Photo: WILDCOAST

(Originally published in The Inertia) With the endless barrage of swell raining down on Oaxaca this time of year, the eyes of surfers around the world are always fixated on the elevator drops and deep barrels at Puerto Escondido. But right now with the World Surf League’s Corona Open Mexico running, the tranquil village of Barra de la Cruz has both the world’s best surfers visiting and a global gaze on the surreal sand bottom tropical cylinders of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is more than just a destination for waves, though. It also contains globally important coastal ecosystems, a myriad of unique wildlife species, and vibrant indigenous communities. The undeveloped state of this wave-rich zone (with the exception of Puerto Escondido) and its unaltered watersheds and coastline contribute to the exceptional quality and diversity of point waves. That, in turn, fuels the rare ecological conditions that result in wildlife and rich ecosystems seen in few other locations in coastal Mexico.

Coastal Oaxaca is influenced by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec whose Tejuano winds and other biogeographic features have produced rare coastal dunes next to patches of tropical forest as well as upwelling in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, which in turn results in an amazing abundance and diversity of ocean life. It is these contrasts that make its protection vital, not just for surfing, but for the health of the oceans worldwide.

This also includes the continued well-being of Oaxaca’s residents, especially indigenous communities that depend on natural resources, many of whom still deeply feel the stinging loss of their villages from the development of the coastal resort city of Huatulco.

With all that in mind, here are five resources we must continue to protect to preserve the miraculous and stunning coastal resources of one of North America’s most unique regions:

The coastline of Oaxaca includes some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches, vibrant coral reefs, pristine beaches, carbon storing mangroves, tropical forests and abundant wildlife. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

1. Connected and Undeveloped Coastlines and Watersheds

The coast of Oaxaca offers up what is increasingly rare in a tropical Pacific Mexico that has been hammered by urbanization, coastal tourism development, pollution, and deforestation (especially in the states of Michoacan and Guerrero): undeveloped coastal ecosystems connecting mangrove wetlands to watersheds and tropical forests.

Looking southeastward from Barra de la Cruz, endless green mountain vistas of the Sierra Madre del Sur fill the view and culminate in the 12,200-foot Cerro Nube at its southerly edge. Just down the beach from Huatulco is the mouth of the Copalita River that offers up whitewater rafting and hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical forests, home to some of Mexico’s most important watersheds, now referred to as “water reserves.”

While Huatulco is obviously a tourist resort, its development included the formation of the 29,400-acre Huatulco National Park and the preservation of local coral reefs and coastal wetlands and forests. That forward-thinking conservation is unique among Mexico’s heavily developed coastal resort cities.

The coral reefs of nearby Huatulco National Park are among the most well preserved in southern Mexico. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

2. Coral Reefs

Coral bleaching is a threat to coral reefs worldwide. But somehow the corals of Mexico’s Pacific have not seen the type of damage faced by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The coral ecosystems of Huatulco National Park are the southernmost in Pacific Mexico and home to a wide variety of wildlife species. Unfortunately, they have been impacted by overuse from tourists. Currently, the organization WILDCOAST is working with Mexico’s National Protected Area Commission to train outfitters in best management practices and place mooring buoys around the most fragile reefs to prevent damage from anchor drops.

During the nesting season, 100,000 olive ridley sea turtles can arrive at Playa Morro Ayuta in Oaxaca to lay their eggs in a single day. Photo: WILDCOAST.

3. Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches

Starting in the summer months, especially Escobilla and Morro Ayuta, tens of thousands of olive ridley sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs on Oaxaca’s beaches. In Barra de la Cruz, the protected beach and RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance play host to the most important remaining population of nesting leatherback sea turtles in Mexico. These marine reptile leviathans that face extinction due to threats caused by industrial and commercial fishing, only leave the ocean to lay their eggs (and only the females).

The sea turtle activity in Oaxaca is remarkable given that the now hipster tourist village of Mazunte down the coast from Puerto Escondido was once the site of Mexico’s notorious legal sea turtle slaughterhouse. Sea turtles have come back thanks to government protection, the cooperation of local communities who benefit from sea turtle conservation, and the preservation programs of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center at Mazunte.

The watersheds and tropical forests in the mountains above Barra de la Cruz and Huatulco, Oaxaca help to store water and atmospheric carbon and are critical in the fight against climate change.  Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva.

4. Blue and Green Carbon Ecosystems

The mangrove wetland and tropical forest ecosystems found widely in Oaxaca help to store vast amounts of carbon to mitigate climate change.

“By preserving natural ecosystems, the carbon they have already sequestered remains stored in the ground. When these blue and green carbon ecosystems are destroyed, they end up releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis,” affirms WILDCOAST Associate Director Zach Plopper. “So we need to not only protect every inch of Oaxaca’s treasured natural ecosystems for the sake of the people and wildlife that thrive there but for the sake of preserving our planet.”

These ecosystems are also home to humpback whales off the coast, along with jaguarundi, jaguars, anteaters, resident and migratory birds, deer, iguanas, and rare and other threatened marine species.

The sand-bottom breaks and raw beauty of Oaxaca make this area an unparalleled site for surfing. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob.

5. Globally Unique Surf Spots

There is increasing recognition of the need to safeguard globally unique surfing sites as protected areas and World Surfing Reserves. The sand-bottom breaks of Oaxaca, which include Punta Conejo, now threatened by the proposed expansion of the port in Salina Cruz, are more than worthy of permanent protection. They are rare and treasured ecological features, coastal and marine ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and recreational, cultural, and economic resources that help to drive an important part of the local economy in Oaxaca.

Without more formal conservation protections, Oaxaca will fall prey to the same forces that have ravaged coastlines and natural ecosystems around the world. There is still time to make sure that this magical coastline retains its extraordinary resources and raw beauty so local communities and surfers continue to benefit from and enjoy Oaxaca’s natural wonders.

A set at Barra.

Coastal Conservation in Barra de la Cruz, Oaxaca

(Originally published by the World Surf League) From the lineup at Barra de la Cruz, located in Oaxaca, Mexico, the next stop on the World Surf League’s professional surf tour (August 10-20), you would be forgiven for thinking you are in Hawaii. After the rainy season starts, the mountains shimmer endlessly under the green wave of tropical forest.

Barra de la Cruz. Photo: Miguel Angel de la Cueva

The pristine beaches that extend for miles southeastward from the point at “Barra,” like much of this part of Oaxaca’s coastline, include some of the world’s most important nesting sites for sea turtles, including the globally endangered leatherback, ancient behemoths that only come ashore to lay their eggs and travels thousands of miles of ocean to arrive there.

Barra is the most important leatherback nesting beach in Mexico, a species that faces extinction due to industrial and commercial fishing gear entanglements, poaching, coastal development, and other threats.WILDCOAST GranteeDuring the nesting season, 100,000 olive ridley sea turtles can arrive at Playa Morro Ayuta in Oaxaca to lay their eggs in a single day. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

“There are few places in the world that are home to such unique wildlife and pristine coastline as Oaxaca. Barra de la Cruz is no exception,” explains Luis Angel Rojas Cruz, WILDCOAST’s Oaxaca Program Manager. WILDCOAST is working with communities and Mexico’s National Protected Area Commission along this coastline to protect its nesting beaches, mangroves, and coral reefs.

“It is really extraordinary to witness the miracle of Oaxaca’s protected and gorgeous coastline,” adds Rojas Cruz. “The fact that this globally important coastal zone is still relatively pristine is due to the conservation focus and commitment of the coastal indigenous communities of Oaxaca. The indigenous residents of Barra de la Cruz deserve global recognition for their heroic and successful initiatives to protect the world-class wildlife and ecosystems within their community.”WILDCOAST GranteeBirds of a feather taking advantage of their natural feeding grounds. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

Over the past 15 years Barra de la Cruz has become a model for how communities can proactively protect natural resources they depend on for their livelihoods. “The combination of the importance of our beaches for surfing, leatherback sea turtles, and as a hot spot for migratory and resident birds is what makes Barra so special,” says Pablo Narvaez, a Barra resident, eco-guide, and environmental activist.

“In the case of Barra,” according to Zach Plopper, Associate Director of WILDCOAST, “we have a great example of a proactive community that recognizes the importance of protecting their most important and vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife as well as a world-class wave.”https://www.worldsurfleague.com/socialembed?embedId=HNt2D6g_yFI&embedType=youtube

“By not developing the coastal zone and using surfing to provide collective economic benefits for the locals, the community of Barra has set a sustainable example of effective ecosystem conservation,” continues Plopper.

In Barra de la Cruz the community decided to prohibit coastal development, with the exception of a collectively managed restaurant.

“What also makes Barra so unique is that we can promote ecotourism activities that benefit local residents, without ruining the natural resources that make Barra de la Cruz such a world-class surf spot and wildlife habitat,” adds Narvaez.WILD COASTThe coral reefs of nearby Huatulco National Park are among the most well preserved in southern Mexico. – CLAUDIO CONTRERAS KOOB

“What now also makes conservation efforts like these so globally important is that the tropical forest and wetland and mangrove ecosystems that are being conserved along the Oaxacan coast, and especially in Barra de la Cruz, sequester carbon and helps in the fight against climate change,” echoes Rojas Cruz.

Down the coast in Playa Morro Ayuta, a globally important olive ridley sea turtle nesting beach and world-class surf spot, indigenous Chontal community leaders have also committed to protecting their 16-kilometer-long coastline, as well as safeguarding nesting sea turtles and the hatchlings that emerge by the millions. In contrast, further south in Punta Conejo, a major development proposal by the government has once again threatened a surf spot and an important coastal ecosystem.The watersheds and tropical forests in the mountains above Barra de la Cruz and Huatulco, Oaxaca help to store water and atmospheric carbon and are critical in the fight against climate change.  Photo: MIguel Angel de la CuevaThe watersheds and tropical forests in the mountains above Barra de la Cruz and Huatulco, Oaxaca help to store water and atmospheric carbon and are critical in the fight against climate change. – MIGUEL ANGEL DE LA CUEVA

Places like Barra, that are trying to protect their resources including waves, and benefit the local economy, “just need some help with a sustainability model that can benefit everyone in the community and continue to respect the natural environment. That’s really our challenge,” says Narvaez.

In the case of Oaxaca and Barra de la Cruz, these extraordinarily successful locally driven coastal conservation initiatives provide a hopeful template for how we can protect world-class waves and wildlife while saving the planet.

How the ‘Save Trestles’ Campaign Advanced Coastal Protection Efforts Everywhere

(Originally published in The Inertia) On September 14, the eyes of the surfing world were focused on Lower Trestles and the 2021 Rip Curl WSL Finals. WSL commentator Peter Mel dropped a nugget of wisdom when he described the overhead waves and incredible conditions as a “beautiful swell that traveled thousands of miles and focused on (the) cobblestone reef.”

The waves that produced a riveting day of professional surfing at Lowers were a product of distant storms meeting coastal ecosystems protected by the 2,000-acre San Onofre State Beach, which includes surf breaks from Trails in the south to Cottons on the north. 

There is no more intensely surfed zone in all of Southern California, which is why San Onofre State Beach is one of the most popular state parks in the Golden State. ADVERTISEMENThttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.480.1_en.html#goog_386882260 

In her UC San Diego dissertation, Briana Marie Iatarola described the area as, “Two cobble deltas, as well as substrate and sediment transport (that), play critical roles in the formation of Trestles’ reef and waves. The large cobbles produce two fan-shaped deltas on the seafloor. The first, which is fed by the Cristianitos and San Mateo Creeks. The other is located south of Lowers at Church and sustained by the San Onofre Creek. The creeks’ circulation and transport of sediment coupled with cobble substrate help produce Trestles’ sandbars, which affect the shape of waves.” 

Likewise, the ecological importance of San Onofre State Beach cannot be overlooked. “The San Mateo Creek watershed is a remarkable microcosm of vanishing Southern California biodiversity,” says Dan Silver of the Endangered Habitats League. 

“Its estuary, wetlands, creeks, and uplands shelter an astonishing 11 federally listed endangered species. It is the only coastal watershed south of Ventura which is un-dammed. This natural hydrology is essential for many plants and animals that depend on periodic flooding and dry spells. At San Onofre State Beach, visitors can access this unique, pristine, and nearby wilderness, and experience what our world used to be like.”

Greg Long with groms from Imperial Beach during the February 2008 Coastal Commission hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The affection for Trestles and the fabled waves, trails, and campgrounds of San Onofre by surfers and the general public alike are why a proposal to build a highway through the middle of San Onofre State Beach was met by such incredulity and outrage. The political power of the Transportation Corridor Agency to push its “highway from hell” by lobbying agencies, cities, and top government officials in Southern California, Sacramento, and Washington D.C. meant that coastal protectors had to up their game to protect a globally recognized surf spot, a popular state park, and what big wave surfer Greg Long calls “an ecological treasure.”

Given the TCA’s strong political connections that almost allowed the toll road agency to plow a highway through a San Onofre State Beach, a coalition of environmentalists, surfers, and indigenous peoples joined together to “Save Trestles.” In the process, they advanced how surfers and coastal defenders go about protecting our shorelines and surf spots. ADVERTISEMENT

Just as the everyday cutting-edge and innovative surfing at Lowers is advancing the technical side of the sport, the innovative and cutting-edge tools and techniques used in the effort to stop the TCA Toll Road furthered the coastal environmental movement.  Here are a few ways in which the Save Trestles campaign and movement helped to transform efforts to forever protect surf spots and the coastal ecosystems that house them. 

Protected Areas Need Protection

When I first heard of the TCA’s proposal to build a large highway project that was slated to plow through the existing San Mateo Campground in the San Mateo Creek Watershed just upstream of Upper Trestles, I was outraged.

 “How can anyone build a highway within a state park,” I remember asking during the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation-organized lobbying trip to Sacramento in 2005. “Isn’t the park already supposed to be protected?”

Ben McCue at the 2008 Coastal Commission Hearing on the proposed TCA toll road at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Photo: WILDCOAST

It turns out there were no laws on the books in California that stopped anyone from proposing to build road projects within California’s state parks. 

Getting state legislators to take action and pass a law that prohibited the construction of the TCA toll road project within San Onofre State Beach would take another 15 years. That is when North San Diego County Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath sponsored Assembly Bill 1426 that specifically prohibits road projects from being built within San Onofre State Beach.  California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law last year. 

“One of the key lessons from the Save Trestles movement and Save San Onofre Coalition,” says WILDCOAST Associate Director Zach Plopper, “is that we need to embed every park or protected area with multiple layers of legal safeguards, stewardship, and enforcement programs — so it can’t be ruined by a development project, poaching and pollution and is actually protected.” 

No surf spot is 100 percent protected forever. We can’t become complacent. We need to continually evolve our tools and strategies to conserve our waves and breaks.  ADVERTISEMENT

Surfonomics is Smart Stuff 

Long-held stereotypes about cheap surfers by municipal and tourism authorities pretty much everywhere have hurt our ability to use economic arguments to advance surf protection initiatives. That is until Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen and other surf economists developed the field of surfonomics to evaluate the economic impact surf spots have on local economies.

“For decades surfers have been ignored as an important part of the coastal tourism economy, but it turns out they are actually significant contributors to local businesses in surf towns,” Nelsen says. 

“Surfers are avid – many surf over 100 days a year – and they travel to adjacent towns for waves, year round and at all times of day, and spend money in local communities when they visit,” he says. “In many ways, they are perfect visitors. Surfonomics measured this at Trestles and found that surfers spend between $8-13 million dollars a year in San Clemente when visiting Trestles. When making the argument that the toll road should be denied, the Coastal Commission staff referenced my research to demonstrate the importance of the recreational resources found at Trestles and San Onofre State Beach.”

Since then, the global appreciation of the economic power of surfing has really advanced efforts to identify the value of saving our natural wave-riding venues. And forums like the Global Wave Conference have done a lot to promote the global movement to use a variety of tools including economics to protect surf spots around the world. 

Cultural Resources and Indigenous Peoples Count

Until recently, very little attention was paid to the value of Southern California’s indigenous peoples, who were unjustly forced into inland settlements and reservations away from their ancestral and coastal homelands and villages. 

This was especially the case for Panhe, a close to 10,000-year old Acjachemen village that was located within San Mateo Creek throughout what is now San Onofre State Beach. Acjachemen leaders such as Rebecca Robles made a convincing case to California Coastal Commissioners back in 2008 that the cultural and religious significance of Panhe, or San Mateo Creek, merited permanent protection. ADVERTISEMENT

The advocacy of the Acjachemen over the potential destruction of Panhe played a key role in helping convince state agencies, such as the California Coastal Commission, to deny a Coastal Permit to the TCA for its toll road project. 

Since then, organizations like the Sacred Land Institute, Native Like Water, as well as the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association among many others, have done an outstanding job of communicating the value of cultural landscapes for conservation and the importance of connecting Native American communities, especially youth, to their ancestral lands and waters in Southern California. But there is much more to do to recognize the value of cultural coastal landscapes that are key ecosystems as well as important areas for indigenous peoples worldwide. 

The Save Trestles movement and the ongoing Save San Onofre Coalition brought people from all walks of life together to preserve surf spots, watersheds, campgrounds, and a beloved state park. It illustrates that preserving our coast is a team effort. Saving waves requires constant vigilance and the combined energy of surfers and coastal conservationists, indigenous peoples, as well as the beach-going public. If we are to continue to fight for the places we love and give us meaning and joy, we need to broaden our coalition to protect the coast so we can preserve our surf spots, protected areas, cultural landscapes, and natural ecosystems for generations to come. 

San Mateo Creek in San Onofre State Beach. Photo: Danny Hardesty

Will Politics Jeopardize Access to the California Coastline

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This op-ed originally ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Feb. 4, 2016.

Each Thanksgiving week, my family and I load up our car with surfboards and drive north along the Pacific Coast Highway to spend the holiday with my brother and his family in San Francisco.

396673_309927975787691_1312602472_nHeading up that coastal road past emerald coves, perfect waves, elephant seals and sea otters is absolute nirvana.

Our annual family adventure reinvigorates my love and appreciation for what author David Helvarg calls our “Golden Shore,” where “wilderness cliffs and sea cliffs contrast starkly against the dazzling bright silver sea.”

485030_309927669121055_1576734659_nGrowing up in Los Angeles during the 1960s, and Imperial Beach during the 1970s, the son of European immigrants who escaped the horrors of World War II, my family reveled in the freedom of the wide-open and friendly beaches of California.

We took our first camping trips at Carlsbad State Beach, Mission Bay and among the redwoods and wild beaches of Big Sur.

Later, as a college student, I worked as an ocean lifeguard and witnessed firsthand how the 1,100 miles of open, accessible shoreline in California is our great melting pot where we come together as families and friends and share in the moments that create lifelong memories.

Thankfully in 1972, Californians had the foresight to ensure the fundamental right of everyone to access to the coast when they approved the California Coastal Conservation Initiative and the creation of the coastal commission. No other government body in the world plays as important a role in ensuring that every citizen, not just wealthy oceanfront property owners, has access to the beach.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

Today, the Coastal Commission helps cities like Imperial Beach plan for the future and prepare for rising seas and a changing climate.

The coastal commissioners who are appointed, and the professional staff that advise them, balance coastal development with the need for clean air and water, wildlife protection and open space for Californians and millions of coastal visitors to picnic, camp, surf and enjoy a great day at the beach.

Dr. Charles Lester currently oversees the commission.

Through his training as a geochemist and attorney and with a doctorate in political science, Lester is uniquely qualified to oversee the protection of California’s coast.

Last year I observed him firsthand at a forum at UC Irvine on the challenge of sea level rise in California. I came away deeply impressed with Lester’s commitment to successful, adaptive and innovative problem solving for the significant and costly issue of coastal erosion.

It was as apparent then, as it is to me now, that Lester has the vision, expertise and leadership skills to guide the commission and our coastline into a climate-challenged 21st century.

Unfortunately, a group of commissioners, largely appointed by Governor Jerry Brown, who originally championed the development of the Coastal Act, are seeking to fire Lester.

These political appointees want to dismantle our strong and independent Coastal Commission, which puts the public good above private profits.

Not only is that bad for our ability to enjoy our coastline, but a threat to transparency, good government and democracy in California.

I hope for the sake of present day Californians who experience the best days of their lives on our shoreline and future generations who have yet to experience the thrill of their first day at the beach, that Governor Brown reigns in the forces that seek to eliminate our access to, and enjoyment of, our “Golden Shore.”

We cannot afford to play politics with California’s fragile coastline, which gives so much enjoyment to so many.

DSC_1449Note–on February 10, 2016, in an event now called the “Morro Bay Massacre”, Charles Lester was fired in a 7-5 vote of the California Coastal Commission

 

Surfing the Border Cape Region Tour

I did a book tour of the Cape Region of Baja --Todos Santos, San Jose del Cabo, Vinorama and Los Barriles from April 9-12, 2015. Thanks to Sofia Gomez and Fay Crevoshay for organizing media coverage of the tour.

I did a book tour of the Cape Region of Baja –Todos Santos, San Jose del Cabo, Vinorama and Los Barriles from April 9-12, 2015. Thanks to Sofia Gomez and Fay Crevoshay for organizing media coverage of the tour.

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With a staff member of the municipality who came to my talk in Todos Santos.

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Todos Santos is a Pueblo Magico in Mexico and has done a great job of using the arts to promote economic development and tourism.

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I gave a talk at La Esquina on the west side of Todos Santos and was happy to see my longtime friend Gary there. I’ve known Gary since I started surfing in Imperial Beach.

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With our WILDCOAST Chapter members in Todos Santos and Paula Angelotti (second from right) the manager of La Esquina who hosted the talk. 

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When I lived in Todos Santos more than 20 years ago, the beach at Los Cerritos, south of Todos Santos, was bereft of development. Now the dunes there have been replaced by buildings that are at risk from storm-related erosion there.

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Thanks to Armando Figaredo of Cabo Mil radio for interviewing me on his very popular mid-day radio show. I was on the air after a candidate for governor, so I knew it was a good audience. Thanks Armando!

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Osiris Herrera and of the Papalote Sports Bar kindly hosted my talk in San Jose del Cabo. Thanks Osiris and Anne for he wonderful poster design!!!

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We had a great group in San Jose including Raul Rodriguez Quintana, the Los Cabos Municipality Director of Ecoloby (kneeling) and Martha Moctezuma (in the green blouse to my right).

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The Estero San Jose Wetland Reserve is a natural gem at the edge of Los Cabos. It is also a sister reserve with the TJ Estuary in Imperial Beach.

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The reserve is an important habitat for migrant birds.

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The Estero San Jose Reserve is also a wetland of international importance.

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The reserve is incredibly beautiful.

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With Sofia Gomez of WILDCOAST (left) and the Los Cabos Municipality crew along with Martha Moctezuma of Los Cabos Coastkeeper.

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With Melina Arana of Imperial Beach and her husband Horacio who manages he Los Cabos Organic Market.



With Judy Tolbert of Baja Books who hosted me at the weekly organic market.

With Judy Tolbert of Baja Books who hosted me at the weekly organic market.

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At the very nice VidaSoul Hotel and Restaurant on the East Cape. Thanks to owner Joan who generously hosted my talk.

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With Cabo Pulmo National Park Director Director Carlos Godinez (blue shirt) and Park Monitoring Coordinator Ronald Zepeta along with East Cape resident and writer Dawn Pier at Vidasoul-which is a great place for talk.

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Thanks to our WILDCOAST Chapter members who organized a talk at the Hotel Palmas de Cortez in the East Cape town of Los Barriles. It was great to see my longtime friend Markos Higginson who I used to lifeguard with at the Silver Strand State Beach more than 20 years ago.





My New Book: Surfing the Border

Here is the cover of my new forthcoming book, Surfing the Border: Adventures at the Edge of the Ocean. It is a collection of essays and articles I’ve written over the past three years about my adventures and life in California, Mexico and around the world. I’m hoping it will be out this summer if not before. surfbordercover

Why I Love Imperial Beach: Photo Essay 2

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Decoration on Seacoast Drive.

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The statue, “Spirit of Imperial Beach” looking east toward Palm Avenue.

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Part of the Bibbey’s Shell Shop Mural.

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The opening of IB Yoga has been a very positive development for Imperial Beach.

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The Plank is an IB landmark.

Local surfer Sean Fowler on the window of the Surf Hut.

Local surfer Sean Fowler on the window of the Surf Hut.

My sons and their surf “grom” friends a few years ago. Growing up surfing in IB is a wonderful experience. There is a tight knit group of kids who have been surfing together since they were about five years old and now compete together in swimming and water polo. All of us surf dads are already preparing for their departure for college and adulthood. We’ll miss them and their infectious energy.

 

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