The morning clouds quickly broke as our crew prepared to monitor the two State Marine Conservation Areas surrounding Point Vicente. Joined by longtime volunteer Billy Arcila, and newcomer Pasadena City College Courier Reporter, Nick Saul, set out towards Palos Verdes.
Once we rounded Point Vicente, there was a surprising amount of action on the water. Within our monitoring transect we spotted passenger boats underway and several urchin fishing boats anchored outside of the MPAs, along the edge of the ever-expanding kelp paddys. Urchin fisherman play an important role in the absence of our missing kelp forest top predator, the Southern Sea Otter. The Southern Sea Otter’s range once covered U.S. coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California. This charismatic marine mammal, and voracious eater, was responsible for keeping urchin populations in check. Without the sea otter around, urchin populations explode, deplete the kelp forest, and ultimately create urchin barrens. The Southern Sea Otter were hunted to near-extinction in the 19th Century, and have since recovered on the Central Coast thanks to their federally protected status. Their absence in the Southern California Bight is in part due to the enforcement of the “No Otter Zone.” From 1987 to 1993 otters were forcibly relocated to waters off San Nicolas Island or north of Point Conception. The “No Otter Zone” still exists today, and when otters are found within it, they are no longer granted the federal protections that apply along the rest of the California Coast. Currently, the House of Representatives is considering a bill, that would keep the “No Otter Zone” in place. See the Friends of the Sea Otter website for more information.
On our return trip back through the MPAs, we sighted a pod of bottlenose dophins, a sun bathing mola mola, and a spearfishing boat (?!) that was anchored just within the northern boundary of the Point Vicente No-Take SMCA. Unable to see anyone on board, and noticing their dive flag, we kept a safe distance and observed for a few minutes hoping for the opportunity to inform them about the MPA boundary. Just as we were about to leave, two spear fisherman surfaced and boarded the vessel with spearguns and line in hand. We contacted them to let them know that they are within the MPA boundary and might get a ticket if spotted by a DFG Warden. The spearfishermen were aware of the existing marine protected areas, and were using landmarks to determine their position, which they believed was legally outside of the boundary. This confusion points to the importance of a physical demarcation of the MPA boundaries, such as a set of regularly checked buoys. No different from a “no hunting beyond this point” sign in a national park, we believe this will help to concretize the location of the MPAs and assist local fisherman in adhering to the law.
On this bright, sunny, winter morning with little swell or wind to speak of, we headed due west toward Point Dume. Our crew of Baykeeper staff and volunteers believed conditions were prime for observing recreational and commercial vessels along the Malibu coast. Our mission on this voyage was to not only collect and report data on maritime activities in and around the Dume MPAs, but also to capture photographs of easily identifiable landmarks denoting the Dume MPA boundary lines. Despite the near perfect conditions, all was quiet in the reserve. However, commercial fishing activity was identified just outside of the MPAs indicating that industrial fishing operations are aware of the exact locations of these boundaries. Data collected, and boundary photos taken, we headed back.
On our return, we managed to scoop up several clusters of mylar birthday balloons drifting out to sea. This isn’t the first time our return voyage has become an impromtu sea cleanup. Does every birthday need balloons? Click here to read this Santa Monica Daily Press column on the effects of balloons on marine life.
MPA Watch 2, a set on Flickr.
It was a brisk winter morning aboard the Baykeeper last December for the inaugural MPA Watch voyage. As this first trip precluded the January 1st, 2012 Marine Protected Areas implementation, this was not as much a mission to gather and report data. Rather, this was an opportunity to establish a solid crew of MPA Watch volunteers and train them on the ins and outs of data collection on the sea, vessel recognition, and boundary location. We were also lucky enough to have Tony Barboza of the LA Times on board to experience firsthand the importance of Marine Protected Areas, and the necessity of our program.
MPA Watch, a set on Flickr.
Here you will find information & updates about our weekly MPA Watch monitoring and outreach excursions. For general information about the MPA Watch program, contact Brian Meux email@example.com. For information regarding Marine Protected Areas maps, outreach at local businesses, or to join us as an MPA Watch volunteer please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For information regarding Marine Protected Areas outreach at schools, and residences, contact email@example.com.