This article originally appeared at Audubonmagazine.org.
Whether novice or expert, birdwatchers in California delight in the avian abundance along the state’s coast. California also boasts the nation’s only statewide network of marine protected areas, providing not only gorgeous places to seek out a stunning diversity of birds but insurance that their most important breeding and feeding grounds have extra protection.
Below is a list of the top bird-watching spots at these “ocean parks,” plus highlights. Additionally, there is information about visiting, plus a link to where you can learn more.
1. Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area
Viewing site, interpretive panel on Pebble Beach Drive, just south of Point St. George
Originally inhabited by the Tolowa Dee-ni’, California’s northernmost coast boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in the state and is dotted with Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. A wide range of bird species live and migrate around nearby Lake Earl, and the profusion continues at sea, where exposed rocks and underwater ledges make up the St. George Reef. Reaching the protected area requires a boat, but visitors can experience similar conditions from the safety of the shoreline just south of the point, where Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge sits.
The refuge is a modest 14 acres, yet it supports several hundred thousand seabirds each year. Take a spotting scope to Pebble Drive from February to mid-April to catch the dawn fly-off of Aleutian cackling geese. Observe one of the largest breeding populations—100,000—of common murres making their nests along the island’s cliffs. Castle Rock is also home to three species of cormorants, pigeon guillemots, Cassin’s and rhinoceros auklets, Leach’s and fork-tailed storm-petrels, and tufted puffins.
More info: fws.gov/humboldtbay/castlerock.html
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Humboldt Bay invites exploration. From the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary on the north end to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the south, animal life abounds.
In the middle of the bay, two islands stand tall: Indian Island, the traditional center of the Wiyot people’s world, and Woodley Island, home to a marina that includes HumBoats, where kayaks and stand-up paddleboard rentals provide means to discover the bay.
In the northern end, kayakers and rowers regularly glide between oyster farmers and fishermen. Down in the southern end, more mystery exists – especially where a square off the bay’s southern peninsula was designated as a marine protected area in December 2012.
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Northern California’s Lost Coast boasts three no-take reserves. caloceans.org
How well is your state protecting the ocean? If you live in Hawaii, you’re far ahead of the rest of us. If you live in California or the U.S. Virgin Islands, at least you have something to point to. But overall, as a new scientific ranking of states’ ocean protection shows, most have not taken adequate measures to defend America’s marine life. The report was issued by two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, and is the first-ever quantitative ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters.
SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? measures how much of a state’s waters have safeguards against overfishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses. No-take marine reserves, in particular, get high marks for allowing ecosystems and related marine life to prosper. According to many marine scientists, as much as 20 percent of state waters should be set aside for the best results – currently, Hawaii is the only state in the country to have met that goal.
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Americans today have a tendency to be squeamish about our food. We generally prefer our dinner to no longer resemble the animal it came from. We mentally and physically divide the “good” parts from the “gross” parts. A recent “This American Life” episode horrified listeners by suggesting that it is possible that some calamari may in fact be pig bung.
But what if we adjusted our thinking? What if we revisited the cultures whose food we’ve adapted into this great melting pot of a country and noted how they did it? What if we could taste more and waste less? Now, I’m not suggesting you make a run for pig bung (although you should check out the podcast). No, we’re looking at an easier leap: the whole fish. More specifically, “The Whole Fish: How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make You Healthier, Sexier and Help Save the Ocean“, a new TED e-book by Maria Finn. (TED books are published by the same group responsible for TED talks.)
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Kaitilin Gaffney at the Museum of Art and History during the 2012 International Coastal Cleanup in Santa Cruz, California.
Here at Ocean Conservancy, our teams work hard to ensure protection of marine wildlife because that’s what we believe in doing – but being recognized for our successes is always a wonderful thing. In just-announced news, Blue Frontier Campaign has officially deemed our former Pacific Program Director Kaitilin Gaffney a “Hero of the Sea” for her accomplishments in helping establish California’s marine protected area network. Along with Karen Garrison, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, Kaitilin will be honored at a May, 2013 ceremony at the Carnegie Institutionin Washington D.C.
Kaitilin and Karen’s dedication to ensuring implementation of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, originally passed in 1999, resulted in 16 percent of the state’s waters – and the vast varieties of ocean wildlife within them – being protected for now and future generations. The process was never easy, but their dedication to it never wavered. John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources said of the pair, “They were incredibly successful in persuading others to their view because they listened to people’s concerns, and worked with them to find solutions that worked for all…their contribution to our blue ocean and to the communities that depend upon it is monumental.” Continue reading »
The brand spanking new Double Cone Rock State Marine Conservation Area. Photo Credit: Kip Evans/Ocean Conservancy
Each day, many of us do small things we hope will benefit the ocean. We bring our own coffee mug. We pack our groceries into cloth bags. We wash our cloth napkins in cold water and buy our detergent in bulk. We bring our own to-go containers to the sushi spot – and we always order our fish based on what’s sustainable.
But the ocean is in trouble, and needs more than individual efforts for deepened protection. In California, efforts to restore the state’s depleted fish populations resulted in the Marine Life Protection Act, which passed the legislature back in 1999.
Today, the California network – the first in our nation – finally becomes complete: The North Coast marine protected areas go into effect. From the Oregon border to the Mexican border, the fish, birds, mammals and plants that depend on the dynamic habitats of the California coast now have a series of reserves and conservation areas that will allow their populations to recover where needed and protect them from depletion in the future. Not only is this good for the sea creatures, but a thriving ocean benefits all of California, from the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on healthy fisheries to all aspects of the state’s tourism-dependent economy – people come to California to see the ocean, be awed by the magnificence of migrating whales, explore the glowing tide pools along our beaches, delight in barbecuing lingcod, fresh-caught or bought off the docks.
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One of Southern California’s most renowned dive and snorkel sites, La Jolla Cove’s protected area has recently been expanded.
Globally, marine protected areas aren’t new — but they are news! And in California, the first state to adopt a network along its entire coastline, residents and visitors alike are exploring these fabulous ocean parks. Sunset magazine recently took note:
A new park system is being formed—but not where you think. It’s underwater. And in 100 years, this could be viewed the way the establishment of our national parks is seen today. In 2012, California will complete the nation’s ﬁrst-ever statewide network of marine protected areas, which will preserve kelp forests, reefs, and tidepools in sanctuaries scattered down the coast like a string of pearls, maintaining them for divers and kayakers as well. Iconic spots like Cape Mendocino and the Point Reyes Headlands will get new safeguards, and docents are even being trained to give tours. Other states are catching on too—and we hope this means our entire coast will be protected in the years to come.
Download the Sunset Magazine PDF here.