A priceless moment? Maybe, but effective ocean protection demands we quantify it via “surfonomics.”
The title and author are long forgotten, but I remember the story I used to read to my children. Mom and Dad didn’t have a lot of money, but they lived in a beautiful place and spent as much time as possible outdoors. When their children complained, the parents pointed out that while the family didn’t have a new car or the latest gadgets, they were able to watch the sunset almost every evening. They could stroll along the river at leisure. “How much is a morning on the beach worth?” Mom would ask. “What’s the value of watching the blackberries blossom and ripen?” Dad would say, gathering said berries for the family’s pancake breakfast.
The questions were rhetorical, the point being that nature’s “value” transcends that of mere money. A wonderful point – and one I could relate to while raising a family on a combination of student loans and part-time jobs as I worked on my degree – but when fighting political battles, awe and intrinsic value take a back seat to modern day economics.
Enter Chad Nelsen, environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation. Nelsen recently earned a doctorate of environmental science from UCLA and his work on surf economics was written about in the Washington Post last month.
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An MPA Watch volunteer records action happening within the marine protected area. Credit: Heal the Bay
“The morning clouds quickly broke…”
It’s no surprise that California’s new ocean parks protect vital marine wildlife and habitat – that’s what they’re designed to do. The new system of underwater protected areas is also intended to improve recreational and study opportunities. Now an innovative volunteer partnership confirms that from Los Angeles to the Central Coast, California’s Marine Protected Areas are providing a popular playground for surfing, swimming, scuba diving and other beach activities. As Center for a Blue Economy Director Jason Scorse pointed out recently, this access to natural beauty is also one of California’s greatest economic strengths.
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A blue whale spouts. Credit: NOAA
Few experiences compare to that of seeing nature’s largest creatures swimming, diving and emerging from the sea. First the tell-tale spouting, followed by discerning the massive shape below the water, perhaps a tail fluke or dorsal fin breaking the surface – if you’re particularly lucky, the whale may breach, launching into the air, allowing a full-body view, then splashing down into a crescendo of displaced water.
For those visiting or living in California, this summer offers some of the best whale watching in recent history – what some are calling a once-in-a-lifetime chance. While gray whales are regular commuters along the West Coast during their fall and spring migrations, this summer’s marvel is the high proportion of blue whales. Normally feeding too far off the coast to be seen, the blues have been drawn closer to shore due to the abundance of the shrimp-like krill they love to eat.
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This past Earth Day, Whole Foods Market announced it was doing something good for the ocean: eliminating “red-rated” wild seafood from their fish counter. While some criticism of the methodologies commonly used to define “sustainable seafood” exists, increased awareness of the impacts our choices have on other species is undoubtedly a good thing.
Two months into the program, we were curious how customers had reacted, as well as how Whole Foods management arrived at their decision. Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator Carrie Brownstein took a moment to answer our questions. Continue reading »
The trail leading out past Ma-l'el Dunes to the shoreline monitoring site. Credit: Jennifer Savage
The insect repellent proved crucial as soon as I opened my car door. Mosquitos swarmed – I swear, they’ll bite right through my clothes. The Northern California beach we’d chosen for this project lies on the other side of a sand dune forest complete with marshy rivulets. Beautiful, but buggy!
This excursion was the first in a two-year partnership effort designed to establish baseline levels of marine debris prior to that from Japan’s 2011 tsunami landing on West Coast shores. The shoreline monitoring program is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provided official protocol and observational guidelines as well as more immediately practical materials including a GPS device, waterproof camera and oh-so-necessary bug spray.
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The south end of the new Double Cone marine reserve on California's Lost Coast. Credit: Kip Evans
It wasn’t until about 3 a.m. that the realization finally sunk in: We’d done it. Not only had the North Coast marine protected area network been formally adopted by the Fish and Game Commission, but California would soon be home to the first comprehensive series of such protections in the nation.
I thought of the rockfish and abalone, sea lions and whales, too many seabirds to name, and how some of those creatures now have safe places to live, breed and thrive. All the hours in meeting rooms, the debates and discussions, all the thousands of emails and phone calls had actually paid off.
What a wonderful moment, to know California has taken proactive steps to protect the sea. Places people can visit and enjoy. “Hope spots,” as oceanographer Sylvia Earle refers to them. We know marine protected areas work – across the globe and right here at home. Protections established in the Channel Island in 2003 are already showing benefits to sea life. Continue reading »
South of Cape Mendocino, where a new marine protected area has just been adopted. Credit: Terrence McNally/Arcata Photo Studios
California’s remote North Coast is typically known for its colossal redwood trees and wild, wave-swept coastline. Yesterday, residents of the state’s far north end celebrated the adoption of a network of marine protected areas – a network unanimously agreed on by fishermen, conservationists, divers, educators and tribal delegates. Although other regions of California have also adopted their own portions of what is now a state-wide network, the path to implementation of the state’s Marine Life Protection Act was challenging right up until the end. Fishermen wanted one thing, conservation representatives another.
The North Coast stakeholder group didn’t agree easily – as in other places, a diverse array of interests came into play. A unique challenge arose when discussing where to locate the protected areas without potentially impacting historical and cultural tribal use. Continue reading »