The Blog Aquatic » California coast News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Good News: Protecting the Ocean Pays Off Tue, 23 Apr 2013 12:29:37 +0000 Paul Hobi

Bait ball around kelp in Channel Islands

Around the world, people are discovering that protection of the ocean in coastal areas makes sense both for the environment and the economy. Marine reserves, much like the network that was just completed off of the coast of California have been highly beneficial to local economies, sometimes in as little as five years.

Evidence of these positive results was recently published by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and Ocean Conservancy Board Member, Enric Sala and seven colleagues in a study entitled, “A General Business Model for Marine Reserves.” The study shows that protecting biodiversity can create economic benefits through increased tourism, enhanced fisheries value and/or maintenance of ecosystem services.

Among the numerous findings, Sala noted that “what we showed with the modeling is that a reserve’s value can be greater than its pre-reserve value in as little as five years. So reserves not only have ecological benefits in terms of protecting biodiversity, but they are also a good business.”

Such conservation – conservation that’s good for business – should be replicated elsewhere. With that in mind, Sala proposes a general framework that can be adapted to local contexts. In his interview with Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic, Sala recommends that communities considering marine reserves should:

Ask what are the costs of a reserve, which are costs of management and opportunity cost (typically, loss of fishing revenue). Then you expect to have some increased revenue in fishing in the area in a few years and increase in tourism. So you can put together a business plan with projected cash flows.

Though Sala did not use California’s marine reserves as part of his study, similar research here has shown that reserves have benefitted both fisheries and tourism throughout the California coast. For Example, the Channel Islands’ fully protected marine reserves cover 21 percent of the Islands’ waters and were established in 2003.  Researchers found the value of tourism and recreational fishing has increased each year in the Islands since the reserves were created. Meanwhile, commercial landings for some of the largest fisheries in Islands waters – squid, urchin, lobster and crab – also increased.

Further north at the marine protected areas (MPAs) on the Central Coast, researchers found that after five years, protected areas have seen an increase in both total and average individual revenue for the region’s commercial fishermen, in conjunction with an increase in economically important species like cabezon, lingcod and black rockfish. Such increases in fishing revenue following the creation of these reserves are highly encouraging whether they can be attributed to the completion of the MPAs or not.

The tourism industry on the Central coast has seen economic benefits as well. For instance, charter boat operators conducting non-fishing activities in the region report that MPAs are having a positive impact on their businesses, through increased recreational diving and research charters.

Around the world, numerous studies of marine reserves echo the results that are being seen on the Central Coast: no-take reserves benefit protected ecosystems in terms of increased species size, density and diversity.  With these results in mind, Sala is right to say that the time has come that we “move away from the view that it is either conservation or development. Actually, we show that they go hand in hand.” Instead, we should start viewing protection of ocean ecosystems as smart for both the environment and the economy.


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5 Questions with Underwater Photographer Feo Pitcairn Sat, 25 Aug 2012 17:24:30 +0000 Sarah van Schagen

© Feo Pitcairn

Much has changed since a teenaged Feo Pitcairn took his first wildlife photographs and developed them in his parent’s cellar.

For one thing, he’s no longer using that darkroom; his equipment now includes high-definition digital cameras that produce images with up to 40 million pixels.

His work has been showcased at the Smithsonian, on PBS and in countless books, magazines and calendars. And his film “Ocean Voyagers,” narrated by Meryl Streep, has been converted to 3-D and nominated for an award at the upcoming BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

Most recently, he’s transitioned from natural-history filmmaking back to his first love, still photography, and he’s launching an online gallery to share his work with the world.

A former Ocean Conservancy board member and long-time supporter of the organization, Feo has also witnessed a great deal of change in the health of our ocean during his many years as a photographer. He shares his experiences and insights—as well as a slideshow of beautiful ocean images—after the jump.

How did you get started with photography?

I was taking mainly nature photographs. I got to go to Africa in the summer of 1951. And that was one of those trips that left an indelible mark on me. It was the first time that I had gone into a natural landscape and witnessed wildlife roaming around in a natural landscape, and it was just such a compelling experience for me.

We were with knowledgeable people out in these wildlife preserves, and I started to learn about ecological systems. They explained how everything that we were looking at had a relationship, and that was a very exciting concept to me. I think to some extent that early experience influenced me in terms of what I try to do photographically.

If a photo is worth 1,000 words, what kind of stories do you aim to tell with your imagery?

Feo PitcairnMy aesthetic response to landscapes and seascapes has generally been taking the wider view … This is a complex ecosystem, and you’ve got to have a full picture of the whole. That’s kind of the science-oriented idea of it.

You may not fully understand how it works, but there’s something that you intuitively recognize when you’re in an untouched ecosystem that’s working. It’s just so beautiful. You just have this sense of wholeness and completeness.

I’ve always felt that for anything worth doing, something in the heart has to be stirred. This is what I try to convey to others so that we can start using our minds to do something to protect these special places.

Have you traveled to and photographed places that haven’t been properly protected?

It’s interesting … When we were working on an exhibit for the Smithsonian’s Sant Ocean Hall, the committee that I was working with expressed the concern that maybe I was portraying the ocean as too beautiful. And my response to that was, well, no, I have not photographed old tires extensively underwater.

But we need to inspire people with what the ocean can be. So my focus has always been on that small percentage of the ocean where these beautiful, fragile places still exist.

I think it’s useful to show the harm and show the contrast, but I leave the photographing of old tires to others.

Do you have a favorite place to photograph?

I love photographing the ocean both topside and underwater, but the kelp forest environment to me is an amazing place. Fortunately, we as U.S. citizens are the beneficiaries of really wonderful kelp forests along our coasts.

That’s an environment I really love. It feels so three-dimensional. It’s kind of like walking through a forest, but in this case, of course, the forest doesn’t have any gravity so you can move through it any way you want. You can go up; you can go down; and around every corner of kelp, there are new discoveries.

It’s such a rich ecosystem that’s full of life. That is, at least, in places where the kelp forests have had some degree of protection, where they haven’t been overfished.

As you think of your full body of work and what’s to come, what do you hope is the legacy you leave?

I feel mission-oriented … I want to capture these places. As you know, the world is changing quickly, and sometimes I worry that maybe there are already some things in our photo library that are like dinosaurs, that don’t exist anymore. It’s a terrible feeling, but it’s also an important record.

With this new fine arts site, I’m thinking even more selectively about what I want to achieve. If you have an image that is really going to be lasting, it needs to resonate with what I might describe as the human spirit. It’s not only compositionally pleasing, but in the final analysis, it’s something that has meaning.

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5 Questions with Photographer Marc Shargel on Wonders of the Sea Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:00:06 +0000 Catherine Fox

The long arms of a blood star stretch across purple California hydrocoral. Credit: Marc Shargel.

Page through Marc Shargel’s three-book series “Wonders of the Sea” about California’s coast and you’ll be awed by both the human history and the natural history told through photographs and stories. An award-winning photographer, Shargel learned to scuba dive while studying marine biology at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. He has been diving for more than 30 years, from lush kelp forests to isolated offshore pinnacles, and observed many changes. To celebrate California’s network of marine protected areas, Marc shares some of what he’s seen through his lens.

Catch the interview and more amazing photos after the jump.

1. Which marine plant or animal do you most like to photograph underwater, and why?

All of them! But one subject I photograph over and over is kelp. Even though I have hundreds of pictures of kelp, I’m always inspired to interpret it in new ways.

And there’s always a chance of finding one of the dozens of little critters that live in the kelp forest, like a snail we have here that is unbelievably gaudy – it’s got spiral bands of gold and purple. Frequently, I’ll seek out one of those and see if I can do a better job of lighting or framing it.

2. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve observed in the ocean over the past 34 years?

From black abalone to many kinds of fish, things are disappearing. I did my first scuba dive at the Monterey breakwater in 1978. I saw schools of blue rockfish swimming through the kelp. This is a spot where people can drop fishing hooks right over the dive site, and since my first visit 34 years ago, blue rock fish have become a very rare sight. All the fish there are small ones that haven’t had a chance to grow to full size.

In farther-away places with less boat traffic and less fishing, we still see big schools of small to medium-size blue rockfish. However, the really large ones can only be found in the most inaccessible locations—or in the marine reserve at Point Lobos where they are completely protected. The good news is, reserves work and we’ve added several recently.

3. Can you give an example of what inspires you to actively support marine protected areas?

Photographer Marc Shargel prepares to dive into his work day. Credit: Steven Greenwood

One poster-child species for marine protected areas is the extremely slow-growing yellow-eye rockfish—a strikingly beautiful fish. I was years into my diving career before I caught sight of one. I went out to Point Arena in Mendocino County where this incredible rock comes up from the ocean floor, put on my gear and started down the anchor line. Swimming up the line as if to greet me was my first yellow-eye.

I got to the bottom and it was chock-a-block with them. I’ve never seen a mature one anywhere else. When a suite of marine protected areas along the north central coast went into effect in 2010, that rock and all the life there was protected.

4. Why do marine protected areas around the world draw divers and photographers like you?

We love them, because marine reserves teem with ocean life.  Their robust communities of marine life are more resistant to human impacts and natural disasters. For instance, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, coral reefs inside a marine protected area in Sri Lanka appear to have been more resilient than other areas where damage was much greater.

5. What kinds of experiences can families enjoy along the California coast?

I’ll tell you a story that took place in front of Cannery Row on Monterey Bay several years ago. I took my nephew out on a two-person kayak through the kelp. We had the good fortune to spot a small group of dolphins quite close to shore. He put on a wetsuit and mask, stuck his face in the water, and got an instant appreciation of the incredible density and diversity of the ecosystem.

The highlight came at the end of the day:  A sea otter. These animals were driven to the brink of extinction a hundred years ago and made a comeback. This one came right by and checked us out.  And then it climbed up onto the boat. For a couple of minutes, there were not two of us on the kayak, but three! That day inspired my nephew to spend the better part of his time in college studying marine biology. For me, he represents the generations to come, the people who will inherit the natural world we’re now stewards for.

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