Busting MPA Poachers: The Case of the Pacific Star

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Last week the California Fish and Game Commission ordered a five-year suspension of the permit of Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc., a recreational sport fishing vessel operator based out of San Diego, as a result of numerous violations including poaching within California’s marine protected area (MPA) network. The decision was reached following oral arguments made by the California Department Fish and Wildlife, legal counsel of the Pacific Star and its owner and members of the conservation community, including WILDCOAST.

lobster poachingPoaching and the illegal take of marine resources is essentially theft of a resource shared by all Californians. The suspension of a Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) permit for violations inside of an MPA has never before been handed down by the California Fish and Game Commission. The Pacific Star’s case sets legal precedent and sends a strong message to those that act outside of the law that poaching is a serious offense and carries a heavy consequence.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public and fishermen in California,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “The Commission took ample time to review the department’s accusation and we hope this serves as a message that we do not take lightly these sorts of violations and will ensure those who are responsible receive the appropriate penalty.”

The Pacific Star was one of the most egregious cases of poaching in an MPA that has ever come before the Commission. In 2013  undercover operation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers observed 18 distinct violations that included – poaching within California’s MPA network, exceeding possession limits, using illegal take methods, and failing to report accurate counts on logbooks. Based on these violations, CDFW filed an accusation with the Commission against Pacific Star requesting that the Commission suspend this commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

WILDCOAST led a coordinated effort to support the rejection of the original 90 day Commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV) permit suspension that came before the Fish and Game commissioners back in December of 2017 regarding the Pacific Star.

After receiving WILDCOAST’s sign-on letter and testimony, the Commission decided to reconsider the case at their February 2018 meeting. WILDCOAST attended both meetings to address the Commission through public comment and asked for the strictest possible penalty to be applied in the case of the Pacific Star.

“The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to suspend Pacific Star’s license sends a strong message that California will not tolerate poaching in our marine protected areas,” said Serge Dedina, WILDCOAST’s Executive Director. “The vast majority of fishermen follow the rules, and passengers on party boats should be able to trust the captain and crew to keep them on the right side of the law.”

WILDCOAST was one of several conservation organizations responsible for creating California’s MPA network back in 2012, and ever since, the group has helped to manage an ensure the effectiveness of the network.

The Pacific Star was first charged in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara County Superior Courts, and fined only $4,700. According to its website, the Pacific Star grossed between $6,000-$11,500 for a 2.5 day trip.

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What is Blue Carbon?

IMG_0157.CR2“Blue carbon” is the carbon that is absorbed and stored naturally by marine and coastal – aka ‘blue’ – ecosystems. Mangrove forests are important blue carbon sinks, storing up to five times more carbon than land-based forests, because the deep mud between the trees’ propagated root systems effectively capture and store atmospheric carbon. 

If the mangroves are destroyed, then all of the carbon stored within is released into the atmosphere. Therefore, this ability to store carbon, and maintain the ecosystem in a natural and pristine state, is crucial to mitigating the damaging effects of climate change.

WILDCOAST’s work to conserve carbon sequestering ecosystems, strengthen natural protected areas, develop and improve land-use planning and advance public policy for climate change adaptation, are all necessary steps to maintain a livable planet for future generations.  

Mexico ranks fourth in the world for the country with the most mangroves (7,755.55 km2 = 5.1% of the world total), but in the last 40 years they have lost 9% of its coverage due to changes in land use, unsustainable coastal development, pollution and changes in the use of water.

Mangroves occupy 1.2% of Mexico’s total forest coverage, but conserving them can reduce 12% of carbon emissions caused by changes in land use by 2030 – also the deadline year for the Paris Climate Agreement.

The impact WILDCOAST’s blue carbon project has on the protection of mangrove ecosystems can easily position Mexico as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Tri-National Conservation Team Explores Blue Carbon in the Mangroves of Baja California

team pic_bahia mag1Earlier this month, a tri-national Mexico-Australia-U.S. WILDCOAST team carried out a Blue Carbon Research Expedition at three sites – Loreto Bay National Park, Bahia Magdalena, and La Paz Bay– in the Baja California peninsula to survey some of the most pristine and biologically important coastal desert mangrove forests in the world and to understand their role in helping to regulate and mitigate climate change.

WILDCOAST was joined by two Australian scientists – Dr. Fernanda Adame, Griffith University and world renowned mangrove expert, Dr. Catherine Lovelock of University of Queensland. Together our tri-national team conducted field surveys and sampling to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide that is stored in the coastal desert mangroves of the region.

IMG_0131.CR2“It was so inspiring to be with our team of international mangrove and blue carbon experts from Mexico, Australia and the U.S.,” said Dr. Eduardo Najera, WILDCOAST’s Mexico Director. “It is critical to understand the role of desert mangroves to help implement natural climate solutions that help us to preserve ecosystems that sequester increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere.”

Researchers call the desert mangroves of the Baja California peninsula “atmospheric bombs” because they absorb more carbon dioxide than any other plant on the planet. Since Bahia Magdalena is the largest coastal wetland in the Baja California peninsula and a critical breeding lagoon for the iconic gray whale, the significance of protecting the region and this globally important site has never been more important.IMG_0456.CR2

WILDCOAST’s Blue Carbon aims to protect a total of 71,374 acres of mangroves in northwest Mexico over the next four to five years, and will effectively reduce carbon emissions by 26.7 million tons.

The project will expedite the approval of conservation concessions for 35,796 acres of mangroves and enable WILDCOAST to pursue a carbon credit registration process for financing continued mangrove conservation and management.

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Learn more about Blue Carbon here.

Calling all Beachcombers

20170629_ETC_OO25The sun shines on the rolling waves along one of San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline. Beneath the water a smack of moon jellies float by riding the California Current down toward Baja, a gulp of cormorants can be seen diving to depths of 25 feet in search of a tasty fish breakfast, and a shiver of leopard sharks weave their way through the legs of dozens of surfers out to catch a wave before heading to the office.

The ocean is a resource treasured by San Diegans and now you have a chance to help protect it.

WILDCOAST is dedicated to conserving coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife including the 17,779 acres of marine protected areas (MPAs) in San Diego County.

Just like state parks do on land, MPAs help protect and provide refuge to some of the world’s most iconic species and provide great spots for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a day at the beach.

To effectively manage human use of MPAs it is vital that we first know one important thing – how humans are using the coast!

20170707-WILDCOAST (8)This is where you come in… WILDCOAST invites you to join our MPA Watch Program- a citizen science project that works with community members just like you to collect data on how humans are using the coast both inside and outside of MPAs. Approximately 15% of San Diego County’s coast is protected by MPAs and our efforts help scientists, management, and enforcement officials better conserve the valuable wildlife and abundant geological and archaeological resources found within MPAs. In addition, MPA Watch data helps ensure humans may continue to enjoy the amazing recreational opportunities offered at these gorgeous places.

20170629_ETC_OO30How it Works:
Volunteers are recruited on a rolling basis and are required to attend a three-hour training before participating in the program. Each training consists of a classroom portion and a field portion. Volunteers will be trained on the background of WILDCOAST, MPAs, how to collect data, and the importance of our work.
Data is collected at sites in Encinitas, La Jolla, and Imperial Beach. Volunteers are free to collect data at any or all of these sites.
There is no minimum time requirement required of volunteers. You can go out, walk the beach, and collect data whenever you wish!

For more information on the MPA Watch program please check out our website: mpawatch.org

If walking the beach and saving our coast is something you are interested in please email the MPA Watch Coordinator at: angela@wildcoast.net

The Whales are Back in Baja

It is a magical time of year when the gray whales arrive in Baja.

IMG_6457Ballena gris con criaEvery year, gray whales set off on one of the longest migrations made by any mammal from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas to their birthing grounds in Mexico. They come to Baja to spend about three months (February to April) enjoying the warm water lagoons along the peninsula’s coast to mate, give birth and raise their young. In the early 20th century, the gray whale population was hunted to near extinction in the very waters they visit yearly.

Thanks to ramped up protection efforts in Canada, the United States and México, the gray whale population has rebounded and is now over 25,000 strong.

There are only three lagoons in the world where gray whales give birth to their babies – Guerrero Negro, Ojo de Liebre and Laguna San Ignacio – and all three are in Baja!

The lagoons are protected from the strong waves and currents of the Pacific Ocean and are shallow – creating a perfect setting. Mothers can nurse their newly born calves, and the shallow water lagoons allow them to easily supervise while their calves learn to swim, surface for air, dive under and hunt for food, and practice interacting with other whales. Another advantage, the only predator of the gray whale, the orca, will not enter the lagoons’ shallow waters.

1CCK2669Turistas y ballena grisEach winter, visitors come to watch the whales in Baja, which is an experience much different than other places in the world. Whale watching in Baja is done in pangas (22 foot boats), which are open and accommodate up to ten people.

Small groups of boats head out into the bays, extinguish the motor and then wait. Minutes later you can see water and air shooting up from the middle of the bay from the whales blow holes.1CCK4018Ballena gris

Amazingly, the whales of Baja are extremely friendly, and often seek out the pangas full of tourists to greet them. The feeling you get from looking eye to eye with these friendly giants cannot be put into words – it is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

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To help protect the whales of Baja, WILDCOAST has conserved, through conservation concessions, 483.6 miles of coastline surrounding the lagoons they rely on annually to reproduce and raise their young. Additionally, back in 2000 we helped defeat one of the world’s largest salt extraction facilities from destroying Laguna San Ignacio, and we are currently updating the management plan for the 6.3 million acre Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve which is home to all three whale breeding lagoons – San Ignacio, Ojo de Liebre and Guerrero Negro.

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail….A Truly WILD Coast

IMG_3714WILDCOAST- the name itself implies that we work in some of the most beautiful and remote places in the world. This last week, however, I had a life-changing experience that brings a whole new meaning to wild coast. Do you like a story with bears, close calls with mother nature, and downright adventure? If you answered yes, then read on…

My job at WILDCOAST is to coordinate MPA Watch, a statewide network of organizations that trains volunteers to collect data on how humans are using coastal and marine resources. In other words, I get to take long walks on the beach for science. Sometimes, very long walks.

I recently received an offer from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Humboldt County to establish data collection sites along the 25 mile stretch of beach known as the Lost Coast. Excited to explore one of the most remote places in California, I grabbed our Conservation Coordinator Cory Pukini, Mexico Director Eduardo Nájera, and Wildlands Coordinator Francisco Martínez Vázquez and we set off for the adventure of a lifetime. The weather forecast looked wet but we thought nothing that our team couldn’t handle…working in the remote parts of California and the Baja California Peninsula like we do.

Two flights and seven hours later our team of intrepid explorers landed at the Arcata airport and met with the charismatic and knowledgeable Justin Robbins, an outdoor recreation planner for BLM. We geared up, filled ourselves with warm pho, and got a good night sleep at the Mattole campground where we would start our journey at sunrise the next morning.

At the first hint of dawn we set out equipped with everything we would need to survive three days in the wilderness including new gear generously donated to our team by Eagle Creek and Patagonia, bear canisters to save our trail mix from impending doom, and many supposedly waterproof products that proved not to be so after several inches of rain.

That first day we hiked along eight miles of coastal terraces and black sand beaches. We passed the abandoned Punta Gorda lighthouse known as the “Alcatraz” of lighthouses for how remote it was and encountered a colony of elephant seals which Cory deemed “adorable.” We finally sheltered up river just in time for mother nature to drop about four times the amount of rain as was originally forecasted.

Much of this coast is protected by the Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Reserve, one of California’s 124  marine protected areas, or MPAs. Named for the two large rocks covered with belching sea lions at its northern boundary, Sea Lion Gulch is one of the most remote and difficult MPAs to access MPAs in California. It is, however, one of the most rewarding for those adventurous enough to make the hike.

The next morning, fearing the watery worst, I cracked my eyes open to see the most gorgeous sunrise and blue skies I have ever experienced, a welcome surprise after all the rain the day and night before. Upon exiting the tent I was met with yet another surprise…a goose snuggled up against Cory through the thin fabric of his tent! He told me later he had thought it was his backpack and had been wondering why when he pushed it away in the middle of the night it kept coming back. “WILDCOAST…conserving wildlife one wet goose at a time!”

 

That day’s hike was probably one of the most unforgettable of my life – eight miles along coastal terrace overlooking the Big Flat State Marine Conservation Area (another MPA), rolling trail through pine forest, babbling brooks, and a herd of deer. We even ran into some surfers who claimed the waves were so good here that they hiked 12 miles with their surfboards to reach it. We stayed the night in a little driftwood shelter other hikers had left behind near the beach.

On day three we woke up before dawn to try to beat the high tide through a four mile stretch of narrow beach and sheer cliffs. An unexpected storm moved in drenching us yet again, and adding to an already high surf that made hiking the beach an adventure to say the least. We literally hopped, skipped, and jumped our way through eight and a half miles of beach, a warm shower and delicious pizza beckoning us at the end of the trail. Cory and Eduardo saw a fairly nonchalant black bear meandering along the beach (which is normal behavior in response to humans as long as you do not try to feed them). I napped in the rain and contemplated the almost complete lack of trash on the beach or the trail (recycling, using reusable bags, bottles, and containers, and disposing of your trash properly is one of the best things you can do to protect the beach!). Francisco donned a trash bag like a poncho in an effort to take some amazing pictures. Then, finally, after three days we made it.

Hiking the Lost Coast was an amazing experience that really brought home the reason why we at WILDCOAST do what we do, but more than that after rock hopping and timing waves for 25 miles I gained a whole new respect for the majesty and power of the coast. It truly is a wild place that deserves both our admiration and protection.

The WILDCOAST team was able to set up four MPA Watch transects in two MPAs (our first MPA Watch sites in the North Coast!), offer advice on interpretation and enforcement, and make some great new partners and friends. While not for the faint of heart (or slight of ankle strength), the Lost Coast offers an amazing experience for anyone with an adventurous spirit and love of the ocean.

Want to hear more about our adventures? Check out our podcast on KHUM’s Coastal Currents radio show by clicking here.

By Angela Kemsley, MPA Watch Program Coordinator

New oil spill in Salina Cruz, Mexico, threatens sea turtle nesting sites along Oaxaca’s coast.

Earlier this week, a crude oil spill was spotted by fishermen on the banks of Salinas del Marqués on the coast of Oaxaca, approximately 4.3 miles from the port of Salina Cruz.

Area fishermen observed a black slick in the ocean allegedly coming from Mexican Petroleum (PEMEX), near the same area that  PEMEX vessels come to load oil before exporting it to other countries or states in Mexico.  

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Get to know your neighbors: Mola

A sunfish (Mola mola) swims near the surface off San Diego, California.

I am the ocean sunfish, also known as the Mola mola. Some people call me the alien of the sea because, well, I look like an alien! I’m a silver color, with very rough, thick, mucus-lined skin, and it looks like I’m only half a fish because where I should have a back fin, I have a clavus. When I was born, my back fin didn’t grow; instead, it folded into itself. This is a feature that defines all mola. I’m also told that I always look surprised because I have wide eyes and can’t close my mouth. Instead of having individual teeth, I have a beak-like structure, forcing me to always keep my mouth open. This also prevents me from chewing! I eat my food by sucking it in and out of my mouth until it turns into a mush that I can swallow. I prefer to eat jellyfish because they’re already pretty squishy and relatively easy to swallow. My digestive track is also lined with mucus to protect me against stings!

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Going Wild at IMPAC4 in Chile

By Serge Dedina, Executive Director

WILDCOAST has the opportunity to participate in the 4th Annual International Marine Protected Area Congress in La Serena, Chile. Given, Chile’s recent globally important record of creating vast marine reserves including new ones just off of Rapa Nui and Southern Patagonia, there wasn’t a more appropriate location.

There were participants from all over the world, with a great perspective all the ingredients that go into creating marine reserves.

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Get to know your neighbors: Western Sand Dollar

Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I am the western sand dollar, scientifically known as Dendraster excentricus. Contrary to popular belief, I am neither a rock nor a shell but an actual living animal! I am probably what comes to mind when you picture a sand dollar but just like many organisms, we come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. My fish friends never believe me when I say that I am a flattened sea urchin. I know that my spines are not as big but we are both echinoids!

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