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.

By Angela Kemsley, MPA Watch Program Coordinator

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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Get to know your neighbors: Bat rays!

I am a relative of the shark, look like a bat, and swim like a bird flies. I am the myliobatis californica, commonly known as the bat ray. I like to live a life of solitude, hidden in muddy, coastal bottoms or enjoying the bustling life of kelp beds and rocky-bottomed shorelines, from as north as Oregon and as south as Baja California. Although I don’t have menacing teeth like my shark cousins, I prefer to feast on crunchy food such as mollusks, crustaceans, and small bony fish. I use my flat, plate-like teeth to crush my snacks, but don’t worry, I don’t eat the bones, just the meat. My friends tell me I’m special because my eyes are on top of my head but my mouth is on the underside of my body! Therefore to find my dinner I pay special attention to water currents as well as jets of water, and I can detect electrical signals! When I think I’ve found a snack I flap my wings as hard as I can and use my snout to get my food into my mouth.

One of my defining features is my self-defense armor: my stinger. I’ve had my stinger since birth, but it was wrapped in a protective covering. My mom told me that I looked like a rolled taco as a newborn because my wings were wrapped around my body in a fan favorite Mexican food fashion. But hours later I was flapping all over the place and the protective covering on my stinger had come off, so I had instant protection. This came in great handy because I had to go off to find my own food and become independent almost immediately, only depending on my mom for minimal protection for the first few years of my life.

Why should humans care about me?

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Learning About Marine Ecology First-Hand.

By Allie Welch, student from Mar Vista High School’s Poseidon Academy.

Earlier this month, I was part of a small group from Mar Vista’s Poseidon Academy, that took part in WILDCOAST’s Floating Laboratories off the coast of La Jolla.  Upon arrival, students are broken up into three groups; water, plankton, and fish identification. Once we were split off into separate groups we began taking data and analyzing the species and environment they inhabit.

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Building Ocean Stewardship Through WILDCOAST’s MPA Floating Laboratories

Last week students from Mar Vista’s Poseidon Academy program boarded the  fishing vessel Sea Watch out of Seaforth Sportfishing Marina in Mission Bay and participated in WILDCOAST’s Floating Laboratory Project. Once aboard, students split into three research groups and began sampling water quality, plankton, and fish abundance and distribution.

Under the guidance of WILDCOAST staff and volunteers, students used modern sampling techniques to measure various water parameters to determine water quality, executed plankton collection using towable nets, dropped GoPro video cameras on fishing rods to observe fish assemblage and dissected squid. When the three-hour sampling cruise was complete, each student research group presented their methods, findings, and the importance of their data, all of which was collected inside the South La Jolla MPA (marine protected area), to the other groups. They used the collected data to contribute to ongoing baseline monitoring efforts in California’s statewide network of MPAs.

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Get To Know The Ocean – The Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus

Photo by Brian Gratwicke

I am the Cleaner Wrasse, also known as the Labroides dimidiatus, cleanser of other fish to help them with their health such as preventing diseases, parasites, and any other tissue infections. I am most frequently found in coral reefs and in cleaning stations such as in the gills of other fish. Since I am very beneficial to my habitat and have a mutual connection with other fish and with commonly known predators, I’m not seen as prey.

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Ocean Day California 2017

Image Oceana Pacifica

On Tuesday, March 14th, WILDCOAST’s conservation team headed to California’s state capital for the 12th annual California Ocean Day 2017. This annual event allows coastal and marine conservation focused agencies the opportunity to connect with elected officials at the state level to advocate for healthy ecosystems and clean oceans. This important work comes just weeks after one of the largest sewage spill in recent history in the Tijuana River. This unprecedented spill of sewage just south of WILDCOAST’s offices in Imperial Beach has close beaches throughout south San Diego county and poses a major public health and safety risk. To highlight the importance of our oceans, WILDCOAST sat down for face-to-face conversations with some of California’s most influential legislators to discuss important upcoming legislation and inspire conservation of California’s iconic ocean and coastline.

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The State of the California South Coast State of the Region Report


The South Coast State of the Region report is a summary (2011-2015) that sheds light on the ecological and socioeconomic state of the South Coast region during the implementation phase of the South Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). This report takes into account the expansion of the statewide MPA establishment to San Diego county in 2012.

The South Coast State of the Region report discusses the baseline ecological monitoring that occurred in the first few years after MPA establishment and the importance of these finding. Varying projects and stakeholder groups came together to produce a comprehensive report that provides insight into the overall health of the region’s coastal and marine ecosystems and human use in these areas. It is important to establish accurate baselines for ecological and human use monitoring to create a basis of understanding for improved management of resources through informed decision making.

Some KEY HIGHLIGHTS from Baseline Monitoring:

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Get to know your neighbor: Sea Urchin, Echinoidea

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-3-09-59-pm

I am a Sea Urchin and a part of a class of organisms called Echinoidea. There are 950 species of Echinoderms in all of the world’s ocean and found all over the world in warm and cold water, typically in rock pools, mud, coral reefs, kelp forests, and seagrass beds. I live in clumps of 5-10 and my lifespan often exceeds 30 years, however scientists have found some specimens to live over 200 years making me one of the longest living animals on earth. I am round and spiny ranging from 3-10 cm. I can be various colors including black, dull shades of green, olive, brown, purple, blue and red. Since I am nocturnal, I usually hide during the day and become more active and feed at night. I prefer to eat seagrass and seaweed that grows on the rocky seafloor. Sea urchins are a primary food source for sea otters, starfish, wolf eels, triggerfish, and others that hunt for me. In the San Diego area, sea urchins are important to kelp forest ecosystems as a food source for the California spiny lobster and sheephead.

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President Obama Expanded the California Coastal National Monument

Image by Unknown

Image by Unknown

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama announced the expansion of the California Coastal National Monument to include six new sites located in the counties of Humboldt, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Orange, covering a total of 6,230 acres.

These new sites are not only important habitats to a range variety of marine animals and natural resources, but they are also areas of cultural and historically significance.

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