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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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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Exploring San Diego MPAs!

By WILDCOAST MPA Intern Maria Esther Diaz.

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying WILDCOAST on two of its #ExploretheCoast programs. WILDCOAST coordinated with San Diego’s Outdoor Outreach to bring groups of middle and high school students to the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. As is common amongst people in San Diego, the students did not know what Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were or that they even existed. At the start of our days together student knowledge was evaluated and some were not aware that MPAs are open for public use. The main objective of these trips is to educate students from all over San Diego on MPAs and provide them the opportunity to interact and engage with local MPAs on a personal scale.

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WILDCOAST and the Philippines’ Collaborate for Ocean Conservation

One of over 7,000 islands in the Philippines.

Last week I departed on a two-week journey to the Philippines to help facilitate an intensive training with the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and United States Agency for International Development to enhance the Philippines marine protected area network. Based on WILDCOAST’s experience in California, Mexico and Cuba, I was asked to be a facilitator, with a group of local mentors, to train over 60 MPA managers from across the Philippine archipelago.

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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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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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Poacher Busted for Messing with California’s MPAs

Images by Hayley Miller

In a recent victory for San Diego County Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliot struck a plea deal with poacher Jeff Anthony Zenin which landed him 3 years of probation, a $30,000 fine, the loss of all fishing gear used during his poaching acts and the forfeiture of his rights to obtain a fishing license in the state of California. Zenin, a resident of Arizona, was caught poaching abalone in the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve (SMR) in September and October of 2015. Due to the fact that Zenin was caught poaching inside an MPA he was penalized to a greater extent than the typical abalone poacher. Follow the link to read the full article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

MPAs are established to protect the natural resources within by creating take restrictions. MPAs are often placed in areas of ecological significance that act as essential habitat for managed species. MPAs offer a conservation solution to the overharvest and incidental take of species that ensure a healthy functioning ecosystem.

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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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New study outlines importance of adaptive management strategies for MPAs

Ourdoor Outreach students learn about tide pools, tagging and estimating sealife populations at Scripps Institiute of Oceanography.

Students overlooking the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve

WILDCOAST has long supported the conservation of our coastal and marine resources through a number of management strategies. In recent years the primary tool used for natural resource management in coastal and marine ecosystems has been the implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs). The establishment of MPAs is a relatively recent advancement in conservation science and works by restricting resource removal in select areas. Areas selected to become MPAs are chosen because of their importance as critical habitat, cultural sites and for strategic resource management. Recent studies have supported the benefits of MPAs showing that they increase the size of fish and invertebrates and act as a sort of “recharge station” for fisheries while improving overall ocean and ecosystem health. Many of the MPAs established around the state, such as those in San Diego, are approaching their five year review.  

In a recent paper published in the journal of Ocean and Coastal Management titled Assessment and management of cumulative impacts in California’s network of marine protected areas, authors Megan E. Mach, et al. explain that simply establishing MPAs as stationary zones of protection may not be an effective management strategy without taking into consideration larger environmental stressors. As human population grows, sea surface temperatures rise, invasive species spread and the ocean becomes more acidic, management of MPAs needs to remain flexible the their ability to adapt. These adaptive approaches require the cooperation of stakeholders from all walks of life. The issue is that at times policy is slow to adapt to best management practices and as the paper points out “Marine protected areas are likely to result in desired conservation outcomes when human activities and their associated stressors impacting biodiversity and ecosystem integrity are understood, and the most important of these and their cumulative impacts are addressed.”

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