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

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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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Get to know your neighbor: Leopard Shark, Triakis semifasciata

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Photo by Octavio Aburto

Week #5: Leopard Shark, Triakis semifasciata

I lurk in shallow nearshore marine waters in search of my next meal. I scan the seafloor using senses attuned to find prey that hides amongst the benthos*. When I zero in on my victim I surge forward and use my specially shaped sub-terminal* mouth to pluck it from its hiding place. I have been witnessed moving so quickly that I can snatch the siphon of a clam from the sand surface before it has the chance to retreat to its shell. I Although I can look and sound menacing, I am one of the more docile sharks in existence. At a general length of 4-5 feet I can send a chill down the spine of recreational beach goers if seen cruising underfoot but should be considered harmless.

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Week #4: Giant Spined Sea Star, Pisaster giganteus

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Photo by Dana Roeber Murray

I am one of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures and can only be found in marine environments. I am a member of phylum Echinodermata (Ancient Greek: echinos – “hedgehog” derma – “skin”) and we are special in that we are not found in freshwater or terrestrial environments. Like my brothers and sisters, I also possess the unique ability to regenerate my spiny limbs lost to predators like seagulls and can detach my arms to act as a distraction while I make my escape. If I am cut in half, I have the ability to grow into 2 new starfish—pretty cool! When I’m not avoiding predators I’m on the lookout for my next meal, which generally consists of barnacles, snails, mussels, limpets, and pretty much anything else I can find. I feed a bit differently that other organisms, which in my case means that I can extend my stomach out into tiny cracks in my prey’s shell and digest the soft tissue found inside.

Why should humans care about me?

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Week #3: Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera

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I am the single most important organism in kelp forest ecosystems. So important in fact, scientists named the entire ecosystem after me. I am uniquely adapted to thriving in nearshore rocky habitat that covers much of the benthos of San Diego county’s marine areas. Something that most people do not know about me is that I am not a plant but actually an algae. I differ from plants in many ways, but most noticeably I do not have roots. I have what is known as a holdfast, which I use as an anchor to secure themselves to the seafloor. As one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet, I have been recorded growing by as much as 2 feet a day and reaching sizes of 150 feet in a single growing season. As a primary producer, I provide nourishment for the entire southern California ecosystem and facilitate San Diego counties vast biodiversity. 

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