Public Forum: Protected areas proving beneficial

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As a Samohi student in the late 1970s, I lived on Point Dume for a number of years. So I spent a lot of time at Little Dume and Big Dume. My marine biology teacher in high school was Bob Perry (now a longtime fixture at Malibu High).

There was no doubt that living at the Point and learning from Mr. Perry had a tremendous influence on me becoming a marine scientist at Heal the Bay. Both as a former resident and as a scientist, I get how important this resource is to the local neighborhood and to all ocean lovers in Southern California. That is why I have worked hard to protect it for future generations.

At Heal the Bay I have spent thousands of hours on water quality and coastal resource issues in Malibu for 23 years, including partnering with then Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, the City of Malibu, and Save Our Coast leader Mary Frampton on legislation to create a network of marine reserves in Malibu in the mid 1990s. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass, but the Marine Life Protection Act came to fruition a few years later, and as a result, a network of Marine Protected Areas for California’s entire coast has nearly been completed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

The fact that there is a Marine Protected Area in Malibu shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the area, given the city’s incredible coastal resources. And there is no more extraordinary resource than the reefs and submarine canyon off of Paradise Cove and Point Dume respectively.

For the record, Heal the Bay tried very hard during the MPA negotiations to allow shore fishing, spear fishing and kayak fishing in the Malibu no-take zone, but the scientific criteria lumped all recreational uses together. In essence, a kayak fisherman was deemed equivalent to a party boat. As a result of this discussion, BKR (Big Kelp Reef) was divided in half, one half allowing all take and the other half with no take.

Now that Fish and Game have approved the MPA boundaries, it is important to know if the individual MPAs work. The only way to do that is to take a scientific approach and monitor human activity in the MPA before and after the no-take and limited-take requirements take effect at the end of summer. This human use monitoring will complement the biological monitoring that will be conducted by other groups.

Despite what your may hear from some rumormongers, MPAs have nothing to do with public access, surfing, kayaking or diving. We don’t want to build parking lots, stop kids from digging in the sand or yank surfers out of Little Dume. MPAs are only designed to regulate fishing in select productive areas along the coast. Some of the MPAs are no take zones, but many of them are limited take zones that reduce commercial fishing.

Heal the Bay’s pilot MPA use monitoring approach was submitted as a proposal to the USC Sea Grant program and was recently funded ($10K). We plan to work with volunteers to observe how the areas inside and outside MPAs are used. The volunteers will not be involved in any enforcement activities.

They are just there to see how many people are in the MPAs and how they are using them. That’s it. There is no Orwellian plot. We’re just gathering data that will prove useful in determining how the MPA area is used before and after the regulations kick in. Also, observations will determine if the coastal resources on the edges of the MPAs get used a lot more as time goes by. This information is critical to determine if the program is working as intended.

Yes there have been differences in opinion about the MPA process in the Malibu community, but the fact is that these beneficial areas are here to stay. They will allow a precious resource to thrive for generations to come. I would hope that the local community is not swayed by reports of a few disgruntled opponents intimidating volunteers. Please support these volunteers and their valuable work.

Mark Gold, President, Heal the Bay