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Cuts Loom for Tidepool Educators

As of August, often the busiest summer tourist month, the tidepools in Laguna Beach’s most popular marine sanctuary will likely be staffed with fewer tidepool educators because of a potential funding shortfall.

As part of its mission, Laguna Ocean Foundation took on the responsibility of training and funding tidepool educators several years ago to instruct beachgoers on the tidepool habitats of Heisler Park and Treasure Island Beach, which are part of the citywide marine life protected area. The foundation warned its 18-member educator team of “an extremely limited program at Heisler” for the high-tourist month, according to a recent email from an LOF official.

“The money hasn’t come through yet,” said Louise Thornton, the foundation’s board chairwoman, referring to anticipated grants. “We might get the money; we might not.”

Money or not, the rocks will be covered, promised Thornton. “We will do what we have to do to make sure there’s people out there,” she said, “whether they be educators or docents.”

The number of paid shifts may need to be reduced because this year’s grant money is at the end of its run, Thornton said.

LOF’s educators and 50 volunteer docents monitor the tidepools at low tide and talk to visitors about marine animals while also informally serve as guardians of the animals and their habitat. The city’s marine safety department includes one fulltime marine protection officer. Even so, the potential for violations has grown enormously since the state declared nearly all of Laguna Beach’s coastline a marine preserve in 2011.

A delay in receiving promised grants occurred in previous years as well, making the foundation’s programming dependent on funding decisions by its mostly anonymous benefactors, said Thornton. In 2010, the foundation claimed $194,000 in assets, according to the latest filing at Guidestar.org, which compiles nonprofit financial reports. “Sometimes we get the check early enough to be able to say, ‘Ah, nothing’s going to change,’ and other times we don’t hear from them and then we do. We’re on pins and needles every time.”

A peak season month, August can bring nearly 1,000 beachgoers ambling through the Heisler Park tidepools on any given day. Tidepool educators are at the rocky outcropping just below the gazebo at the south end of Heisler Park almost every day during low tide. They also work at the Treasure Island tidepools below the Montage resort. Docents volunteer at Woods Cove, Shaw’s Cove and Crescent Bay.

 

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