renaissance

Diving in to Protect Laguna’s Treasure

By Justin Swanson | LB Indy

 

Marine protection officer Jeremy Frimond on his new beat. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Marine protection officer Jeremy Frimond on his new beat. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Jeremy Frimond’s love for the ocean spurred his professional and academic pursuits of the past seven years, dedicated to understanding the watery world and preparing himself for its service, both for the human and gill-breathing kind.

“I’m a total water baby,” Frimond laughs. “I’ve never been farther away from the ocean for more than a month in my life.”

Frimond, 25, was named as the city’s new marine protection officer last month. The position, which was last held by Calla Allison, was created in part due to a campaign by the locally based Laguna Ocean Foundation, whose mission is ocean preservation. Their members also played a role as advocates for imposing marine protections that restrict fishing along most of Laguna’s coast.

“Our volunteer tide water docents quickly realized that, to be effective, there needed to be more muscle,” says foundation chair Louise Thornton. “Thus began a petition and letter writing campaign which ultimately swayed the City Council to create the position.”

Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Frimond starts his job with a wealth of marine acumen.

Graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a bachelor’s degree in marine zoology, Frimond continued to follow academic pursuits when relocated to South Africa. There he participated in research on great white sharks, studying how thermo-regulation helps them survive in ocean environments of varying temperatures.

“We were at the forefront of knowledge,” he describes. Time there also gave him a stronger grasp of the complexities of real world work in a marine habitat, he says.

Now, he’s applying some of those experiences in his hometown. The objectives of the marine protection officer, as Frimond finds them, rely heavily on educating beach goers. When he’s out walking the shore, he’s reminding people where fishing is not allowed, which stretches are state-protected “no take zones” where nothing can be removed from the beach. He will explain the balance and rejuvenation the ecosystem is undergoing.

“We can win the battle through education,” Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow says. “But we have to have someone with the power of enforcement for those one or two percent of people choosing to break the law.”

While the marine protection officer’s main goal is to educate and gain compliance with the Marine Protection Act, others including fulltime lifeguards, animal services officers, police officers, and the harbor patrol all have the authority to issue citations, Snow says. Ultimately, he says, the law associated with citations is under the authority of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which patrols the entire coast and whom the other agencies support.

By protecting an area where all kinds of sea creatures can flourish, the ecosystem will build up and spill outside of the protected areas, in theory providing a healthy coastline, says Frimond, echoing the policies behind the state’s Marine Life Protection Act.

“You can’t protect the coastline from behind a desk,” he says.

Frimond also enforces state regulations limiting the number and size of catch by recreational anglers where fishing remains permitted in south Laguna as well as those who might be disturbing the ecosystem. He patrols the entire span of Laguna’s coast, including the water within a three-mile triangle from Laguna’s shoreline.

“We didn’t have anyone to handle an egregious situation,” Thornton says, for instance, a beach-goer prying a bucket full of muscles off the rocks. While lifeguards often encounter instances of marine protection violations and have the authority to make citations, their main objective is preventing beach-goers from dangerous conditions and drowning, not the protection of marine life. “We needed someone with ticket authority. Once word got out people were getting tickets, it’s amazing how it stopped,” she said.

The marine protection officer also works closely with the tide pool docents, who are funded and trained by the Ocean Foundation but lack the ability to halt violators other than by persuasion.

“I take my hat off to them and look forward to working with them more regularly,” he says.

The Ocean Foundation volunteer docents and educators focus on intervening, making contact with people around tide pools to let them what laws apply. Thornton says this strategy gets a dialogue started. She says Frimond is there to step in when people are out of control or unresponsive to the admonitions of docents and educators.

There is no denying Frimond’s fascination with the sea, from the kaleidoscope of color reflected in its surface to the serenity of underwater silence. “There’s so much mystery. It’s a frontier right in our backyard,” he said.

Frimond feels honored to serve in the marine protection post, but also holds a protective sense of responsibility for an environment which substitutes as his second home. “I won’t let the community down,” he says.

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