A Robust Recovery
As Lagunans await implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act along our coast, an exciting announcement went out two months ago from one of the world’s premier science centers, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This past August, the Scripps website (http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu/Releases/?releaseID=1180) reported: “Results of a 10-year analysis of Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP), published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, revealed that the total amount of fish in the reserve ecosystem (the “biomass”) boomed more than 460 percent from 1999 to 2009.”
Located near the tip of the Baja peninsula, Cabo Pulmo’s fish stocks had been depleted by fishing. Citizens living in and around the town took action in 1995, establishing a marine park and strictly enforcing “no take” restrictions. “We believe that the success . . . is greatly due to local leadership, effective self-enforcement by local stakeholders, and the general support of the broader community,” concluded the authors of the report.
If all of this has a familiar ring to it, it is because Laguna Beach citizens, under the leadership of the Bluebelt Coalition, took similar initiative in 2009-2010 by working with stakeholder groups to safeguard our marine habitats in order to replenish vanishing fish stocks. The process, including lively exchanges between various stakeholders, was not always pretty but real democracy rarely is tidy and always dignified. Necessary for a good outcome, both in Cabo Pulmo and Laguna Beach, was the basic rule that science should be the ultimate guide and arbiter of policy disputes about the extent of protection to be afforded marine life.
Science is surely necessary but not sufficient in itself to insure a good outcome for our city’s marine life. Monitoring and enforcement of Laguna’s Marine Protected Areas are just as necessary. Nearly a dozen mussels torn from rocks by fishermen and speared garibaldi were reported at Shaw’s Cove last summer. So when the MLPA goes into effect early next year, our citizenry will need to help with surveillance and implementation to make sure that the science-based policy decision of the California Department of Fish and Game is enforced. Cabo Pulmo’s citizens have been doing this for more than a decade, as noted above, with extraordinary results.
Moreover, Cabo Pulmo’s experiment shows that with strong enforcement Marine Protected Areas are economically beneficial. Not only have Cabo Pulmo’s fish stocks come roaring back but the marine economy there has rebounded as well. Again, according to Scripps researchers: “Strictly enforced marine reserves have been proven to help reduce local poverty and increase economic benefits, . . . Cabo Pulmo’s marine life recovery has spawned eco-tourism businesses, including coral reef diving and kayaking, making it a model for areas depleted by fishing in the Gulf of California and elsewhere.”
Laguna’s reputation as an eco-tourist destination has a ways to go before catching up with the town’s long-standing cachet as an arts venue. But as public awareness of ocean-related issues increases, the media will be paying more attention to those beach communities whose reefs and other marine habitats abound with life. What will be good for ocean ecology will most likely be good for business as well. The converse is true also: what harms ocean ecology will most likely harm business. These days more than ever before, the environment and the economy must be treated, policy wise, as inextricably connected, two sides of the same coin. If the economic benefits that Cabo Pulmo now enjoys are any indication, eco-tourism, including many ocean-related activities with commercial impacts in Laguna, should be on the rise once the MLPA takes effect here. “Green Light” will track this matter, reporting on how the anticipated fish and habitat recovery corresponds with eco-tourism and marine-based commerce here and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the news from Cabo Pulmo suggests that a robust marine recovery is imminent in Laguna.
Tom Osborne, author of two books with a third under contract, is a retired Santa Ana College history professor, a former Environmental Committee member, and a recent recipient of the city’s Environmental Award.