Musings on the Coast


The Return Of The Dolphins

I live in north Laguna and have kayaked from there for some 20 years.  I cast off from Diver’s or Fisherman’s Cove, push beyond the shoals, then turn north to Emerald Bay. If feeling strong, I paddle all the way to Irvine Cove. Heading north, usually I hug the coast and when it feels right, go straight out to sea for a mile.   Towards sundown, it is especially beautiful; the sun bounces off tens of thousands of windows from the hills of Laguna in a spectacular show of mirrored reflections.


Since last summer, I have noticed something new, or should I say, something new in abundance: dolphins.  They are everywhere. It used to be I would see only one or two dolphins, and maybe only twice a year.  Now, it is almost every trip.   They do not seem to be migrating.   They play, criss-crossing my bow or stern, then swim in giant loops around one of the coves.  A favorite spot is in front of Main Beach, where they circle.


I also noticed something else new beginning last summer: giant kelp beds.  Initially, I saw them off Picnic Beach and Crystal Cove, but they have been spreading. Now, there are clusters all the way from Crystal Cove to Dana Point.   I searched the web on this topic and discovered that the California Coastkeeper Alliance began reseeding the kelp beds 10 years ago.  At first, not much happened, but last summer they hit a critical mass and took off.


According to Coastkeepers, the kelp beds had deteriorated because of human pollution and the invasion of urchins or rather from the over-killing of urchin predators, like otters and lobsters. Urchins love kelp and will eat until none are left.  Their density had hit 15 per square meter until Coastkeepers began moving them in bulk to “other places” (presumably without extreme prejudice).  Then, Coastkeepers organized teams of divers to replant reefs with kelp sprouts, tying them to the bottom with, of all things, rubber bands.


It worked, much more slowly than anticipated, but it happened.  As the kelp began growing, so did the hundreds of species nurtured by it, from microscopic creatures all the way up to—drum roll please—dolphins.


So when you are walking along Heisler Park and spot a dophin pod out to sea, remind yourself it is not a coincidence or accident.  Humans led to their near demise and humans are bringing them back. Good for us. It is a lesson.


Longtime resident Michael Ray is a board member of Laguna Beach


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