By Greg Helms
One of the great assets of the Gaviota Coast — and of our work to preserve it — is the biological richness created by its combination of sea and land features. As a volunteer board member with GCC and as a conservation advocate with Ocean Conservancy in my day job, it’s my privilege to promote protection and sustainable use on both sides of the high tide line.
Another personal benefit is the chance to pay the natural world back for the endless recreational value I receive from it, favoring both sides of my endless middle-child Gemini dilemmas over wet or dry off-duty pursuits. Here are some observations, issues, and recommendations for fully appreciating Gaviota’s full palette of salt, sand, and sage.
Many conservation supporters recognize the importance of diverse, complex wildlife and habitats to sustain natural areas. Gaviota’s natural health is served by and dependent on vibrant populations of wildlife interacting in adjacent saltwater, terrestrial and intertidal (wet, dry, and in-between) habitats. A fantastic illustration of this is the osprey making a breakfast of what I believe is an olive rockfish in Kris Mainland White’s piece that appears a bit lower on this page.
Formal conservation efforts along the Gaviota Coast have begun to recognize this, as in 2012 a string of marine protected areas were established along southern California, including three along Gaviota. Naples Reef state marine conservation area, for example, protects a rare and outstanding set of underwater pinnacles located about three-quarters of a mile off Naples point. The conservation area also includes the kelp and seagrass-dotted areas inshore, and connects them to the shoreline, which itself features dramatic, exposed “hogback” rock formations visible on the beach on lower tides. Together with a patchwork of State Parks, private land easements and other land use designations, the marine protected areas are a strong start towards an interconnected system of formal protection for our coast.
I’ve often felt that if I could give every person a snorkel and mask, policies for greater ocean protection would be unanimously supported. And actually, a kayak, surfboard or SUP tends to do the same thing: creating a personal connection with a place builds an unbreakable bond of support for its protection.
This is why Gaviota Coast Conservancy sponsors guided hikes along both the beach and bluff top areas along the coast. Please watch this site for opportunities to join in! We also hold kayak trips supported by local outfitters that are an easy, safe and fun way to observe the coast and kelp forest alike. Underwater exploration of Gaviota’s wonders requires a paddle, swim, or private boat under current circumstances, but the rewards of a visit to Naples Reef, Tajiguas Reef or Refugio Cove — to name just a few — are well worth it.
A major conservation issue affecting coastal health also has a very personal set of solutions: plastic litter and pollution. Plastic does not disappear once it enters coastal ecosystems, and damages them at every level. Large plastic objects disrupt habitat. Smaller pieces cut or choke seabirds, fish and sea turtles. Very small plastic bits and fibers mix with plankton and enter the food chain when eaten along with it. Individuals can play a crucial role in mitigating plastic impacts while large organizations and governments work to reduce plastic packaging, production and increase producer responsibility for the products they produce. Reduce the plastic packaging you purchase, carry reusable bags to collect litter whenever you see it, and join groups like GCC, ChannelKeeper and Surfrider in beach and creek cleanups.
Support local, sustainable seafood by favoring fish bought at the Saturday fisherman’s market or the Santa Barbara Fish Market. Choose great local options like black cod (sablefish), trap-caught spot prawns, or many other locally caught options. Acting with your food dollar supports conservation and our important, historic fishing community. Or try catching your own by getting a fishing license, observing all fishing regulations and area restrictions and wetting a line.
Above all, take personal advantage of the many aspects of the Gaviota Coast, aware of its many treasures as well as its challenges and threats. I’m betting this will deepen your desire to learn about and to protect our world-class coast, just as it has mine!