Paul Meister and White's Point - Who was Paul Meister - Part One

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by Elaine on September 10, 2006 at 12:26:59:

In Memory of Paul Meister - Part One

Recreational Divers Making a Difference

Retype of an article that appeared in "Pacific Diver" Magazine, the November/December issue 1990

I have retyped this article as I couldn't get it to scan very well for publication on the web. Pacific Diver Magazine no longer exists. This copy of the article was sent to me by Dodie Meister. The advertisers that I recognize in the pages of the article that now have web pages are ABC Photo in Los Angeles, Scuda, Peace

The Quest for "Common Knowledge" by Rick Baker

The Coastal Monitoring Program is working with sport divers to discover what's really happening beneath the surface of our oceans.

Our oceans are vast resources that produce much of the food we eat and, through the formation of clouds, the water we drink. They also act as absorbents for the pollutants and waste products that we produce, and scrub the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is warming our planet. In short, our oceans support life itself.

Only we divers are able to see an ocean in three dimensions. Only we can see firsthand the fragile interdependence between marine animals and plants. And only we are able to notice changes in the underwater environment as they happen. Let's face it, if all the garibaldis were to suddenly disappear from our favorite cove, who would notice but us divers?

Which poses a larger question. Just what if all the garibaldis were to disappear from our favorite cove? Would it be normal garibaldi behavior to disappear like that, or would their disappearance be some sort of indication of an ecological problem? And could we tell the difference?

Probably not, unless we were privy to local "common knowledge." It's common knowledge, for example, that gray whales migrate to Baja's Scammon's lagoon to calve, or that water tends to be colder but clearer in the wintertime. These bits of information help us to paint a picture of what's "normal" for our surroundings.

Underwater "Common Knowledge" is Thin at Best

As it turns out, surprisingly little common knowledge exists when it comes to knowing what's taking place beneath the surface of our oceans. for example, there is little common knowledge to help understand the blooming of sea ferns, or the herd movements of sea hares, or where and when specific fish will be nesting. And this is unfortunate, because if we can't recognize what is normal, how can we tell when things have become abnormal? Or, stated differently, only by being able to recognize what a healthy undersea environment looks like will we be able to detect when it's sick.

The challenge, then, is to fill in the gaps in our undersea common knowledge, a task that is easier said than done, primarily because gathering any kind of underwater common knowledge is extremely difficult. In order to gather sufficient information to come up with a single piece of common knowledge about, say, a particular section of reef in a particular cove off the Southern California coast, you'd have to have at least a handful of divers diving that spot all day, every day, 365 days a year!

Obviously, this is a physical and financial impossibility for conventional scientific data gathering organizations. But it's not impossible if you can tap into that portion of our population that's in the water all the time anyway - recreational divers.

Sport Divers Play a Vital Role in Gathering Data

This idea of using sport divers for gathering data was first tested back in 1967 when Dr. Wheeler North was invited to give the biology portion of training for the L. A. county Advanced Diver Program (ADP). That year, ADP candidates moved kelp plants from Leo Carrillo Beach to Point Vicente in an attempt to restore the Palos Verdes kelp beds. The attempt failed, but it cut a new path in data gathering for others to follow.

Photo of Kelp with caption: "Due in part to the efforts of PURP, kelp beds have returned to the Palos Verdes coast".

Photo of Crystal Cove State Park with caption: "In July 1990, diver teams did a Coastal Monitoring survey at Crystal Cove State Park".

Encouraged by the enthusiasm and commitment shown by recreational divers, the L. A. County Underwater Unit initiated the Palos Verdes Underwater Restoration Project (PURP) which was run cooperatively by four agencies: the L. A. County Department of Parks and Recreation (which administered the program), the Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers (which supervised the actual ocean work), the Los Angeles Fish and Game Commission (which funded PURP) and the California Institute of Technology (which provided scientific guidance).

The project started at White's Point on the Palos Verdes coast on August 1, 1971. To everyone's amazement, on that first day over 800 sport divers showed up ready to volunteer their time for kelp restoration. Based on this astounding turnout, PURP administrators decided that if their immediate goal (restoring the kelp beds) was successfully accomplished, they would attempt to use recreational divers on an ongoing basis to monitor offshore resources.

By 1972, kelp slowly began to return to Palos Verdes, so the next year the Greater Los Angeles Council of Divers formed an Ocean Projects Section to investigate the feasibility of developing a program to implement the long-term offshore monitoring and management goals of PURP.

In 1976, L. A. County initiated the Coastal Monitoring Program in cooperation with the Ocean Projects Section to develop baseline data for coastal management. The Los Angeles chapter of the Oceanic Society joined the program two years later.

The 1980's saw a closer working relationship develop between the scientific and recreational diving communities with improvements in the organization of interpretive monitoring and educational activities. The main dive site for monitoring was Issei Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It was here that the techniques for underwater coastal monitoring took shape. This shore station was easily accessible, a place where divers could consistently find specific underwater locations and work under favorable conditions. The observations gleaned at Issei Cove laid the foundations for the future expansion of coastal surveys.

One of the first monitoring systems set up as part of the expansion program took place in Orange County at Crystal Cove. In July, 1990, survey teams of the L. A. county Advanced Diver Program did the cove's first underwater Coastal Monitoring survey. Using all the skills learned over the years at Issei Cove, they were able to complete the survey in only one day.

Photo of Paul Meister with caption, "Paul Meister, Founder of the Coastal Monitoring Program".

Newsletter and Meetings Help Divers Keep in Touch

It takes a little bit of training for the average recreational diver to be able to notice and report aquatic activities in such a way that they become useful to a data base. For this reason the Coastal Monitoring Program developed training procedures at its shore stations to enable divers to return to their own dive spots and begin to gather information that would contribute to the creation of additional pieces of common knowledge.

A computer data base has been developed to incorporate and process all information generated by volunteer divers. Common Knowledge Data Forms ask definitive questions about specific topics. divers simply make their dives, then fill out the easy to use forms and mail them into the data base.

New training programs are constantly being developed, data forms are revised and meetings are held to present findings.

The Coastal Monitor Newsletter Provides A Platform For Divers To Write In With Problems Or Discoveries

and share information with other volunteers. Notifications of classes, meetings, and other pertinent information are available through The Coastal Monitor newsletter which keeps participants updated on activities as well as provides a platform for divers to write in with problems or discoveries.

If you've ever had the desire to get more personally involved with your ocean, meet other environmentally active divers, add a new dimension to your sport and contribute to the gathering of offshore common knowledge, consider getting involved with the Coastal Monitoring Program. Subscribe to the newsletter, sign up for the classes. By being involved in this program you can actually make a difference in the future of your oceans, and at the same time have a heck of a lot of fun. □

Rick Baker studied marine geology at the Moss Landing Institute at Moss Landing, California, and holds degrees in chemical oceanography and geology.

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