Volunteers to gather data at Palos Verdes Peninsula protected marine areas

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Posted by Divebum Don on January 21, 2012 at 15:36:07:

Volunteers to gather data at Palos Verdes Peninsula protected marine areas

By Kristin S. Agostoni Staff Writer
Posted: 01/20/2012 07:35:59 PM PST
Updated: 01/20/2012 08:05:52 PM PST

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If Mother Nature cooperates and water conditions allow, volunteers will spend today tracking activity by boaters and others at one of the state's newly created marine protected areas off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The volunteers aren't enforcers of the rules that went into effect on Jan. 1 and prohibit or limit fishing in protected zones from Point Conception to the Mexico border - that's the job of wardens with the state Department of Fish and Game.

But they will serve as an extra set of eyes on the water and shoreline, and collect data that they say could be useful in managing the MPAs.

The creation of the underwater parks came in December 2010 - more than a decade after the passage of the state's Marine Life Protection Act. The act called for the creation of a statewide network of ocean preserves - with the goal of protecting marine habitats and boosting fish stocks.

The long-awaited planning process that got started in 2008 was controversial, often leaving fishermen at odds with environmentalists.

In Los Angeles County, protected areas exist today off Point Vicente and Abalone Cove on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and off Point Dume in Malibu.

The nonprofit group Heal the Bay, which early last year began collecting data about MPA usage in Malibu, plans to train volunteers for the first time today on coastal trails and bluffs near Point Vicente - where fishing is prohibited in a 15-square-mile section of ocean.


(The rules differ in a smaller protected area nearby off Abalone Cove, where the "take" of marine life is allowed by only certain fishing methods, including white seabass by spearfishing and market squid by hand-held nets.)

"We're going to have them stop for about five minutes at key lookout points," said Heal the Bay marine scientist Dana Murray, a coordinator with the volunteer initiative called MPA Watch.

The effort is modeled after one started on the central coast, where marine protected areas went into effect in 2007. The goal is to collect unbiased data about who is using the MPAs - whether it be people fishing, tide-pooling, surfing, running on the beach and more, Murray said.

The data could point to trends in and around the protected areas - perhaps an increase in activities such as diving - or help identify sites in need of enforcement.

"We'd like to track human-use trends inside and outside MPAs," Murray said. "This social data will complement the biological data collected by other groups."

While Heal the Bay volunteers plan to work on land, another group with Santa Monica Baykeeper hopes to collect data today by boat. Weather permitting, a crew planned to leave Marina del Rey and monitor the waters off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Malibu.

The surveying coincides with Underwater Parks Day - an initiative that got under way in 2009 to raise public awareness about ocean resources.

"For us, it's anybody. If it's a sailboat, we'll mark it down. Even if it's a Coast Guard boat, we'll mark that," said Brian Meux, marine program manager with Santa Monica Baykeeper.

Somewhat different from Heal the Bay's program, Baykeeper's initiative involves an education component; Meux said volunteers could reach out to boaters who are fishing in the protected areas and advise them of the law.

As the Department of Fish and Game prepared last month for the MPAs to go into effect, a spokeswoman said the agency had 75 wildlife officers in Southern California, along with three large patrol boats and a fleet of skiffs. Enforcement would be at the discretion of wardens and could range from a warning to arrest, depending on the situation, she said.

"We're taking the approach of educators," Meux said. "Most fishermen out here want to do the right thing."

So far, Murray said she's seen a positive response to MPA Watch.

"The public's been really enthusiastic. We've been getting people from all over Los Angeles County and Ventura County," she said. "I think it's because, the ocean, it belongs to no one and it belongs to all of us. I think ... people want to be involved and they want to help protect it."


Follow Kristin Agostoni on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kagostoni

Find out more

For more on MPA Watch, link to: www.healthebay.org/get-involved/volunteer/mpa-watch. Santa Monica Baykeeper's website is www.smbaykeeper.org/

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