Target: San Diego Coastkeeper
Goal: Applaud environmental organization for launching a web application that allows volunteers to monitor the health of Marine Protected Areas by recording human activities.
Innovative in its organization’s mission to protect local waters and foster stewardship of our shared environment, San Diego Coastkeeper worked with engineering students from University of California at San Diego to develop a web application that allows volunteers to gather information about human activities in Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. In California, MPAs are mandated by the the state and defined as areas “dedicated to the protection of marine habitat and wildlife.” By accurately recording human activity in MPAs and analyzing data, we can draw conclusions about how the public values these resources and see where improvements in education and compliance are needed.
A State Marine Reserve is a type of MPA where take of any kind is prohibited. South La Jolla State Marine Reserve in San Diego County is one of such areas that maintains a protected underwater park with a ban on all fishing and scavenging. This reserve is home to many fascinating marine animals including spotted leopard sharks, sea lions, harbor seals, dolphins, migrating whales, and a multitude of fish species and invertebrates who live in the kelp forests and tide pools.
While mandated laws are instructive of how to care for vulnerable ecosystems like La Jolla’s, they do little to inform us of how people actually participate when they visit them, which is an important component in improving conservation efforts. With an increased capacity for information that can be recorded using technology, organizations can more effectively articulate conservation plans ways that resonate with the public in its diverse MPA usage.
By monitoring human use of MPAs, volunteers on watch can determine the effectiveness of boundary markers such as buoys and signs featuring maps. Organizations can also draw conclusions about the clarity of the laws in place. Many people who fish in MPAs are not familiar with the prohibition of take in reserves, or they lack information on which species are legal to fish in limited take zones, known as State Marine Conservation Areas.
Keeping track of how many people partake in illegal fishing shows that there needs to be more emphasis on education and encouraging the public to find non consumptive value of productive ecosystems. Beyond keeping track of poaching violations and pollution, volunteers can also record other activities such as swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and sunbathing.
The use of technology to more efficiently report trends in human use of MPAs can increase compliance with laws prohibiting take by demonstrating that there is much value in preserving our coastal waters for others to enjoy in the future. MPAs can bring in revenue not associated with harvesting. Ecotourism is an example of no take consumption that has made La Jolla a very popular destination to watch seals, sea lions, and seabirds, and to snorkel, dive, and kayak.
Applaud San Diego Coastkeeper for modernizing data collection and recognizing that humans are a part of nature and should therefore be monitored in our interactions with it in order to further the goals of conservation.
Dear San Diego Coastkeeper,
I would like to commend your organization for creating the web application that will give marine conservation a boost by allowing volunteers to monitor human activities in San Diego’s Marine Protected Areas. These areas are the homes of countless marine animal species and diverse underwater ecosystems in recovery from overfishing. Knowing how people are using Marine Protected Areas is crucial in promoting responsible enjoyment of our precious natural resources.
Your app has the potential to enforce the protected status of these ocean waters by showing that the public recognizes the value in both no-take consumption of State Marine Reserves that exhibit impressive biodiversity and beauty, and take consumption of restored fisheries made possible by the observation of sustainable practices. This improvement of data collection of human use in MPAs can have far reaching positive effects on how conservation goals are communicated to the public. Please continue to improve the lives of both humans and marine wildlife by engaging the public in the maintenance of healthy ocean ecosystems.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Joseph Dovala via Ocean Conservancy.