News / USA

Underwater Parks Preserve Pristine California Coastline

Protected marine sanctuaries lure divers, scientists

Point Lobos State Reserve is a sanctuary for thousands of sea and shorebirds.
Point Lobos State Reserve is a sanctuary for thousands of sea and shorebirds.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

The nation's oldest underwater reserve is one of nine protected marine areas along the California coast.

While Point Lobos Underwater Reserve is off-limits to fishermen, recreational divers enjoy the park's pristine conditions while scientists take advantage of the untouched eco-system to measure change over time to the environment.

Pristine conditions

Brandon Smith kneels down on the Point Lobos beach to double-check his SCUBA gear before he goes in the water. "You have to do everything a specific way every single time," he explains. "You don't want to make mistakes, because the worst time to find out that something's not working is, like, when you're [18 meters] under water."

Brandon Smith and his friends get ready for a dive at Point Lobos.
Brandon Smith and his friends get ready for a dive at Point Lobos.

Smith and his two companions are training to be on the Monterey County Sheriff's dive team, a law enforcement group that recovers criminal evidence from the water. Smith, a recreational diver and police officer, joined the group partly because he has always been fascinated with the ocean.

He says the expansive waters of Point Lobos have appealed to him for years. "It's just beautiful, but just specifically in Point Lobos, it just seems like everything's a little bigger. I never knew that starfish could ever get as big as they get. I mean to see one that's like [60 centimeters] in diameter and it's just cruising along the bottom, it's just kind of like, 'Whoa! Oh my god!' But it's a lot of fun."

He says a dive here is an eye-opening experience.

Luring scientists

The protected conditions at Point Lobos provide a base line to which researchers can compare data to measure environmental change.

"Without that base line, it's hard for us to try and ascertain if any of the differences or changes that we see long-term can be attributed, things like environmental change or human-mediated impact," says Dr. Corey Garza, an assistant professor in the division of Science and Environmental Policy at California State University-Monterey Bay.

Point Lobos Underwater Reserve is one of nine protected marine areas along the California coast.
Point Lobos Underwater Reserve is one of nine protected marine areas along the California coast.

He notes that the biggest threat to these protected underwater areas is people: poachers, boaters who spill oil, even visitors who disrupt the ecosystems by taking home souvenirs. Native Americans, Chinese fishermen and Japanese abalone harvesters have all called this area home at one point or another so, Garza says, the story of the park is also one of the human experience.

"We've changed our use of the environment over time and that's kind of one of the great historic things that marine reserves can do for us, just give us an estimate of how we've sort of changed some of these ecosystems, both through our use of it and in terms of what we're taking out of it." 

Educating visitors protects park

Park rangers like Chuck Bancroft help maintain these protected marine areas by enforcing the park's rules, doing a little bit of everything related to the upkeep of the Reserve, and teaching the public about life underwater. Bancroft has worked at Point Lobos for close to 30 years, and loves talking to students about the marine life here and the history of Point Lobos. "To me, the thrill is being able to see things here and then pass it on to another generation," he says.

Ranger Chuck Bancroft's job includes enforcing the park's rules and sharing its wonders with visitors.
Ranger Chuck Bancroft's job includes enforcing the park's rules and sharing its wonders with visitors.

School groups come here from all around California, and other visitors come from even farther away. "We actually have handouts in 20 different languages to welcome people from around the world that come to visit here," Bancroft says.

"I remember one evening, I was closing up and a little car comes up and a gentlemen gets out and it turns out he's from Italy. And the only things he can say in English are 'Point Lobos' and 'Edward Weston'." Weston, an American photographer, created some of the magnificent photos of Point Lobos in the 1930s which still attract visitors today.

Preservation

California State University's Corey Garza says visitors like these, and divers like Brandon Smith, help make scientific research in the area is possible. "You can't have research and you can't have conservation unless you have a public that's actually invested in conserving that," he points out. "And so those parks actually provide for this educational aspect, as well helping people understand what the marine environment is, what's in there, and why is what you find in there important to them? So that's what I think the real big value of parks are."

Not only has this research added to our understanding of the ocean, it's helped shape government policies. Studies conducted by different institutes around Point Lobos provided the scientific basis for laws which created protected marine areas, including Point Lobos itself, which became a reserve in 1960.

As a diver, Brandon Smith understands the importance of protecting these areas, both for the creatures that live here and the people who enjoy it. "If you're going to learn about the ocean," he says, "there's no better way of learning it than seeing it first-hand."

Conservationists hope that scientists, and respectful visitors, will keep that possible at Point Lobos for years to come.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid