Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#378: Sea Trek

It's still winter in Avalon (but not for long!)... 'tis the season for rumors to flourish while we all have idle time on our hands. Hopefully in a few months we'll all be busy as beavers welcoming guests to our island paradise. As I walked along Front Street the other day, I was saddened to see the pictures of new attractions like the zip line and Sea Trek defaced with mustaches and other graffiti. Think of the message this sends to our visitors about us as a community. We need such new attractions in town to draw people back to the island. As I was looking at the posters, a friend commented that some locals are not happy about Sea Trek going in at Descanso Beach. This surprised me as I've not heard a complaint that I can remember.

I was involved in looking at the Sea Trek operation early on. I was asked to make an informal survey of the site originally proposed in the Casino Point dive park. It was my opinion as a marine biologist and diver that this was not an appropriate site for the attraction. It would require alteration of the rocky breakwater habitat to build the platform, removal of kelp to keep the entry path clear, and would restrict divers from what I consider one of the more interesting areas of the park. When the dive park is finally declared as an official marine sanctuary, the clearing of kelp might well be illegal. My words and those of others were listened to, and the alternate site in Descanso Beach was suggested.

I was asked to do another informal survey of that location, and dove it with Joel Geldin, president of California Ships to Reefs. We both felt it was a much more appropriate location for Sea Trek as it did not cut through the kelp, but allowed visitors to walk alongside the beds near the shore. I was asked by the SCICo to write a letter of support to the Coastal Commission as a marine biologist with over 40 years of experience diving our island. To clarify, I was never paid for either the surveys or the letter, so my opinions have not been biased by personal gain (even though this starving dive bum could use the money). I'll summarize my findings here so residents will better understand my thinking.

The sandy bottom off Descanso Beach is a habitat type that is frequently "disturbed." I'm not suggesting it needs to see a psychiatrist... I mean in an ecological sense by water motion and marine life. Bat rays dig large holes in the soft substrate to feed, sometimes six feet in diameter and a foot or two deep. Sheephead dig smaller holes, but more numerous. Waves and swell create dynamic conditions, resuspending and moving the sediment about at will. Of course this means the holes are quickly filled in by the shifting sand. Most soft bottom critters are well adapted to such disturbance since they are generally burrowers that live under the substrate. Add to this the fact that many swimmers and snorkelers currently walk on the bottom there, adding to the existing natural disturbance. Of course unlike in the terrestrial environment where hiking off trail leads to soil compaction and erosion, underwater the sand quickly erases these impacts.

To protect the marine life, several of us suggested the use of raised platforms that would allow critters to live beneath them, and have the participants walk on the platforms instead of directly on the bottom. Worms, crabs and even sand stars could burrow beneath the platforms. Bottom dwelling fish like turbot and other flatfish could swim unimpeded under them. By using these, the Sea Treks participants would not be kicking up sand as is the case with the bathers and snorkelers. Based on these factors, the current location proposed for Sea Trek makes sense to me. Impacts would be minimized if the operation is conducted as suggested. In fact they would be far less than current human impacts at the site.

The educational value of Sea Trek is another consideration that I approve of. I am one of the fortunate folks who spends much of my time underwater experiencing the unique world there. It is almost like watching the movie "Avatar" over and over again, except I have not found the equivalent of the beautiful Neytiri from Pandora... unless you count the visions experienced under intense nitrogen narcosis! The more people who are exposed to the incredible world of our kelp forest, whether by SCUBA diving, snorkeling, Sea Trek or watching my videos and cable TV shows; the better in my opinion. Jacques Yves-Cousteau was fond of quoting the Senegalese poet and environmentalist Baba Dioum who said "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught." Education begins by having people directly experience the magic of the Macrocystis.

I asked Bob Kennedy of SCUBA Luv if he had heard any negative comments on Sea Trek and he said no. If any of my readers have questions they would like answered about the ecological or educational side of this project, please stop me on the street (preferably when I'm not driving the "Dr. Bill Mobile") and ask away. I actually hope to try out the Sea Trek gear myself. Much of my early diving in the mid and late 60s involved using a heavy commercial diving helmet and hookah to vacuum the bottom of deep diving wells in a swimming pool outside of Chicago. I might find it a bit nostalgic!

© 2010 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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The Sea Trek folks testing their equipment at the original proposed site in the dive park

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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