Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#272: Mapping Accuracy

Some time ago I walked into our local bank to withdraw the last of my funds in a CD that has helped support me since leaving the Conservancy seven years ago. I'm going to have to sell a lot of DVD's in the future to keep writing this column and producing my cable TV show (hint, hint, hint). As Jane was preparing the paperwork, she mentioned that her husband had been watching my cable TV show and commented that the dive site we on the King Neptune now call "Blue Car Wreck" was formerly known as "Tin Can Beach."

Of course I've been on Catalina long enough to remember life before the golf cart tumbled down that hillside to give the beach its new name, but this brings up an important point. Place names are not static, and even familiar locations may change identity over time. For instance, many of the Banning, Shatto, Lick and earlier place names are no longer used. How many of you can tell me where Guadalajara or Banning's Beach were located? They are both early names for what we now call Toyon Bay. What about Escondido or Fisherman's Harbor. These were older names for what we now call Big Fisherman's Cove near the Isthmus. And did you know that the place we currently refer to as Long Point was known as Lone Point as "recently" as the turn of the 20th century.

When I was with the Conservancy, there was a move to rename Rattlesnake Canyon to Fox Canyon. The reasons were largely related to marketing this location as a boat-in site. The existing name was felt to be a deterrent in attracting people to kayak to or land there, which of course may have been true. Since foxes are more charismatic critters than our equally ecologically "necessary" rattlesnakes, some believed the change would bring more people to experience this beautiful location. However, imagine the uproar if they changed the name of Shark Harbor to Sunset Bay just to draw more campers there.

I was very much against such a name change. No, I love foxes... they and rattlesnakes are part of the island's ecosystems (although both may have been introduced by the early residents of our island). Anyone who knows me realizes I'm not a hard and fast traditionalist in most areas. However, there were very valid scientific reasons for opposing such a name change. Fortunately the late William Wrigley, a very wise man (for a Yalie), agreed!

Scientists including botanists and marine biologists have been collecting sample specimens of plants and critters from the island and its waters since at least the 1600's and most likely even earlier. When an early botanist refers to a plant having been collected at Trident Point, Elysian Park, Spook Cave, Piedracitas Canon, Hermosillo Cove, Charlie Miller's Landing or Partridge Shelter; it is good to know the current name of this site if one is to try to find the plant again.

Maintaining historic place names can be very important for scientists when referencing past collecting locations. It is also important for historians if they are attempting to reconstruct past events on the island... or on that "Big Island" across the Channel that stretches from Lost Angeles to New York City. Fortunately scientists often, but not always, include maps with place names to identify the collecting locations named in their publications. Certainly this helps compare collections made from different periods. I've perused many such maps, and seen many name changes over the course of the last century or two.

Back in the early 1990's I introduced GPS (global positioning system) units to the Conservancy so we could more accurately provide locations for our ironwood groves, rare plants, exotic weeds, roads and other features. All this information was integrated into a GIS (geographic information system) which I'm pleased to say is still being used extensively to help manage our wonderful island. The increasing use of such technologies will aid future scientists who need not contend with place name changes since they will have accurate latitude and longitude information. Even so, they may have to contend with the changing spheroids, datums and projections of geography.

How many of you realized the complications that might arise from renaming a location? Of course many of us on the island know that renaming a boat can be disastrous. I learned that decades ago while at Toyon Bay after investing more than half a year's salary into refurbishing the St. Pierre dory I bought from Carl Zeiner. I renamed it from "Agape" to "Eleutheria" (the Greek word for freedom) and it promptly sank (uninsured) within a few months! Later Gordy, Barney and Boppo the Clown resurrected the hull of my dory and it became the banana boat before finally sinking back into the sea.

Likewise, I was aghast when the decision was made to move Avalon's weather station away from the ocean to a location with less marine influence. The reason I've heard was that, due to the ocean's influence, our summer temperatures were too "low" as reported on SoCal weather forecasts to attract tourists. Heck, I'd think many of them would love to experience our "cool" summer temperatures when the mercury rises above 90 on the mainland. By moving the weather station, our historical weather record was rendered incompatible with all future data. Climatologists and others will certainly not approve. Heck, they might even think that Avalon was hit by global warming's impact within the short span of a year.

I guess to be consistent, I should start calling Blue Car Wreck by its earlier name, Tin Can Beach. Of course it might be more appropriate to call the dive site itself "Hook and Slice" since there are lots of golf balls on the bottom there, courtesy of those who practice their drives of another type from the road above! We sometimes refer to these as turtle eggs in our site briefings for the divers. Some of them even believe us, especially since there have been a few turtle sightings at the site. If the divers look close enough, they'll see these "eggs" have "species" names like Titleist, Spaulding and Wilson.

© 2008 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 "Munching and Mating in the Macrocystis," "Great White Sharks of Guadalupe," "Calimari Concupiscence: Mating Squid, " "Playful Pinnipeds: California Sea Lions," "Belize It or Not: Western Caribbean Invertebrates, Fish and Turtles," "Gentle Giants: Giant Sea Bass," "Common Fish and Invertebrates of the Sea of Cortez" or the upcoming "Sharks and Rays of Southern California" DVD's. Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Here is my solution to the renaming of Catalina's landmark locations

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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