Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#304: SoCal and Catalina MPA's, Part I

As regular readers of this column know, my son Kevin recently became a certified SCUBA diver. It has been a joy to do a few dives with him here in Catalina waters. This past weekend he called to let me know he was boarding a private boat in Newport Beach and heading out to Catalina for a weekend of "bug" hunting. No, he wasn't looking for flies or grasshoppers... it was the opening weekend of lobster season in California, and he was planning to catch a few. Previously he's dived off the mainland hunting for fish.

More than three decades ago, I made a decision to stop all personal take of marine life as well as land-based hunting which I used to do for food and ecological control. Based on this, am I critical of my son's choice to hunt? No, not as long as he takes legally and eats his catch (or shares it with me). In this day and age when most people get their food sanitarily packaged in plastic or cans from the grocery store shelf, I think it is a good thing for people to partake of food they have actually captured, dressed and prepared. Most in our country are too far removed from their prey, and too unaware of the food webs they are immersed in.

To get philosophical on that point for a moment, I've traveled in a number of so called "under developed" countries across the globe primarily to SCUBA dive. I've noticed that people in their cities tend to be much less happy and secure than their fellow citizens who remain in the rural areas. I've attributed this to the fact that those in the cities are isolated from most of their support systems. They work at jobs to obtain money to buy the necessities of life. They live in densely populated areas where individuals often become anonymous due to the lack of family ties. Sound familiar? Fortunately, not so much here on the island.

Those in the less populated areas live close to their sustaining resources. If they are hungry, they can fish, hunt or gather food from the surrounding area. They usually have chickens, pigs or cattle to provide food as well. If they are lonely, they have the social support of their families and the village. Sound familiar? Just consider the difference between living in Avalon and living in the midst of the monster, Lost Angeles-Diego. One of the reasons I stayed here after my first year of teaching was that if the dreaded atomic blast ever occurred, I'd know where to find food. That remains a consideration to this day, especially as I hear the news about the troubled state of our economic system.

Where am I going with this? Whether you love the ocean as a place to harvest your food, or as a place to enjoy the wonders of nature in a non-take fashion, you are connected to the marine environments that surround our island. They may sustain your soul, or your stomach, or both. If you have children, or (gulp) grandchildren, you hope that they will be able to enjoy that same sense of connection that you and I do in future years.

Over the decades that I've lived on Catalina, I've listened to the tales of many "old timers" (a status I'm all-too-rapidly approaching) about the way things were in their younger years. I've read the works of Charles F. Holder, Zane Grey and others about the incredible fishing in our waters back in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Assuming there is only a tiny element of the typical "fish story" to these remembrances, our waters were amazingly plentiful a century or two ago. Few of us have personally experienced that "baseline" from which to judge the health of our marine ecosystems. Our "baselines" started much later, after decades and more of commercial and recreational take, not to mention pollution and other impacts. Few, if any, of us know how abundant truly healthy fish and invertebrate populations would be.

Whether you are an angler or an underwater videographer and marine biologist like myself, you should be concerned about the well-documented decline in marine stocks over the years. Many of us have noted such decreases within our own lifetimes. If my son continues to hunt, I want him to have sufficient game present so he can take without seriously impacting "bug" populations for the future. I also want our waters to offer areas that are rich in species and diversity so scientists can study healthy ecosystems, and imagers like myself can record their beauty to share with others.

In my opinion, if we are to accomplish this successfully, there will have to be more marine protected areas (MPA's) established where no take is allowed. MPA's created throughout the world have documented the value of such an approach. Based on scientific evidence, they create regions where fish populations can recover and increase in number. The "spill over," adult fish and their larvae that leave the protected area to colonize reefs and other habitats outside it, increase fish stocks available for anglers. Anyone who has watched "party boats" fishing right off the Casino Point Dive Park know that many anglers understand the value of areas given some protection too. Anyone who dives or snorkels in the park can see first-hand the abundance there.

In 1999 the California legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Its intent was to establish a scientifically-based, coherent series of marine protected areas along the California coast that would protect a sufficient number of locations to allow fish stocks to rebound, healthy ecosystems to emerge and "spill over" to replenish heavily fished areas outside the MPA's. The MLPA process has already designated networks of such protected areas in the States central and northern waters, and is now focusing on southern California including Catalina.

Next Wednesday, October 8th, a meeting will be held in our City Council chambers at 5:00 pm. Participants in the actual MLPA process are coming over from the mainland to explain the methods used in identifying areas for such protected status. They will hear input from the public on the MLPA, and specifically about areas within our waters that might be so set aside. Whether you are an angler, or a non-take snorkeler or SCUBA diver, I hope you will attend this meeting to gain a better understanding of the goals and procedures involved. We should all strive to leave the world better than we found it.

© 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 DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Divers feeding the abundant fish life in the Casino Point dive park.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2008 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia