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New signs in Encinitas point out protected area for marine life

The expansion of the Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area, covering Moonlight Beach to the northern border of Solana Beach and then three miles offshore, took effect in 2012. But officials say not everyone is aware of the marine reserve.

“This is a ‘no-touch, no-take’ zone,” said Encinitas lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles while standing at the bottom of the Swami’s Beach stairs. “So you can’t bring a bucket down to the tide pool here, collect marine life and pour it back into the ocean. We get a lot of that.”

To boost education, officials are installing 64 new signs from San Diego to Point Conception showing the borders of the marine reserves and what’s allowed in them. And the signs explain that the purpose of the areas is to replenish marine life.

As part of this effort, Encinitas on Aug. 26 received two signs to mark the Swami’s protected area. One was placed at the base of the Swami’s Beach stairs and the other at the edge of the Moonlight Beach parking lot above the beach.

Officials say the signs are geared toward casual beachgoers and fishermen, since commercial fishermen know about the Swami’s marine protected area.

In the Swami’s reserve, taking marine life is forbidden, with the exception of hook-and-line fishing from the shore and spearfishing white seabass and finfish. The idea behind such reserves is that replenished stock will spill over into nearby, unprotected areas.

Surfing and other recreational activities are allowed in the Swami’s marine protected area. However, Giles said it’s a “no-touch, no-take” zone for good reason.

“When people pick up sea life at the tide pool here, it really is a big impact,” he said. “A lot of those species get damaged or killed when they’re extracted.”

Zach Plopper, the coastal and marine director of the conservation group Wildcoast, said a sign was installed on the Swami’s Beach stairs in 2012 to point out the Swami’s marine protected area. However, the new signs have more information about marine ecology, while the old one is focused on enforcement.

“And these new signs let them know about the recreational opportunities in the marine protected areas,” Plopper said. “It’s about what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.”

The California Ocean Protection Council paid for the signs, and the California Coastal Commission recently approved them. Some of them will be installed at protected areas that don’t have signs, according to Plopper.

Wildcoast is helping put up the signs throughout San Diego County over the next two weeks. Besides installing signs, the group gets the word out about marine protected areas with brochures, presentations to local agencies and by educating youth.

The California Department of Wish and Wildlife is tasked with enforcing the marine protected areas. Plopper, however, said education is the main deterrent against violations.

Katherine Weldon, the city’s shoreline preservation manager, said the Swami’s marine protected area is “an amazing ecosystem.”

“We consider Swami’s special because it has the surf grass, which is a nursery habitat for lobsters and fish,” Weldon said. “Also, it has the kelp beds offshore, which are a treasure themselves.”

For those who don’t have a chance to check out the signs, the reserves’ rules and borders can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov. The website also has a cellphone app with that information.


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