Love On The Rocks
While the invertebrates of Point Pinos seek tranquillity, vertebrates lock claws over how to keep them happy.
Thursday, September 9, 1999
Or so say retired science teacher Jim Willoughby and his wife, Lee, who, after years of watching people pick over the tide pools, finally decided to call the cops. The P.G. police were summoned and an officer arrived on the scene.
"We had collected one rock with algae on it about the size of a tea cup saucer," Cross said. "The police officer said there is a moratorium on collecting rocks in P.G. We told him we didn''t know that, put the rock back, and he let us go on our way."
This citizen''s arrest, of sorts, was just one in a series of tactics by the Willoughbys to stop the human meddling they believe is destroying the nearly mile-long fertile coastline at Point Pinos. Hoping to find a legal leg to stand on, the Willoughbys searched deep into the P.G. codebook and found the above statute that reads: "Anyone...who removes sand, gravel or rocks [from the coastline] shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."
Clearly, the Aquarium staffers are guilty, right? Wrong.
The aquarists had permits issued by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) to collect rocks from the shoreline. The scientific "take" of marine life or the underlying rocks and sand, when permits are properly issued and obeyed, is absolutely legal.
Cross and DePue believed they were following the rules. They had received the requisite permits from both the Sanctuary and the California State Fish and Game Department. But they weren''t aware of the various overlapping codes, which are confusing, at best.
For example, the portions of the Point Pinos tide pools that lie beneath the mean high tide fall within the jurisdiction of the MBNMS. The tide pools are part of the P.G. Marine Garden Fish Refuge, an area already governed by strict policies limiting the collection of any invertebrates without a permit. But only about a third of Point Pinos (from Coral to Asilomar) is owned by Pacific Grove and falls directly under city control. The rest is state park land, over which the California Coastal Commission may have the final say.
The jurisdictional mess is not enough to frighten Willoughby and the newly founded Coalition to Preserve and Restore Point Pinos Tidepools from their mission of creating a reserve at the tide pools. Nor is the fact that nearly every local, ocean-related research institution and government agency, including the Aquarium and the MBNMS, disagrees with his no-take proposal-at least until it can be proven that scientific harvesting is harming marine life populations.
In fact, Steve Webster, chair of the Sanctuary''s Advisory Council and the Aquarium''s marine science advisor, contends that excluding scientific take from the Point Pinos pools may do more harm than good.
"Unless you are doing science, including some take, we''ll never know whether we are accomplishing anything," Webster says. "You cannot do science by just looking or taking pictures. Lots of small things exist in tide pools that cannot be seen."
The Aquarium insists that the amount of marine life it takes from Point Pinos is insignificant. "Ed Ricketts probably collected more at Point Pinos than all current collecting combined, except for the sea otters (which weren''t there then)," continues Webster.
The problem is that no one, not even the state officials who oversee the permitting process, appears to know how much is actually being collected from the pools. To plug the information gap, the Aquarium is voluntarily compiling its own records to share with the community, and officials there hope other institutions will do the same, says Aquarium spokesperson Hank Armstrong.
Whether or not they get the proof of a massive exodus or die-off of sea life, the Willoughbys insist they have seen a marked decline in sea life in the Point Pinos pools over the years. And, even if they haven''t, they still want a no-take zone.
"We don''t care one bit whether there is an abundance or a dearth of marine life," Jim Willoughby says, "we want that area to be totally protected for future generations, as Point Lobos is today. We are not going to wait for a study that is fair and unbiased."
There, he said it. Regardless of which side the science comes down on, the Willoughbys want all collecting stopped. And they mean it.
They have lined up some big names on their side. Most recently environmental heavy-hitter Jean-Michel Cousteau joined the Sierra Club, Coastal Commissioner Dave Potter, and hundreds of Coalition supporters in endorsing the proposal for a no-take park. The Coalition has already collected 1,400 signatures in support of their proposal and is now planning to draft a ballot measure to go before the voters in November 2000.
The campaign has members of the Monterey Bay scientific community up in arms. "Jim has done some wonderful things in focusing attention on this issue," says Armstrong. "The only thing we disagree with is the no-take policy. If institutional collecting is having a harmful impact on the tide pools, we would have to change our policy. But from what we know, there is no impact and no science to prove there is."
Still, the ruckus Willoughby is causing has served to focus some much-needed attention on Point Pinos. In fact, most interested parties now seem to agree that because of the high amount of foot traffic there, Willoughby''s other demands are probably a good idea.
Sanctuary Superintendent Bill Douros supports funding of the comparative field study Willoughby requested. And the Aquarium, in cooperation with the Sanctuary, has offered to pay for interpretive signs to be placed along the seashore to educate the ever-increasing number of tourists.
Moreover, a program to monitor visitors at the pools will soon bolster the already strict no-take laws in place at Point Pinos. Milos Radakovich of the environmental volunteer corps Bay Net is starting a special training course this month to position docents throughout the tide pools. "We hope that by having on-site educators and interpreters," Radakovich said, "people will have a better experience."
And maybe then, so will the scientists and the seabound creatures of Point Pinos.