One of our first activities in San Diego was to head to the Cabrillo National Monument, a national park site commemorating Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo’s landing at San Diego Bay in 1542.
The park is on an isthmus jutting out into the Pacific and when the tide is low the rocky shore gives way to a bounty of shallow dwelling sea life. The tide pools boast blue starfish, lime green anemone, oysters, crabs and more.
While we were there we came across a man illegally harvesting shellfish, while his young son looked on. He knew what he was doing was wrong — there are signs everywhere noting the park’s federal protection — but barely tried to conceal what he was up to. So we tracked down the park service agent watching over the tide pools and reported the creep as he was high-tailing it out toward the parking lot. The park service agent hiked out after him, not to return, at least for the duration of our stay as we investigated the northern pools.
We’re hoping that even if the man wasn’t charged, he — and his young son — learned a valuable lesson. Every person taking “just one” thing from nature, be it a flower or an oyster, is helping to destroy the very thing they loved so much they just couldn’t leave it alone.
But up the coast in La Jolla we witnessed a shining example of vigilant, if not somewhat vigilante, nature conservation. Children’s Pool is a small cove protected by a man-made seawall. The project was funded by the Scripp’s family (everything big in San Diego was funded by the Scripp’s family it seems) and created as a place for kids to swim safe from the Pacific’s vigorous surf.
The cove largely filled in with sand and soon was taken over by the local population of harbor seals. They too like somewhere safe to sun and swim.
While watching these happy, torpedo-like animals hump their way up the sand to sleep, a roving sightseer decided to buck the trend of respect for the animals, blatantly ignore all the posted signs about it (again) being against federal law to harass the wildlife and see just how close he could get. He walked down the beach, ducked under a rope delineating public/seal space and went in for a gander.
A young woman standing on the sidewalk above the shore interjected. “Sir ... sir ... sir ... what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Ignoring her the man walked closer, frightening a few seals so that they quickly humped their way into the water for a quick escape. Having had his fill, the man calmly walked back up to the sidewalk overlooking the cove to where an enormous lifeguard was waiting for him.
Lifeguards are really police officers who happen to have great tans, drive cool Jeeps and can drag a body out of the surf. It seems like an interesting job, enough so that they’ve made a Court TV show about San Diego’s Beach Patrol, which we had just so happened to catch the night prior. Turns out the waiting lifeguard was one we’d seen on TV and who was most likely the largest, beefiest and at the moment angriest of the bunch.
There were about 20 minutes of rather entertaining altercation as the wormy little rabble-rouser attempted to lamely explain his disregard for all posted laws and wildlife in general. And it was great to see someone get publicly chewed out and told to get out, for what boils down to being stupid and greedy. Again — the wildlife isn’t there for you and you alone. It’s not to be poked or prodded. We are to be thankful that these comically beautiful creatures are tolerant enough to let us experience their company.
The San Diego Animal Advocates are working to protect the seals. In 2004, the San Diego City Council voted to remove the rope barrier and educational signage around the site, with the intent of dredging out sand and returning the cove to humans. It’s grown into a raging controversy of man versus nature. Personally, I say the seals not only have the right to be there, they are a boon to the local economy. There’s nothing special about a beach full of screaming children, which we’ve got on every developed coastline around the world.
As of November 2005, city council members had decided to appeal a court decision mandating the dredging of the cove. Now the Save the San Diego Seals group is asking people to contact council members, the city attorney, and California legislators to express their support for keeping the seals and continuing to protect them. For more information, visit www.savesandiegoseals.com.
— By Sarah Kucharski