Bluebelt Coalition recognized for support of marine reserve

The City Council on Tuesday honored the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition for its successful campaign to include Laguna Beach in the California network of marine reserves.

"I have seen these people in action," said Mayor Toni Iseman, one of the four council members to support the reserve in Laguna. "They are formidable."

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 5 to 0 to designate Laguna's shoreline as a marine reserve, thanks in part to Bluebelt members' constant presence at local and state hearings.

The coalition was created to spearhead and coordinate community efforts related to the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process, said Sandy Dildane, coalition facilitator.

But the proposal to close the city's shoreline to fishing for at least five years did not have complete community support.

Councilman Kelly Boyd, who was absent from the meeting due to the death of one of his brothers, actively opposed the inclusion of virtually all of Laguna's coastline in the South Coast network.

Boyd, a dedicated angler since childhood, opposed the loss of fishing rights and local control over city beaches due to state enforcement of the fishing ban.

Signatures opposing the reserve were gathered throughout the city, and the petitions were presented to the council. However, the council majority remained steadfast in its support.

"Throughout the process, Laguna always stood out," Dildane said. "We always had a significant presence at all the MLPA meetings. From the numbers of people and their thoughtful and respectful comments, we showed that we were more prepared than any other city to help protect a state marine reserve and that our already existing city and community resources uniquely positioned Laguna Beach to effectively partner with the [Department of Fish and Game] to protect a Laguna reserve."

Environmental Committee member John Stevens announced the coalition had won one of the awards, a John Barber starfish mounted on a wood base recycled from old pieces of the Main Beach Boardwalk. Iseman presented it.

"The Laguna Bluebelt is very honored to receive the Environmental Award from the City Council. We are excited for the implementation of the new Laguna reserve," Dildane said. "In places where the reserves have been operation such as around the Channel Islands," fish stocks and invertebrates have rebounded impressively and kelp forests have thrived.

"Additionally, around the world, marine reserves have benefitted communities by increasing ecotourism," she said.

The award was accepted by Charlotte Masarik, Village Laguna representative for the coalition; Ray Hiemstra, Orange County Coastkeeper; Village Laguna President Jinger Wallace; Michael Beanan, longtime environmental activist; and Dildane.

"I would like to acknowledge the communitywide support we had for creating protected areas with the goal to restore the health and abundance of our ocean," Wallace said. "We celebrate all the people and organizations in addition to the coalition members that contributed to this effort."

"With this award, the ocean, which defines our community, achieved the recognition and honor it deserves," Beanan said.

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