Big Corona limiting rock, shell collecting

CORONA DEL MAR — The days of collecting shells, rocks and other sandy souvenirs at Big Corona State Beach are coming to an end.

Little Corona State Beach has long been a protected marine area, but starting Jan. 1, 2012, Big Corona State Beach will be included when changes to the state Fish and Games Marine Life Protection Act take effect.

Currently, Little Corona and its tidepools are part of the Robert E. Badham State Marine Conservation Area, which limits collecting rocks and shells along with tidepool creatures and wildlife.

Poppy Avenue had been the border, but the new act will extend the protected area to all beaches below the East Jetty.

The entire area will be renamed and called the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area.

"The purpose was to streamline," said Susan Ashcraft, a staff environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game's Marine Protected Areas Program.

Ten marine protected areas have been merged into three, she said.

"It's a big simplification," she added.

The Marine Life Protection Act passed in 1999, she said, and will go into effect Jan. 1.

"It's been a long process," she said.

The changes mean that visitors on Big Corona will have to follow the guidelines currently in place at Little Corona — not removing shells, rocks and sea life. Fishing, diving, swimming, kayaking and other activities will continue to be permitted.

Michelle Claud-Clemente, marine protection and education supervisor for the city of Newport Beach, applauded the changes.

"The spirit of the law is to protect the habitat," she said. "There is life on the rocks. Rocks and shells break down and become sand. Or a shell can be a new house for a hermit crab. If everybody takes a shell, there would be none left."

Clemente said she's prepared new educational materials and will be educating visitors about Big Corona's new status.

Changing the name to Crystal Cove from Robert Badham reflects state officials desire to name protected areas geographically rather than in honor of people, Ashcraft said.

The Little Corona area was designated a protected area in 1968 and was named after Badham in 1999. Badham was a longtime Balboa Island resident and was an assemblyman and congressman. He died in 2005.

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