Community Commentary: Local waters getting protection they need

I always enjoy my morning walks on the beach, but my winter strolls are particularly special. It's a great time of year for wildlife viewing — just the other day I watched as an intrepid seal took a lengthy trip up onto the beach — and the summer crowds seem like a distant memory.

Yet as I walk the beach these days, I'm weighed down by worry over the health of the ocean, which seems to be in perpetual decline. The world's coral reefs are dying off at a frightening pace, and along the coast of California, the fish that call Laguna Cove and our other nearby waters home are becoming smaller and fewer with each passing year. A recent study found that two popular sportfish — kelp and barred sand bass — have been driven to collapse, and this year's Marina Del Rey Halibut Derby was opened to other species because of dwindling stocks.

Fortunately, there is light on the horizon. Australia recently announced the world's biggest marine reserve in the Coral Sea, and on Jan. 1, a new network of protected waters for Southern California will go into effect, joining "underwater parks" in the central part of the coast through the Marine Life Protection Act. We will be protecting key fish nurseries and feeding grounds, creating a sort of insurance policy for the ocean.

Here in Laguna Beach, our offshore waters will at last have the protections that the local community, including the City Council, have long advocated for. Orange County already has protected areas at Crystal Cove, Heisler Park and other key places, and the Marine Life Protection Act has given us a chance to expand these protections to encompass more of our treasured coastline.

This way, the sea life and scenery we all know and love will delight visitors for years to come.

Even after 26 years living in Southern California, each trip to the beach reminds me of the awesome beauty and power of the ocean. It also reminds me of how inexorably linked the ocean is to our way of life around here. We rely on the ocean for recreation, relaxation, food, the local economy, and as a place to learn from and enjoy Mother Nature in all her wildness.

The creatures of the sea can't speak for themselves, but if they could I'm sure they'd ask for some refuge from the pressures we humans put on them. And given that the protected waters leave nearly 90% of the coast open, there will still be plenty of sea to fish in.

I'm busy like everyone else these days, so my weekday beach walks are often abbreviated to 30 minutes, but on the weekends I can stretch them out to more than two hours.

I scan the horizon for dolphins and whales, watch the pelicans swooping for fish and other shorebirds pecking at sand crabs, and listen to the crashing of the waves. I love the ocean because it's the only place I know that brings me the peace and tranquillity I need to deal with the stress of daily life.

If the ocean is your sanctuary too, join me in celebrating these new protections that will arrive with the New Year. It's a boon to the long-term quality of life here in Southern California, and the health of our coastal waters.

CHRISTINE HYNES lives in South Laguna and runs her own independent insurance business.

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