If the brilliance of last weekend wasn’t harbinger enough that spring is fast approaching, the thick, redolent fragrance of jasmine removed all doubt.
As we transition away from our long Laguna nightmare known as winter, we should consider how the mighty Pacific mitigates the gloom — especially this year. For I come not to bury winter, but to praise it.
Summer may mean languorous days on our sun-kissed beaches and 70-degree water, but it can never match the magnificence of ocean in winter, when the crisp air and unfiltered visibility is rivaled for clarity only by the ocean beneath. This year has proved extra tasty, with people in and on the water talking continuously with each other about the water.
The surging popularity of stand-up paddleboarding has made for a convivial community at sea, one that swaps stories the way fisherman used to. Only they use smart phones to capture and display the catch instead of spears and hooks. And they do it side by side as they glide up to the kelp beds, enjoying the unique perspective afforded just six feet above the water.
Our waters have been on steroids this winter, with bundles of baitfish, gaggles of garibaldi, troupes of sea lions and dolphins, and a propagating population of gray whales — all tracked overhead by legions of hungry marine birds. And enveloped by a mad cacophony of kelp careening to the surface, while framed by a dynamic, ever-changing “Technicolor” sky that settles into a pastel palette at dusk.
The power of the ocean to calm the nervous system and bring a mystical quiescence is legion among surfers. But now a broader population is enjoying its transcendent benefits, and it is a beautiful sight to see our sea populated, not by the guttural groans of speedboats, but by human-powered paddlers moving gracefully through the waters.
Which brings us to the question of whether, after a full year, the no-take restrictions of our Marine Protected Areas have contributed to this resurgence.
Most experts agree it is too early to tell. And though my livelihood depends on a healthy ocean, I must confess I fought the prohibition on the fundamental grounds that our freedoms were being eroded on intuition and not science, and that we could manage our fisheries better through education, seasonality, size, bag limits and, most importantly, ongoing habitat restoration versus degradation.
But I was pleasantly surprised to read this week that the first major study of the marine reserves had been released, and the results were positive. According to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, in the protected areas established in 2007 between San Mateo and Santa Barbara counties, marine scientists found that populations and sizes of several key species of fish, along with starfish, urchins and crabs, have increased more than in unprotected ocean areas nearby.
While the study is in no way conclusive — many areas showed no change at all — scientists agree the trends are encouraging. And with daily reports on how sick our oceans are, I now agree too that we must take every measure available to ensure our aquatic ecosystem is as healthy and vital as possible.
This is a bold move by the state of California that is being watched closely and could have far reaching consequences if adapted by nations. And it’s pretty cool to know that we live in a protected blue as well as green belt. Indeed, we can boast to friends and visitors that there is no need to travel to Africa for a safari when we have so much exotic big game right here, and wide open paddleboards instead of enclosed Land Rovers for viewing. See you out there.
BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna.