Now that Nancy Caruso has completed the “easy” task of producing the hugely ambitious Kelpfest, she can return to the heavy lifting she does daily, from taking students on science expeditions to places like Bolsa Chica, Joshua Tree, Yosemite and the Laguna Bluebelt/Greenbelt (Canyon to Kelp Forest tours). And also to restoring the native habitat of our oceans — particularly the green abalone. For no kelp forest restoration is complete without a robust abalone population.
“They are the filter feeders of the nutrient soup created by an active and diverse kelp forest,” permaculture expert Bill Rolle said.
Sounds like a no-brainer that everyone would embrace. Yet Nancy has run into roadblock after roadblock for three and a half years, from a sourcing crisis to dealing with an obdurate Department of Fish and Game. Some would call it a Sisyphean task.
But she soldiers on with her quest to restore the precious fisheries we lost through habitat degradation, over fishing, and, in the case of abalone, over walking onto the reef and picking them off for an easy and tasty beach barbecue — despite a devastating consequence.
Nancy began the Abalone Project with nothing more than sweat and perspicacity, plus 2,400 students from 10 different schools she recruited to raise them. She found the only two domestic abalone farms, bought their existing stock, and raised them in classrooms until they were large enough to thrive at sea. But then she ran into an impediment more threatening than any predator: a Fish and Game bureaucracy that would not give approvals to outplant.
Nancy wasn’t given any reason except that they were too “busy” — for three and a half years. During that time her stock dwindled. When Fish and Game finally decided Nancy had the science to do this responsibly, and it might just work, she encountered two new problems: 1) The source farms were no longer producing abalone because there wasn’t enough demand; and 2) She would not be permitted to outplant in Marine Protected Areas like Laguna because Fish and Game did not want human intervention to affect the outcome.
The irony is that while the goal of MPAs is to restore our habitat by limiting human intervention we are nonetheless imperiling our progress by allowing the rescue of record numbers of sick sea lion pups. No intervention to bring back abalone back from extinction. But total intervention to protect and propagate an already over-populated predator.
I know, they’re furry little creatures that make cute plush toys and we anthropomorphize them with human names. But they are fish eating Hoovers that can grow to 1,000 pounds, and that’s just the sea lions. Elephant seals consume so many fish they resemble SUVs. They wreak far more devastation on our fisheries than recreational fisherman. Where’s the balance of nature in that?
While no science has revealed the cause of this epidemic, the most logical explanation is that there’s simply not enough food. And isn’t that the point of the MPAs in the first place? So while we coo in adoration over these playful mammals with the big, innocent eyes and congratulate ourselves on enacting legislation to restrict fishing, we seem to be on the wrong end of the logic pole.
Which brings us back to Nancy. After a long fought battle, Fish and Game has finally approved her outplanting in the non-MPA area of Newport Beach. But now there’s no abalone in the schools or farms.
Most people would have thrown in the towel, but Nancy, the crusader, won’t quit. She’s on a mission to raise enough funding to get the farms to start raising abalone again. She hopes to raise several hundred thousand dollars, and one thing I’ve learned is never bet against her.
In fact, if any of you can help, Nancy would sure appreciate it. And in the bargain you may one day be able to tell your children that you helped facilitate the return of magical, mystical Kelp Forest Abalonia. You can learn more and donate by visiting Nancy’s website at https://www.getinspiredinc.org.
BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and on the board of Transition Laguna.