Academics, government officials, business people and clean-water advocates have been meeting since Tuesday at the seventh annual Headwaters to Ocean (H2O) Conference at the Westin Long Beach, and unless they all got swallowed up by the creatures they gawked at during free visits to the Long Beach Aquarium, they’ll be back at it for Thursday’s closing events.
The conference is presented by Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, the Western Chapter of the Society of Wetland Scientists, California Shore and Beach Preservation Association (an educational and professional association composed of bureaucrats, academics, coastal engineers and other professionals) and California Coastal Coalition or CalCoast (an nonprofit advocacy group comprised of 35 coastal cities, five counties including Orange County, regional planning agencies and groups and business associations committed to restoring California’s shoreline and watersheds).
This year’s conference is dedicated to the memory of Santa Monica Heal the Bay founder Dorothy Green, who passed away Oct. 13.
Participants have been hearing panel discussions on coastal water quality, habitat restoration and sediment management. They have been updated on pending legislation in Sacramento, including bills dedicated to expanding recycling and punishing litterbugs to divert more rubbish out of waterways.
An exhibition area includes presentations by county agencies like Orange County Vector Control, environmental groups such as Earth Resource Foundation and private companies hawking related products. For instance, BaySaver Technologies of Mount Airy, Maryland, supplies stormwater filters. Hydroland of Loveland, Colorado, provides water sensoring equipment that resembles missiles in their slick brochure. Fresh Creek Technologies of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, sells trash removal netting systems that catch debris floating free or coming out of the open end of pipes.
Wednesday’s keynote speaker during a tri-tip and chicken fajitas luncheon was Melissa Miller-Henson, program manager for the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Authorized by legislation signed in Sacramento in 1999, the initiative is a public-private partnership that aims to use the best science available to redesign California’s system of marine protected areas (MPAs) so they work more like one big ecological network and more effectively protect the state’s marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, marine natural heritage and recreational and educational opportunities provided by marine ecosystems.
This is being done by encouraging experts, scientists, resource managers, agency stakeholders and members of the public to all weigh in. But because California’s 1,100-mile coastline is so difficult to manage at once, the MLPA has been broken up into five different study regions. The Central Coast Study Region, which extends from Pigeon Point to Point Conception, was completed first. Findings based on the MLPA process were presented to the California Fish and Game Commission, which adopted the beefed up MPAs for the central coast in April 2007.
Planning is now under way for the South Coast Study Region, which runs from Point Conception down to the Mexican border and includes the islands offshore. In October, the MLPA’s blue ribbon task force named 30 primary members and 27 alternates to the South Coast study group. Among the members are Sarah Abramson, coastal resources director for Heal the Bay, Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslia Daigle and Dr. Jonna Engel, staff ecologist with the California Coastal Commission. Alternates include Ray Hiemstra, associate director of Orange County Coastkeeper, and Calla Allison, a city of Laguna Beach marine protection officer.
Forty-three MPAs have previously been identified, including the State Marine Reserve at Heisler Park, State Marine Parks at Bolsa Chica and Upper Newport Bay and State Marine Conservation Areas at Crystal Cove, Irvine Coast, Laguna Beach, South Laguna, Dana Point, Niguel, Doheny and Doheny Beach. Most are small and never had goals established so they could actually protect anything.
Miller-Henson felt it important to dispel some misconceptions about the initiative. This is not, she said, like the process that was first used years ago to protect the Channel Islands, where sportsfishermen managed to freeze out the public. Heading into this new process, which has already been endorsed by the state legislature, no fixed MPA boundaries are being recognized, no single species will be protected and all human activity will not stop within an MPA, although there could be restrictions to limit ecological destruction.
It is as if the process is starting with a clean slate, and no one on the MLPA staff or the private foundations that fund the initiative control the final decisions regarding the MPAs. Recommendations will be forwarded to state Fish and Game for a final decision, and the public is invited to comment at all steps along the way, Miller-Henson said.
She encouraged people to check the MLPA website (www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa), send emails or snail mail with comments, attend meetings or watch them streamed live or archived online.
“I hope you walk away knowing this process is an example of what public participation should be like,” Miller-Henson said.