January 18, 2012

Protecting my Playground with Save Our Shores, by Nancy Connelly

By Nancy Connelly, Sanctuary Steward Class of 2011

Having lived on the coast my whole life, east then west, beaches have always been my “backyard”, my playground. Like all the other active kids (young and old), I spent innumerable hours both in the water and on the sand, and continue to do so.

When I prioritized volunteering last year and began researching local non-profit organizations, Save Our Shores was a natural fit.

In the eight-week training course that all volunteers commit to, I was quickly disheartened when the SOS staff and guest speakers revealed the general state of the oceans, the garbage patches, and the specific threats to our backyard, the incredible Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. I was especially surprised to learn the direct correlation between our daily dependency on plastics and the negative impact on marine life. Fortunately, I also learned some simple actions to curb my dependency and ways to educate others.

Cleaning beaches with local residents, community groups, school kids and UCSC students, and companies that have “adopted” beaches has been far more fun and rewarding than I ever imagined. For some that make their way to the beach it turns in to an “eye-spy” game, for others a competition for who gathers the most, sometimes it’s a family activity or time with friends and neighbors. But without a doubt, when these local caretakers head home, they’ve all had some fun, they’re all more aware, and they all feel good.

Beach clean-ups are only part of what I’ve done with Save Our Shores, but so far it’s been the most fulfilling.

Seeing the smiles, community spirit and watching bag after bag, pound after pound of trash and recyclables removed from my playground is the best feeling there is.

The 2012 Sanctuary Steward course starts on Tuesday, February 21st!
Act NOW - Apply online today!

January 17, 2012

It's Elephant Seal Viewing Season at our Local MPA: Ano Nuevo State Park

A visit to the Wildlife Protection Area at Ano Nuevo State Park during the winter months feels like you’ve stepped right into a film project of the Discovery Channel. With a northern elephant seal colony into the thousands, Ano Nuevo is a place unlike any other here on the Central Coast.

In fact, there are only a few places on earth so special that elephant seal colonies return year after year to breed and give birth, and we just happen to be lucky enough to have one of them some 25 miles North of Santa Cruz on our famed Highway 1.

Ano Nuevo is also a Marine Protected Area!
This means the ecosystem is protected, thriving, and monitored.

The number of northern elephant seals in the Pacific Ocean used to be in the hundreds of thousands, but after being harvested at a devastating rate in the 1800s for their oil, less than 100 remained in the entire Pacific Ocean by 1892. But luckily for the elephant seals as well as us wildlife enthusiasts, both the Mexican and U.S. governments gave elephant seals protected status in the 1900s, and their numbers have been on the steady rise ever since.

The first northern elephant seals were sighted on Ano Nuevo Island in the 1950s, and because of the nutrient-rich waters right offshore, the protective sand dunes on land and the isolation of the small island offshore, Ano Nuevo State Park has become a mecca of wildlife viewing for visitors from around the world.

The most popular time to view the elephant seals is during breeding season, which runs from mid December to the end of March. It is during this time that the females give birth to their pups, the giant male "bull" seals (some weighing up to 8,800 pounds!) battle each other for breeding access to the female harems, and the mothers nurse their pups until returning to sea sometime in the month of March.

And while January and February are considered the peak season for viewing elephant seals in their natural environment, a visit to Ano Nuevo in the month of March, and especially early March, is still an exciting time to step into your own real-life version of the Discovery Channel.

It’s important to note that because the northern elephant seals are humongous, sometimes aggressive, federally protected and often even a little bit moody, visitors to Ano Nuevo between Dec. 15 and March 31 must accompany a trained naturalist on a guided wildlife hike to view the animals. This naturalist-guided walk is the only way you can reach the wildlife viewing area, and the only way you can access the elephant seals in their natural habitat.

It’s a beautiful, 3-mile hike with a finale unlike any other, and reservations are usually an absolute must. I still share stories to this day of my first visit to see the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, an experience I wouldn't trade for the world.

So with the Pacific gray whales migrating south through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary right now, and the northern elephant seals colonizing at Ano Nuevo State Park, winter on the Central Coast is an incredible time to experience wildlife right in our own backyard.
You can make reservations online at anonuevo.reserveamerica.com or by calling 800-444-4445.

January 9, 2012

A Life on the Ocean that Brought me to the SOS Sanctuary Steward Course, By Ronn Rygg

"I think I'm a lot like most other people who find solace in being near the ocean. It has not only been a source of comfort and rejuvenation, but has persistently influenced my life to one degree or another. I feel fortunate to have had a long association with it from my early years living close to the beach and body surfing in SoCal, to my early adult life when I joined the Navy and made it a career. It was a place to honeymoon many years ago, and a place I now call home, on the Monterey Bay.

While at sea in the Navy it was easy to see the ocean as vast and limitless. I flew helicopters off the fantails of ships which gave me many different angles and countless pleasant memories. On calm, cloudless days, you could climb to altitude where you'd see open ocean from horizon to horizon - and the only human presence, your small ship. You could see the wake of your ship rippling out in a great “V” reaching out mile after mile to those horizons and then disappearing.

It was all so humbling - the vastness of it all.

Many years ago, I had heard about an organization called Save Our Shores up in Santa Cruz and it got me thinking about becoming more active with the stewardship of the oceans. But living in Monterey County, it seemed better for me to work locally. It wasn’t long before I heard about the 2010 Coastal Cleanup Day being conducted at beaches around the Peninsula and I signed up to volunteer with my teenage son Travis, who has his own love for the ocean.

The beach we went to was manned by Andrew Hoeksema from SOS. Andrew shared that SOS was just starting to work in Monterey County and was looking for Stewards from the Monterey area. Perfect!! So I volunteered and then went to the Sanctuary Steward training which started a few months later.

The Sanctuary Steward program was a very enjoyable and informative course about the beauty and bounty of the ocean, but was also disturbing. The training enlightened me as to how much we have lost just in the course of my lifetime, but also hopeful about what we can do together to turn things around and bring it back. It has been a great personal experience and by-the-way, a terrific father/son activity that Travis happily and frequently participates in.

By Ronn Rygg, Sanctuary Steward Class of 2011

Why should YOU join the Steward Class of 2012?

Classes start soon on February 21st!