By Reef Check California North-Central Regional Manager Megan Wehrenberg
Last month we held our first Reef Check community training in Fort Bragg, a town along the beautiful and rugged coast of northern California. We were originally contacted last year by community members who have been active participants in the north coast MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act), the legislation behind a network of newly established marine protected areas (MPAs) going in along the coast of California. Many ocean lovers in the area have been following the decision-making process that has been underway here for the last couple of years. An important aspect to the MLPA is that California is utilizing an “adaptive management” approach to the MPAs, meaning that the sites will be actively monitored and perhaps modified as more is learned about how systems respond to the protections put in place. A number of community members are interested in being part of those monitoring efforts, lending a hand, and learning even more about the coastal areas where they spend so much time. By becoming Reef Check California divers they can play an active role in surveying the nearshore rocky reef ecosystems, helping inform local management decisions.
We were pleased by the turnout of eight exceptional divers from our training program, many of whom came armed with valuable past experiences to add to the mix, including commercial urchin fishing and research diving for the Department of Fish and Game. We had informative classroom sessions at the coastal bluff campus of the College of the Redwoods. Here the trainees learned the Reef Check protocol and shared their own invaluable knowledge of the coastline and safe diving sites. A couple weeks later we held the diving portion of the training at the protected dive site at Van Damme State Park. It was a learning experience for all. Our trainees learned how to do fish, invertebrate, seaweed, and UPC transects, and I discovered you can you still have (surprisingly) beautiful dives in the protected coves of the area with a 8ft 16sec swell, as long as the swell is coming from the NW!
During our time in Fort Bragg, RC staff member Narineh and I spent time scouting the coastline for new sites both inside and outside of the newly proposed MPAs. We talked to local divers and coastal landowners and were met with lots of support and enthusiasm. We are very excited to add several new sites to the list and continue to expand the program in this region. Since the training, Narineh has returned to the area and surveyed one site with the help of some of our newly trained Fort Bragg volunteers. Way to go team Nor Cal!