By Reef Check California's North-Central Coast Regional Manager Megan Wehrenberg
The weekend of October 9-10 marked the 4th annual Sonoma County campout and survey extravaganza! During that time, volunteers from all over northern and central California flocked to the Sonoma coast to survey our five sites in this region and to just enjoy each others’ company. This is a favorite time of year for many, taking advantage of the good fall weather and diving conditions on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the state. Twenty–four Reef Checkers joined our team camping at the Stillwater Cove Ranch, our base camp for the weekend. We rented the ‘Dairy Barn’ at the ranch with a large kitchen and cozy wood burning stove where we visited with one another and shared meals in the evenings. Some people came from as far north as Arcata and as far south as Monterey, though many were locals from Marin and Sonoma counties.
While we have been surveying these five sites since 2007, they are particularly important this year. A network of 21 marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in this region and went into effect on May 1st of this year. These areas range from no take ‘reserves’ to ‘conservation areas’ with varied commercial and recreational rules and regulations. Reef Check is part of a collaborative group of organizations and institutions tasked by the state with the initial baseline monitoring of these new areas and all of our existing sites in the region will be included in this research. Reef Check’s involvement in this important collaboration not only helps to ensure that the state has the data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of these new protected areas but also gives citizens an avenue to support and play active roles in the science-based management of our coastal waters and rocky reefs.
On Saturday, conditions were remarkably calm and sunny and we split into three groups to survey Stornetta Ranch, Stillwater Cove, and Ft. Ross. Each group had a very successful day, completing each survey. Many had stories of great dives through the forests of bull kelp with kelp greenlings and cabazons seeming to be around every corner. Our divers who aren't used to diving in central California are always amazed by the number of abalone (reds, flats, and pintos) covering every rock. They are right out in the open instead of tucked deeply into cracks, as we find them when diving around the Monterey peninsula.
We were met Sunday morning with a 10ft swell that came up overnight, earlier than predicted, making our two remaining sites undivable. Our volunteers, however, did not skip a beat and a group of them quickly made a plan to meet the following Saturday with our North-Central Coast MLPA Baseline Coordinator, Narineh Nazarian, to survey our remaining sites. Many of us instead spent Sunday enjoying the sunny coast, hiking through the redwood trails adjacent to the ranch. Since then Reef Checkers have completed our Gerstle Cove site and have a plan to complete our last one of the season, Ocean Cove, in the coming weeks. Great job Reef Checkers! I’m already looking forward to next year’s extravaganza!