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La Jolla committee wants barriers to keep Cove sea lion-free

Plastic cylinders would spin to prevent traction

Town Council president Steve Haskins holds an actual-size plastic cylinder, standing next to a model of what the barrier could look like.
Town Council president Steve Haskins holds an actual-size plastic cylinder, standing next to a model of what the barrier could look like.
Ashley Mackin

The La Jolla Town Council’s Coastal Committee believes it has found a solution to the pervasive sea lion population (and the noxious odors and human hazards that come with them) which they would like to see tested at La Jolla Cove. After months of research, the committee presented its proposal to approximately 50 people at a forum Jan. 12 at La Jolla Community Center.

The proposed solution is to install stainless steel cables across key access points on the lower portion of the bluffs next to La Jolla Cove (which the sea lions use to climb to upper levels) and string rotating, plastic cylinders across them so the animals cannot climb to the larger, flatter area.

“When the sea lions attempt to pass over them, the cylinders spin. No matter how much they try to get traction, they can’t,” said committee chair Steve Haskins, president of La Jolla Town Council. “These are almost indestructible boat-dock bumpers … these are made to be outdoors in the ocean for years at a time. They are inflatable and very soft to be safe for the animals. The air pressure within can be adjusted, and they would be painted to match the color of the rocks.”

He added that the committee would consider setting them up so they spin one way – toward the ocean – so if an animal does get over the barrier, it can get back out, and signs in seven languages would caution that the cylinders are not to be climbed on or played with.

The posts and cables would be installed on a lower ledge of bluffs that sea lions can access for rest, which are “washed when the tide comes in,” Haskins said. Further, he said, by placing them on the lower level, there should be minimal impact to ocean views.

Proposed locations for the barrier, indicated by arrows.
Proposed locations for the barrier, indicated by arrows.
Courtesy

Haskins said historically, there was a guardrail installed at the lower level, so there are already holes in the bluffs where the posts could be staked. “We might have to drill a few two-inch holes about 24 inches deep to put more posts in, but that’s the extent of ‘construction,’ ” he said. “That’s how simple it is.”

The cylinders are readily available for purchase, and nothing would have to be specially ordered or made. Haskins said companies have made similar barriers for coyotes, and to keep cats in or out of yards, both of which have been “very successful” he reported. The cost is estimated at $14,000.

In addition, Haskins said, the City of San Diego would not have to look far to find a precedent for a barrier such as this one. Less than half-a-mile away, a rope barrier was installed at Children’s Pool to separate marine mammals and people. “The city got permission from the California Coastal Commission to put the rope barrier up with the expressed purpose of protecting the pinnipeds from people. We’re doing the same thing here. It’s a slightly different barrier, but it’s a barrier to separate people and sea mammals —so a precedent has been set!”

Previous attempts to deter the sea lions from gathering on the upper Cove bluffs included installing a gate for pedestrian access, with the hope of people-presence scaring them away. To address their prevasive odors, the city has been spraying a microbial agent monthly, which “eats” animal waste. However, many have argued while effective on bird guano, it is not effect on sea lion waste. The sprayings would continue to address the smell associated with bird guano.

The Town Council Coastal Committee – comprised of Haskins, Joe Pitrofsky, Yolanda de Riquer, Taylor Bloom and Lawrence Zynda – formed last April to find a solution specific to the geography and topography of the bluffs at the Cove. They came to their barrier solution based on research with agencies such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), city officials and other coastal communities.

“I love this idea because if it doesn’t work, it’s easy to remove, no harm, no foul … compliments to the committee,” said La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) vice-chair Joe LaCava. “A very important thing for us, as La Jollans, is to build a consensus that this is what we want. That’s what City Hall wants to hear.” He suggested groups such as La Jolla Village Merchants Association, La Jolla Parks & Beaches, LJCPA and others, discuss the proposal to build such a city-proof consensus.

Agreeing, Haskins said he would wait to proceed with the plan until other community advisory groups have a chance to weigh in. With community consensus, Haskins said he would present the plan to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has reportedly alraedy lent his support to this idea.

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