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Guest commentary: Proposal for Point La Jolla seasonal closure isn’t good enough

A sea lion and her pup are pictured at Point La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Sierra Club Seal Society)

The Sierra Club Seal Society has concerns about the city of San Diego’s CDP [coastal development permit] application for seasonal closure of the sea lion rookery at Point La Jolla/Boomer Beach (“San Diego applies for seasonal closure of Point La Jolla,” Feb. 24, La Jolla Light).

We adamantly disapprove of the recently updated closure boundaries, which shrink the closed area by half, and the closure dates, which lack science-based evidence and don’t reflect the biological needs of sea lion mothers and pups and don’t address public and sea lion safety issues.

The sea lion rookery consists of Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach. Photo and video evidence shows sea lions use all of Boomer Beach for birthing, nursing, mating and for pups learning to swim. In 2021, 40 percent of sea lion births took place on Boomer Beach.

The proposed boundaries allow a large area for public ocean access and shrink the closure area by over half compared with last year’s approved temporary emergency closure boundary. The proposed boundary fails to provide public safety and adequate separation of sea lions and people. In fact, it places people in close contact with nursing pups and wild, territorial 800-pound bulls, creating a major public safety hazard.

If people are allowed to enter Boomer Beach as depicted on the updated map, management will be difficult.

The proposed closure area at Point La Jolla is outlined in red, with a blue area for "ocean access for recreation."
The proposed closure area at Point La Jolla is outlined in red, with a blue area for “ocean access for recreation activities,” as submitted by the city of San Diego to the California Coastal Commission.
(City of San Diego)

We advocate for limited ocean access on what ocean advocates call the “historic trail,” which remained open during the temporary closure. This trail was described by chief lifeguard [James] Gartland as the safest way to access the ocean.

All ocean access must be monitored by rangers to minimize disruption of sea lions resting on the beach. The boundaries used for the temporary emergency closure, while not optimal, worked well and is a compromise that balances ocean users and sea lions’ biological needs. It should be noted that all 17 other seal rookeries in California are closed to all public access during pupping season.

The proposed closure dates of May 25 through Sept. 15 do not meet the requirements and purpose of the closure, i.e., protecting sea lion moms and pups from human interaction, aligning with the MMPA [Marine Mammal Protection Act] and ensuring public safety.

The pupping season closure dates must be a minimum of May 1 through Oct. 31. Records show six births on Boomer Beach in 2021 in the last week of May, which matches birthing dates on the Channel Islands, where 99 percent of sea lions are born (source: Sharon Melin, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] technical paper, 2017).

Ms. Melin states that “sea lion birthing season starts on May 15.” If closure doesn’t occur until May 25, some pups will be born with people standing over them, throwing sand on them and petting them, as photographed last year. Such actions affect pup survivability and some are prosecutable under MMPA.

Using the seal rookery closure at the Children’s Pool as a comparison, it closes six weeks prior to the first birth. This would move the proposed closure for sea lion pupping season [at Point La Jolla] to early April. Also, the Children’s Pool is closed for five months, while the proposed closure for sea lions is less than four months.

Sea lions spend more time on land than seals, are reliant on their moms for nourishment for 11 months and require additional development time without human interaction. Also, 800-pound sea lion bulls remain in the area through November, posing a public safety threat to unsuspecting visitors.

The proposed CDP application needs to be amended to meet the purpose and intent of the closure. It must be based on scientific evidence while balancing public access and safety of people and sea lions.

The Sierra Club Seal Society recommends reinstatement of emergency temporary closure boundaries with the “historic trail” ocean access point along with daily ranger presence. The closure dates for sea lion pupping season must be set at a minimum of May 1 to Oct. 31 to ensure pups’ survival and public safety from territorial bulls.

Carol Archibald is a docent with the Sierra Club Seal Society.