On the last day of harbor seal pupping season (May 15) — and less than one month before the next California Coastal Commission (CCC) meeting to review the protection issue — the Seal Conservancy of San Diego held a press conference to speak in favor of renewing seasonal beach closure and guideline rope permits at Children’s Pool beach.
Notices have been posted at Children’s Pool indicating the CCC would hear a proposed amendment to the permit that allows the “installation of a guideline rope, including support posts, foundations, informational signs a three-foot opening to provide beach and ocean access and to create a buffer between humans and harbor seals that haul out on the La Jolla Children’s Pool beach through Aug. 14, 2029.”
Another notice posted indicates the CCC would hear an amendment that allows for the “closure of Children’s Pool beach to all public access during harbor seal pupping season — Dec. 15 to May 15 — through Aug. 14, 2029.” Pupping season is the time of year in which harbor seals are pregnant and give birth.
Speaking at Children’s Pool, overlooking the harbor seals hauling out at the beach below, Seal Conservancy spokesperson Adrian Kwiatkowski and president Jane Reldan made remarks.
“We are at the tail end of the five-year permit for the pupping season closure, and tomorrow, the guideline rope will go up to encourage visitors and residents to stay behind the rope so the seals can have the space to haul out,” Kwiatkowski said. “Both of these policies are up for renewal at the CCC in June, and we are here today to support the renewal of these permits.”
Calling the seasonal closure and guideline rope “an elegant compromise,” Kwiatkowski said the current system “closes the beach for five months of the year, during harbor seal pupping season, from Dec. 15 to May 15; and the other seven months it is open for co-habitation, so visitors can see the seals in their natural environment when they stay behind the guideline rope. There are miles and miles of other beaches for people to have access to the ocean. The seals congregate on this one small piece of sand. The least we can do is provide them with peace and serenity for five months out of the year.”
But, he noted there is also an opening in the guideline rope during the months it is in place so those who would like to access the ocean can do so.
“We feel this is an elegant compromise that protects the seals during the five critical months of pupping season, and the other seven months for co-habitation, during the warmer time periods and tourist season,” he said. “This has brought peace and stability to this issue here in La Jolla, that’s why we want to continue it for the next 10 years. This is a unique natural resource for people to see nature in its natural environment, that’s why we support maintaining these two protections.”
Reldan added: “I like that this is a democratic place where people do not have to pay to see nature, but it is not a petting zoo. We have so little nature in urban areas, I feel strongly that this is a wonderful opportunity for San Diegans and for visitors. This is the sixth (most popular) reason for people to come to San Diego. It’s a big attraction.”
Currently: The beach is closed Dec. 15 to May 15 annually by way of a chain barrier across the middle level stairs, and a rope barrier intended to be a visual deterrent to keep humans away from harbor seals is in place the rest of the year. But getting to this point was almost 10 years in the making.
In 2010: A 130-foot rope was approved by the City to separate humans and harbor seals during the annual pupping season.
In 2012: The rope was extended to 152 feet, leaving a three-foot opening for divers and spear-fishermen. It would be installed in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 and come down May 16. In 2012, the City approved a permit to install and maintain the rope barrier year-round.
In 2014: The decision to close Children’s Pool entirely was approved by the San Diego City Council on March 18, and by the CCC soon after.
In 2015: CCC voted to extend the permit for the rope by four years. To avoid redundancy and public confusion, CCC required the rope come down when the beach is closed.
The rope barrier and beach closure will be heard at the June CCC hearing. Reldan told La Jolla Light: “I’m quite optimistic that the Coastal Commission will see the reality that this is working and that renewing the permits is a good idea. Police calls have gone to zero (from before this system was in place) … from activists wanting access, from people who wanted people to stay away from the seals, from tourists concerned about the commotion, and others that were run-of-the-mill calls about other issues.”
The La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory groups have each signed a letter opposing the permit extensions, and submitted them to the City.
The next San Diego CCC meeting is June 12-14 at the Best Western Plus, Island Palms Hotel & Marina, 2051 Shelter Island Drive. The agenda for this meeting, including the date at which the Children’s Pool rope barrier will be heard, has not been posted.
To learn more, visit sealconservancy.org