Up and down La Jolla, up and down the state actually, new signs outlining the regulations within California’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are going up at public access points, after six years of red tape, collaborating and waiting.
Seventeen signs have been affixed to posts and poles from Bird Rock to The Shores over the last month-and-a-half, with a few more to come.
“These signs were installed to inform the public about the rules and regulations in the special conservation areas just offshore. They were created in collaboration with WildCoast and the San Diego MPA Collaborative, who have been working with San Diego organizations,” explained Wildcoast conservation coordinator Cory Pukini. “This is the second round of MPA signage that has gone into La Jolla since 2012, and this round is focused on a lot of interpretive panels placed at key points.”
MPAs are designated areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. La Jolla has four MPAs in the waters from Scripps Pier to Bird Rock: two are State Marine Reserves and two are State Marine Conservation Areas.
“In State Marine Reserves, there is no take allowed of any resource — living or non-living — within the boundaries. This is why we focused the signs on these points. People who live in the area know about them, but there’s a lot of tourism in these areas and people who are not in the know,” Pukini said.
State Marine Conservation Areas have different rules. “Some conservation areas have some less astringent regulations regarding commercial take, such as fishing, so the signage oftentimes will direct people to what is allowed in the area and then applicable departments where you can check specific regulations.”
There are two types of signs — interpretive panels that explain what’s permitted and the wildlife that lives in that area, and “you are here” signs to let people know which MPA they are near. Some signs are in English and Spanish.
“The whole premise of the MPA is that they work in a network that makes up 16 percent of our state waters. They are a recharge center for the ocean,” Pukini said. “The MPAs are part of a statewide coordinated effort, and there are 124 MPAs statewide.”
Therein lies one of the challenges in getting the MPA signage installed. MPA Collaborative and La Jolla Parks & Beaches member Debbie Beachum explained there are MPAs in Southern California, Central California and Northern California, and the signs needed to be uniform, yet reflect the unique needs of each area.
“It’s been an evolutionary process to get to this signage,” she said. “There was a lot of information to cull through for each spot, but it had to make sense for the average beach-goer. It’s still difficult to see some location-markers in the water, but these are great initial steps to alert people of where they are. It’s that visual aid that wasn’t there before. What’s cool is they’re up in the right places, informative and colorful.”
Part of the colorful, graphic nature of these signs came from underwater photographers contributing images of local wildlife. Chicago-based photographer Jonathan Lavan, contributed images to the La Jolla MPAs.
“Southern California is very lucky to have such expansive and beautiful MPAs and I was excited to be a part of providing tourists and locals alike with more information on why these areas are so special. A picture is worth a thousand words and showing just a small percentage of the collective biomass in the area, hopefully, will turn people on to nature and make them want to protect it,” he told La Jolla Light.
Pukini added of overcoming some of the challenges: “To get everyone on board with where each one should go, what language to use and pictures needs to be signed off on was a challenge, but one way we accomplished that was through the MPA Collaborative in San Diego. It’s made up of 120 individuals from 60 groups who get together to drive the MPA management.”
Another challenge was preventing “sign pollution,” a matter of importance for La Jolla Parks & Beaches, which advocates for reducing the amount of signs blocking coastal views.
“At the beginning, we attended meetings where they were proposing these huge signs … but, there was a collaboration of people saying the same things, and so the sign sizes were reduced,” Beachum said. “The ones up now are a little bigger than we’d like, but they have to be that size to convey all the information. They must be seen for them to be effective. There were a lot of moving parts to this, and a lot of thought went into the process, so it’s really welcome to have them up and done.”