La Jolla tidepools are being ‘loved to death,’ environmentalists say

A family looks at what was retrieved from the tidepools at La Jolla Cove in 2015.
A family looks at what was retrieved from the tidepools at La Jolla Cove in 2015.

With San Diegans and visitors alike seeking time outside after staying at home because of coronavirus restrictions, people are flocking to local beaches. Many of them are checking out La Jolla tidepools, and marine advocates are trying to get the word out about how to do so safely for the environment.

Fay Crevoshay, communications and policy director for Wildcoast, an Imperial Beach-based environmental nonprofit that aims to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife, said San Diego County’s tidepools, especially those in Marine Protected Areas, are being “loved to death.”

La Jolla’s MPAs include San Diego-Scripps, which goes from Scripps Pier north to Black’s Beach and includes the tidepool area just north of Scripps Pier; Matlahuayl Reserve, which goes from the western edge of La Jolla Cove, aka Point La Jolla, up to Scripps Pier and includes The Cove and La Jolla Shores; and South La Jolla, which spans the beach at Palomar Street down to Diamond Street and its adjacent offshore MPA. Those areas also are classified as State Marine Reserves, and to take, damage, injure or possess any marine resource (living, geological or cultural) is prohibited.

Among the concerns raised by high traffic in tidepool areas are that animals and their habitats may be crushed under visitors’ feet and that moving or collecting rocks, species or shells can disrupt habitat and the ecosystem, according to the
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ochre sea stars cling to the rocks at La Jolla's Dike Rock tidepools.

“So many people are coming to the beach when they might have otherwise gone to Disneyland or traveled elsewhere. It’s a continuing problem, especially now that people are going to the beach now due to COVID. The problem didn’t start now, but it’s increasing,” Crevoshay said. “We are seeing a lot of traffic in the tidepools, and people don’t know the no-touch rules. I was there in La Jolla on Sunday [Sept. 6] and I saw these two kids with these little trappers catching marine life and I told them they weren’t allowed to do that. They went to their parents and they said, ‘Don’t worry, we will just let them go.’ ”

However, that’s against the rules of the MPAs.

According to Wildcoast, the “good tidepooler rules” are:

• Never remove animals, shells or rocks from the tidepools.

• Walk gently, taking care not to step on plants or animals.

• Never pick up animals; observe them where they are.

• Never turn over rocks.

“Yes, come; yes, enjoy the ocean. We can do it and should do it, but don’t touch or take home anything,” Crevoshay said. “Let your eyes do the learning.”

Two beach-goers look at — but don't touch — a tidepool in La Jolla this month.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

To be fair, she said, most beach-goers don’t know the harm that can come from disturbing tidepools or think the impact is minimal.

“They say, ‘I’m just one person,’ but it’s never just one person,” Crevoshay said. “It’s thousands of people that come to the beach. Some pick up and move these creatures and put them back in a place that is not their home. Some have sunblock on their hands that can be harmful to these creatures. It also disrupts the algae in the sea that fish eat when the bacteria on their hands gets into the tidepools. And that repeats over and over again as people come to the tidepools.”

“There is also a loss of balance to the ecosystem,” she added. “You never know the harm at that point … but we know, for example, shells are homes to creatures. But that’s the thing people take home the most. Everything plays its roles in nature.”

Wildcoast produces a guide that can be downloaded from its website at

An interpretive panel at Calumet Park in Bird Rock is pictured in 2018.
An interpretive panel at Calumet Park in Bird Rock is pictured in 2018 after it was installed by Wildcoast and the San Diego MPA Collaborative.

In 2018, the group posted 17 informational signs between Bird Rock and La Jolla Shores. There are two types of signs — interpretive panels that explain the wildlife in the area and what activities are permitted, and “You are here” signs to let people know which MPA they are near.

“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,” Wildcoast conservation manager Cory Pukini told the La Jolla Light at the time. “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.”

Another thing visitors might not know is that violating MPA rules is punishable by a ticket and fine. ◆