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La Jolla Children’s Pool Beach (home to many seals) will reopen May 16

City to La Jolla visitors: Harassing harbor seals illegal under federal and local law and can lead to citation

City to La Jolla visitors: Harassing harbor seals illegal under federal and local law and can lead to citation

Without a park ranger or Seal Conservancy docent present to advise otherwise, tourists crowd in on harbor seals and their pups at La Jolla’s South Casa Beach in this photo from March 5, 2015.
Without a park ranger or Seal Conservancy docent present to advise otherwise, tourists crowd in on harbor seals and their pups at La Jolla's South Casa Beach in this photo from March 5, 2015.
Pat Sherman

People will no longer be barred from accessing Children’s Pool/Casa beach when a five-month beach closure there ends, early morning, May 16, 2015. The seasonal beach closure limits humans from accessing the beach during the harbor seals’ five-month pupping season, Dec. 15- May 15, when pregnant seals and their offspring are at their most vulnerable.

The closure was requested by the San Diego City Council in March 2014 and approved unanimously last summer by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), which has jurisdiction over the beach. The commissioners opined that a year-round guideline rope spanning nearly the entire length of the beach wasn’t adequately deterring people from intentionally or unintentionally harassing seals.

The rope, which will remain in place through the summer, has been up for several years to urge visitors to view seals from a distance that doesn’t disturb them. It includes a five-foot opening at one end to allow divers, swimmers and fishers to access the shoreline, which is legal when the closure is not in effect.

City employees will remove a chain blocking access to the beach, remove closure signs and reopen the beach as soon after sunrise May 16 as possible, city spokesperson Bill Harris said. At this point, a shared-use policy between humans and seals is back in effect.

“Beach users may access the (beach and shoreline) as long as they do so without disturbing or harassing any seals that are hauled out on the beach and rocks,” Harris said, via e-mail. “Visitors are requested to remain behind the rope when on the beach to view hauled-out seals to avoid disturbing or harassing the resting animals. Disturbing or harassing marine mammals is against federal law and San Diego Municipal Code and may lead to a citation.”

How close is too close to get from harbor seals? Exhibit A. — Without a park ranger or Seal Conservancy docent present to advise otherwise, tourists crowd in on harbor seals and their pups at La Jolla’s South Casa Beach in this photo from March 5, 2015.
How close is too close to get from harbor seals? Exhibit A. — Without a park ranger or Seal Conservancy docent present to advise otherwise, tourists crowd in on harbor seals and their pups at La Jolla's South Casa Beach in this photo from March 5, 2015.
Pat Sherman

Monitoring program

As a condition of approving the pupping season closure, the CCC is requiring the city to closely monitor its effects and efficacy for five years, at the end of which time the permit for the closure must be renewed. Richard Belesky, the park ranger assigned to Children’s Pool since October 2011, is responsible for monitoring both the closure and year-round guideline rope — and collecting all data required by the CCC, Harris said.

The monitoring consists of:

1) Periodic counts of seals hauled out onto the beach and rocks,

2) Weather conditions and tidal data,

3) The number of seal harassment incidents, and,

4) During the non-closure period, the number of people swimming in the water and the number of people behind and in front of the rope.

The data is recorded on a spreadsheet and submitted to the director of the California Coastal Commission as an attachment to the city’s annual report summarizing the results of the monitoring period.

Although at press time data on the beach closure was still being compiled for submittal to the CCC, Harris said the number of births recorded during the 2014- 2015 pupping season was 63. The first pup to survive on its own after weaning from its mother was Jan. 24, and the final birth was March 14, he said, adding that the number of births documented this season is the highest since the first birth was observed on the beach in 1999.

Adrian Kwiatkowski, executive director of the Seal Conservancy of San Diego, provided numbers that were lower. He said the conservancy documented 49 births this season, nine of which were stillbirths and four of which were abandoned — for a total of 36 births.

According to Seal Conservancy records dating back to 2008, the average number of surviving seal pups is 38, Kwiatkowski said.

“On total births we’re better than average over the last eight years,” he said. “The bad news is, we do have a situation with the food chain that’s impacting multiple marine mammals along the California coastline ... but overall it’s very positive.”

Kwiatkowski said Seal Conservancy docents were present at Children’s Pool “on a very limited basis” during the winter closure, though will return when the beach reopens. The group hosts regular tours of Children’s Pool out of Mangelsen Images of Nature Gallery to educate the public on the seals, he said.

Seal Conservancy docents will be at Children’s Pool when the beach opens again May 16.

“We’re going to be ramping up for the summer season,” Kwiatkowski said. “With the beach being closed five months of the year it’s changed the dynamic of what our docent program looks like down there. We’ve started recruiting new docents, so we’re in the process of defining and redefining what we’re going to be doing down there.”

Lifeguard tower update

Harris said construction on the new lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool is scheduled to resume June 1. The tower is slated for completion by December 2015.

A public and privately funded remodel and aesthetic upgrade to the walkway and common area above Children’s Pool — which could serve as a model for public- private partnerships in San Diego — was issued its final environmental report on March 4, the project’s landscape architect, Jim Neri said.

“We are ready to submit 60 percent complete construction documents to the Public Works Department once we have been provided with clear direction from them on how to proceed,” he said, via e-mail. “The Public Works Department is developing a new process for streamlining private-public projects and the Children’s Pool walkway will be the first project that goes through it.”

Harris said the contractor rebuilding the lifeguard tower will finish the walkway in front of the breakwater wall and steps leading to the beach by fall of 2015, though added “it may prove necessary to keep this portion of the walkway closed though the duration of the remaining construction.”

Since the lifeguards’ temporary trailer now occupies a portion of the site, Haris said, sidewalk improvements “by any contractor” cannot begin in that area until the new lifeguard tower is completed (by year’s end), the lifeguards occupy and the new tower, and the temporary trailer is removed.