Life at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool: Two views


Editor’s note:

On two weekends in September, the Light had staff writer Dave Schwab and freelance photographer Greg Nelsen check in at the Children’s Pool to see what goes on during a typical day at the beach. Nelsen started his day before dawn on a late September Saturday and was there for most of the day with the exception of a midday break. Schwab was there a week earlier. Here are Schwab’s words and Nelsen’s photos.

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Lots of people hang out at Children’s Pool in La Jolla on weekends: sightseers and beachgoers, tourists and recreationalists, wildlife enthusiasts and passersby.

They were all there on Sept. 18, including, as usual — with those favoring the seals and those who want beachgoers to have shared access seated at tables passing out literature detailing their respective positions.

On this particular Saturday, La Jollan Patti Buchanan and a lady who would only identify herself as Marie, were chatting on the sidewalk near the lifeguard tower overlooking the beach. Nearby Marie had set up a table surrounded by signs indicating the public has access to the beach.

“I’m affiliated with Friends of the Children’s Pool, the diver’s and swimmer’s community,” said Marie. “I’ve been coming to the pool since summer.”

“I’m down here every day — I’m independent,” proclaimed Buchanan proudly, noting she’s protective of seals on the beach but is not in favor of the rope barrier being up. “There needs to be a docent program on the beach and a ranger on the beach during daylight hours especially to inform people on what they can’t do,” she said. “A single rope down there that says nothing without people down there to educate people is meaningless.”

While the two women were standing there near the stairs leading down to the beach, surfer Micah Clothier of Oceanside got in on the conversation.

“You’re for people going on the beach?” he asked.

“I’m for public access if you don’t disturb the seals,” Buchanan said. “If you disturb the seals — I’m not for you going down there.”

Buchanan, who claims she counts seals at Children’s Pool every single morning, noted there were 127 there early that morning.

At 10:30 a.m., none were on the beach and just a couple were on one rock a short distance offshore.

Down on the beach a brightly colored umbrella stuck out of the sand, put there by Marie to let people know it’s OK to go on the beach.

“If it’s not there they feel intimidated,” she said. “I wait until the seals are gone until I put it down there.”

Sandwiched in between two pro-beach access tables was Michael Hawkins of Seal Watch San Diego, which is aligned with the Animal Protection & Rescue League. Manning a table with stuffed-animal seals and T-shirts on it, he said, “As a public educator it’s my job to be the voice for the seals.”

Hawkins said seal watching at Children’s Pool is unique.

“There’s nothing like this in the United States: We’re in an urban area, and we’re also at a seal rookery. Most people in this day and age are very far removed from nature.”

Hawkins added that he thinks there will always be conflict at Children’s Pool between pro-seal and pro-beach access advocates because their views are so at odds.

“I’ve seen people almost get in fistfights in front of me because of this,” he said, adding cooler heads nearly always prevail with people agreeing to disagree.

Passing by Hawkins’ table was Aroun Ram, his wife and two children, one in a stroller. Asked whether he’s aware of the controversy over seals at Children’s Pool, the University City man said he wasn’t, noting he comes down there partly because the family enjoys it.

“It’s a natural thing for them (seals) to come here,” he said.