**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
As a California diver, I find that one of the best places to dive is in our marine reserves. Since I only shoot with my camera, most of our Marine Protected Areas are accessible to me, including no-take reserves. Photographers in the two oldest State reserves that precede the Marine Life Protected Act (1999), La Jolla Cove and Point Lobos, know that fish and invertebrates occur here in age and numbers like few other areas in the state. Rockfish, giant sea bass and sheepshead are all more common inside marine reserves than outside the boundaries of protection. These fish seem to know they are not hunted, making good models in all their photogenic glory.
But we can appreciate and celebrate our underwater parks without getting our heads wet. The California shoreline is one of the most complex and beautiful in the world. What appears along the ocean’s edge can be a clue to the health of what lies beneath. Beach wrack, sand dollars and urchin tests reveal a glimpse beneath the surface. Dense giant kelp floating at the surface provide forage habitat for seabirds and shorebirds.
Other flotsam and jetsam can also be indicators of the health of ocean ecosystems.
Marine debris is a serious problem in the ocean. A study in Science reported that about 4 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic washed offshore in 2010 alone. Much of this plastic returns to our beaches, but the new study finds that 99% of this plastic is missing. One disturbing possibility suggested by the study is that wildlife is eating the plastic. Plastic has been observed in seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and fish, clogging digestive tracts leading to poisoning and death of marine wildlife.
A major concern is cigarette butts. Over half of the items picked up during beach clean ups are cigarette butts. Made from cellulose acetate, these butts concentrate nicotine and hundreds of other toxic chemicals. With an estimated 845,000 tons of cigarette butts improperly discarded worldwide each year, and three billion discarded in the San Francisco Bay Area each year, these butts are finding their way on our beaches and in our MPAs. It is clear we need to protect our marine ecosystems from activities below and above the surface.
This weekend we will be keeping our heads dry celebrating our marine parks and helping mitigate plastic and butt pollution in a beach clean up. Members of our Golden Gate MPA Collaborative will be walking one of our States Marine Reserves and Conservation Areas at Drakes Beach (Point Reyes SMR and SMCA) celebrating our underwater parks by helping keep them clean.
All the marine protection provided by MPAs cannot save the ecosystem from other impacts like plastics. We also need to help protect wildlife from non-fishing impacts. Join me celebrating and helping protect our marine protected areas from above as well as below wherever you live along the California Coast.