**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
As an active diver and underwater videographer, I have been diving the California coastal marine protected areas, many before they were formed under the Marine Life Protected Act. Last fall I visited La Jolla Cove, one of the oldest marine reserves in the State at La Jolla Cove in an annual migration I make down the coast, public speaking, screening documentaries and diving.
La Jolla Cove is one of my favorite locations for many reasons. The Cove has beautiful, calm waters with sandy bottom and rocky habitat that hosts a dense kelp ecosystem. The waters are productive, yet remarkably warmer and with better visibility than those near my home in San Francisco. Subtropical species visit in the summer, such as Mako Sharks and even a rare Scalloped Hammerhead shark this last summer. Other species like giant black seabass nearly fished out of our waters are making a rebound and can be seen in the cove. Record catch of these gentle giants are over 750 pounds and 7 feet long. Now a protected species, it is exciting to see these behemoths swimming in areas like the Cove and the Channel Islands.
The other reason I love the Cove is for the sharks. Each summer female leopard sharks aggregate in the warm shallow waters to gestate and give birth to their live pups. Viewing these gentle sharks in the nearshore waters has even become a tourist attraction. Even more exciting and mysterious is the return of sevengill and soupfin (aka Tope or School sharks) to the cove. Although recorded in the region historically, divers began observing aggregations of these sharks in the dense kelp beds of the Cove less than a decade ago. Under a study initiated with the San Francisco Aquarium of the Bay, and with the California Academy of Sciences, we have been tagging these sharks and are conducting a Citizen Science program called Shark Watch encouraging the public to record observations of sharks in the wild, caught by recreational fishermen or captured and released. Learning of the increased sightings I visited in 2008 for my first clear view of these beautiful sharks in large numbers.
One exciting observation made by local divers was a sevengill shark observed in the Cove that had been tagged in the San Francisco Bay. In San Diego, local divers lead by Mike Bear and Barbara Lloyd began cataloguing photos and videos and have created a project called Ocean Sanctuaries whom we are joining efforts.
Citizen Science is an excellent tool to cast a wider net of observations and is proving effective not only in collecting difficult, or expensive to document observations, but also engages the public to participate in science and learn more about the natural world. By using new technologies including an app and ipads, we are training underserved youth to collect observations of sharks, skates and rays in the San Francisco Bay under a grant by the California Coastal Conservancy and Patagonia.
Now, using photographic evidence and the pattern recognition algorithm provided in “Wildbook,”a web-based application for wildlife data management, we can add our photos to the database collected by the Ocean Sanctuaries project, adding to the scientific database, and providing useful information for management and conservation of migratory species of sharks. See more on the Ocean Sanctuaries blog.
This summer we will return with the sharks to the Cove to dive and document select marine protected areas along the coast.