Loving Fitzgerald too much?

Opinion
posted by Barry Parr
Sun, November 27, 2011
30 comments
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A video posted to YouTube shows this weekend's crowd at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which was mobbed when a very low tide coincided with a holiday weekend and spectacular weather. We visited twice and brought three kids. We weren't the only ones. The docents did a good job of keeping the crowds as far as they could from the seals, but it was a crazy weekend and probably left a lot of unseen damage. How much could be done to lessen the damage without limiting public access?
Comment 1
Mon, November 28, 2011 11:49am
Barry Parr
All my comments

This was certainly the busiest weekend I can recall.  We had to park close to Hwy 1.

Comment 2
Mon, November 28, 2011 12:19pm
GInny McShane
All my comments

Mother Earth is constantly under attack, from bombs dropping to curious people picking up sensitive endangered species.

Last time I checked 4,397,873 people had watched the “Octopus Walks on Land at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve” video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/FjQr3lRACPI

I support the Coastal Act and public access to California beaches.  The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is designated as a protected reserve and that requires appropriate stewardship. 

On busy low-tide weekends over 2000 people per day visit the FMR tide pools. Paths are worn down in the reef due to heavy foot traffic. Only one or two County employees are on duty during busy low-tide weekends at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Visitors and docents can be found poking at marine life with hiking poles every weekend.

Improved Coastal Access needs to include responsible stewardship of the marine habitat, wildlife, and invasive plant management. With such a large number of visitors responsible stewardship is not possible with only one or two San Mateo County ranger on duty at the FMR.

From the FMR Master Plan 2002:

D. VISITOR MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

Policy 1. Visitor use of the Reserve will be managed and limited to the number of persons that can be accommodated without damage to resources.

Visitor use of the Moss Beach Reef will be limited to a maximum of 300 persons at one time for a minimum period of ten years. The Moss Beach Reef is the area most accessible to visitors, and therefore the most impacted and vulnerable. Highest levels of visitation occur during low tide, when the reef is accessible by foot and most visible. Visitors to the Moss Beach Reef will be limited to a maximum of 300 persons at one time, with a target goal of no more than 500 persons in one day. As part of the Reserve’s adaptive management program, the number of visitors can be lowered at the discretion of the Reserve Manager, if the resource remains impacted by visitation.

It’s time for some restrictions on the number of visitors allowed on the FMR tide pools.  I propose that paid parking meters be installed in the FMR parking lot to cover the cost of additional ranger staff, public information about protecting the seals/marine environment, and signage. No parking signage could be installed on neighborhood streets near FMR entrances. Residents could be allowed to park on the street with a proof of address windshield sticker they pickup from the Sheriffs sub-station.  This would reduce reef damage, prevent crime (the FMR ranger station shack was broken into twice recently), keep narrow residential streets safe for kids—pedestrians—pets—bicyclist and generate revenue to fund additional ranger staff to protect seals and marine life. Paid meters and parking restrictions would allow marine life to thrive.

FMR is one of the richest, most biodiverse intertidal environments on the California coast. —2008 FMR Water Quality Assessment Report

Protecting tide pools so that future generations have something natural to experience is good environmental stewardship. The problems at the FMR are the result of poor management by the San Mateo County Public Works Department and the Board of Supervisors. The County no longer has a Parks Department due to budget cuts and ranger staff has been reduced.

Please checkout the FMR facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/FitzgeraldMarineReserve

“How much could be done to lessen the damage without limiting public access?”

Why not limit public access? It is a marine reserve, after all. That means in this instance, marine life comes first.

Ways to limit public access might include restricting access to various parts of the reserve to guided tours on weekends, charging for parking, and enforcing a “by reservation only” policy for group visits.

There are plenty of places along the coast where people come first in the enjoyment of the beach. A marine reserve isn’t one of them.

—DavidV

David and Sabrina, you both raise some important points.  In January, I plan on making some calls about this situation.  It can’t and shouldn’t endure what is currently going on.

Comment 6
Wed, November 30, 2011 5:42am
Gray Gardner
All my comments

Having lived on Seal Cove in the early 70’s this looks like a scene from the “Walking Dead” the “New Stairs” were bad enough ,the Tidal Pools cannot stand this much impact for long.Ed (Doc) Ricketts, must be turning in his grave-Gray

Comment 7
Wed, November 30, 2011 8:52am
Craig Gillis
All my comments

The crowd at the reserve that day was definitely the largest I’ve ever seen but it was not mayhem.  On the reef, an octopus was spotted nearby and there was suddenly an enraptured crowd of young kids surrounding the docent.  To me, that scene is emblematic of the uniqueness of the reserve and why public access should not be limited in the way Sabrina suggests.  I live two blocks from the reserve parking lot and I do not want to deal with parking stickers or similar restrictions that affects the quality of life in my neighborhood.  I lived in the City for many years and have seen those types of restrictions result in a level of desperation among visitors as well as becoming an exploitable revenue stream that’s typically misused.  Plus, poorer families would be the most impacted and that’s unacceptable.  Certainly, something will have to change if such crowds become typical but, as a community, I’m sure we can think of a less restrictive solution.

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a Reserve and Not a beach. Kids with shovels and buckets need to go to beaches.  People were blocking neighbor’s driveways.  People were standing on top of sensitive habitats and carrying walking sticks. There were some dogs on the Reserve and some people dropping liter. Thank you to the Rangers and Volunteers. The Park Rangers are spread very thin in this County.  The docents are great volunteers.  There will be low tide days in December so planning should be done now, to lessen further damage done to the Reserve.

Comment 9
Thu, December 1, 2011 1:46pm
Carl May
All my comments

Overpopulation here may be self-correcting if families are encouraged to play more in the polluted creek.

This effort to protect Fitz MR reminds me of the La Jollans’ efforts to protect the seals at Children’s Pool:

http://lajollafriendsoftheseals.org/help.html
http://youtu.be/FNtu4pWmyuU
http://savesandiegoseals.com/

It’s a controversial effort:
http://www.10news.com/video/28133319/index.html

and tensions are intense:
http://youtu.be/81nPaHH5idc
http://youtu.be/GI_k8sQol08
http://youtu.be/lZH9177Yx0U

Dear Supervisor Horsley,

On a busy low tide weekend in November over 10,000 people visited the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tide pools.  The reef is growing more crowded every year.  Last time I checked 4,854,787 people had watched the “Octopus Walks on Land at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve” video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/FjQr3lRACPI  The Red Octopus has gained celebrity status.

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is designated as a protected reserve and that requires appropriate stewardship. With such a large number of visitors, responsible stewardship is not possible with only one or two San Mateo County rangers on duty.


From the FMR Master Plan 2002:
D. VISITOR MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

Policy 1. Visitor use of the Reserve will be managed and limited to the number of persons that can be accommodated without damage to resources.

Visitor use of the Moss Beach Reef will be limited to a maximum of 300 persons at one time for a minimum period of ten years. The Moss Beach Reef is the area most accessible to visitors, and therefore the most impacted and vulnerable. Highest levels of visitation occur during low tide, when the reef is accessible by foot and most visible. Visitors to the Moss Beach Reef will be limited to a maximum of 300 persons at one time, with a target goal of no more than 500 persons in one day. As part of the Reserve’s adaptive management program, the number of visitors can be lowered at the discretion of the Reserve Manager, if the resource remains impacted by visitation.

Responsible marine habitat stewardship is needed.  Please restrict the number of visitors allowed on the reef and protect the FMR for future generations.

Thank you!

The FMR tide pools are within the jurisdiction of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and San Mateo County. 

The County is responsible for managing the park and reef.  To-date, the County has not allocated the resources/staff necessary to manage the FMR.  Years of neglect have resulted in excessive wear and tear.  Foot traffic has worn away sea life, birds avoid people on the reef, and marine mammals relocate during busy times.

A watershed in critical need of protection from polluted runoff flows into the FMR.  The ‘Area29’ watershed is part of a state water quality protection area and is designated as a Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS).  The FMR has a significant beachwater contamination problem and a record number of closure day.  San Vicente Creek, which drains into the reef is chronically contaminated with coliform bacteria.

You need to present a solution to the problem.

Supervisors Horsley’s response to FMR letter:

“I agree in principle but limiting visitors without a visitor center or adequate staff to monitor, it is not possible at this time.”
—Supervisor Don Horsley, Dec. 13, 2011

QUESTION
How would a grant funded FMR visitors center provide funding for more County staff/rangers to manage the FMR? 

ANSWER
Grants for a new parking lot and visitors center won’t provide any funding for day-to-day management/ranger staff at the FMR.

So what the heck is Supervisor Horsley suggesting?  More visitor amenities and less management?!!  This “solution” has been tried before and it has been devastating for the marine environment.

@Anneliese— The lack of County management at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is an ongoing discussion.  Suggestions include a paid visitor parking lot, no visitor street parking, restricting access to various parts of the reserve to guided tours on weekends and enforcing a “by reservation only” policy for group visits. 

Other ideas include transferring FMR management responsibilities to Golden Gate National Recreation Area and/or Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. 

This year the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors closed the County Parks Department. The budget for park ranger staffing has been on the chopping block for years.  It’s time the County live up to its responsibilities at the FMR or find an agency or partnership that will provide marine habitat stewardship and enforce reasonable limits on visitor access.

If you have any suggestions I would like to hear them.  All suggestions are important, this is a challenging problem.

The county hasn’t money for coastside requests.  Don’t demand that it “live up to its responsibilities.”

Every California State Beach is un-(der)managed/funded, every National Recreation Area chases dollar opportunities, and most all of these cherished locations are overrun. 

But take a look at Pescadero Creek and decide if you really want a government agency, whose attentions focus anywhere but coastside, to manage the local natural resource?

Review our MLPA zones and determine where they work or do not.

Think multi-agency.  That’s how a community got a bridge rebuilt to help the coho and steelhead: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20111216/ARTICLES/111219622

Study how the Monterey Bay Aquarium earns revenue, provides access, and crowd-control.

Call MidPen to ask them to purchase FMR?  They could then restrict access by permit only, as they have with La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve.

Whatever you pursue, consider that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

SMC 2011/2012 budget info below.

San Mateo County budget both gives and takes away: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/bay-area/2011/06/san-mateo-county-budget-both-gives-and-takes-away#ixzz1gwS8IuT5

Ups and downs

$18 million: Amount restored from March budget proposal
$129 million: Proposed cuts in 2011-12 budget
$48 million: Amount proposed to take from reserves to balance budget
208: Number of positions proposed for elimination

SMC Budget Info:
http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/portal/site/cmo/menuitem.e6a58c3934b92bca27e8f2c3917332a0/?vgnextoid=5ef59d3ed51b8210VgnVCM1000001937230aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3ef59d3ed51b8210VgnVCM1000001937230a____&vgnextfmt=DivisionsLanding

I don’t see the funding connection, but if you do then go get ‘em tiger.

@Anneliese—

Thanks for the MidPen suggestion! 

I agree that the County is not going to spend money to increase staff at the FMR no matter how many <u>Dog’s on the Reef</u> videos are posted on YouTube. The County budget problems and Supervisor Horsley’s comment makes that clear. I’m aware of the systemic budget problems in California, the proposed State Park closures and the overrun conditions of State Beaches. The FMR tide pools are designated as a Marine Reserve not a park and that means the tide pools should be protected.

The 2002 Master Plan for the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve recognized the area’s rich natural resources through it’s guiding principles:

“The fundamental concept underlying the Master Plan is that protection of the outstanding natural resources of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve will require a new approach to management of ecological systems and visitors in future years, and that the best way to accomplish this goal is to emphasize the sensitivity of the resource, to enhance the educational value of the Reserve, to manage visitation, and to limit use of the Reserve as a recreation destination.”

To-date the County has not taken reasonable action to protect the tide pools from the onslaught of overuse.  When the good times were rolling in SMC the FMR was underfunded. Budget problems don’t make it any easier to get the County to fund staff at the FMR however first you need the will to prioritize the environment and that seems to have been missing for some time.

I appreciate your point about the Monterey Bay Aquarium however I don’t think it serves as a relevant revenue model. The FMR is located in a residential neighborhood with limited parking and without adequate space to build an aquarium. Moss Beach is an unincorporated area of San Mateo County without local government/city council. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in the Historic Cannery Row area; a commercial zone located in a city with parking garages, restaurants, hotels, and other visitor amenities within easy walking distance.

Año Nuevo serves as a successful controlled public access example for protecting marine mammals and the environment on the unincorporated San Mateo County coast. I wonder if Año Nuevo generates enough revenue to cover staff?

Interesting dialog, and the old refrain I have frequently heard over the years re: FMR is how much more could be done to protect the marine wild life with more and better resources.

Anneliese, I’m not sure I follow your perspective. On the one hand, you say:

“The county hasn’t money for coastside requests.  Don’t demand that it “live up to its responsibilities.”

Then Sabrina points out the funding shortfall, in essence, agreeing to your point about too little funding to go around and you respond:

“I don’t see the funding connection, but if you do then go get ‘em tiger.”

Maybe you could help clarify?

Also, the “tiger” comment is a little flippant. Sabrina has single-handedly invested more of her time and energy into working to preserve the marine refuge than any of the countless hordes that have been literally trampling it underfoot and yet she somehow merits disdain while those that misuse and overrun the reserve don’t?

Perhaps there is an out-of-context personality conflict manifesting here, but for those of us that aren’t privy to it, let’s keep the discussion issued-focused.

—DavidV

Comment 21
Tue, December 20, 2011 7:26pm
Carl May
All my comments

It’s way simple. If the natural features of the marine reserve cannot be protected, it should be closed. I imagine it breaks the heart of Bob Breen and the other good county staff that has worked at Fitzgerald over the years to see ignorance among county politicians and bureaucrats dominating the discussion. (Not that the same corrupted money sources could be used, but you could pay for a full-time staff person for ten years at Fitzgerald for what is going to be thrown away on an urban “coastal trail” in the wrong place in this park.)

MidPen hasn’t exactly been a paragon of ecological sensitivity and right-sized access routes on some of its properties, either. Because we can’t trust the county to live up to the protective language of its own plan for the reserve, consideration should be given to transfering the intertidal area—mean high tide line out, at least, or, better, from the blufftops out—to state or federal control. The definition of a “marine life reserve” in the state’s relatively young Marine Life Protection Act (Fish and Game Code Sections 2850-2863) fits Fitzgerald pretty well and would provide a clear standard for protection. Other extensive intertidal areas like Duxbury Reef currently fall under the MLPA, so administrators would be (maybe not great but) more qualified and not like our county parks/public works executives who have a one-of-a-kind property for San Mateo County and are seemingly clueless about what they are dealing with.

And, no, we don’t need another multi-hundred-thousand-dollar study to tell us what we already know and have gone over multiple times.

“Maybe you could help clarify?”  I do not see the funding possibilities by the county in protection for Fitzgerald Marin Reserve.  Please note that she did agree (above) that the county won’t provide money towards Fitzgerald.

There is no “out-of-context personality conflict manifesting here,” there is only my request (stated above) to Sabrina to provide solutions.

I will admit that I find Sabrina’s ubiquitous internet rhetoric annoying; as she is someone who has campaigned for a public office, and might campaign again, then I expect a leader to be more solution-minded and not constantly finger-pointing.  We all know the problems, let’s hear some solutions.

 

Annaliese writes “[...] let’s hear some solutions.”  The solution is stated quite clearly in the FMR Master Plan and has been suggested at least twice in these comments.  Just because you don’t like the solution doesn’t mean that a solution hasn’t been proposed.  Limiting the number of people is unfortunately the only solution.

This isn’t much different from the overfishing situation.  Many areas are so overfished that the only way to keep some species from completely disappearing is to completely ban fishing in those areas for a few years.  This has happened right here in recent years.

Either we implement the policy in the FMR Master Plan to limit visitors or the area will at some point be closed entirely by a State or Federal agency.  Those are the choices.  Which would you prefer?

FMR will never be closed entirely by a state or federal agency.  A Marine Reserve is defined only as a “No Take” area, not a restricted access area.  The entire coast of California is, by law, accessible to the public.  Unless an area enjoys special federal protections, such as military occupation in the case of Pendleton or Vandenberg, public access must be allowed. 

If you try to close FMR to the public, you might have a situation such as Martin’s Beach on your hands.  Public access has been established.

Overuse at FMR is at least a 20 year old problem, from my own experience, so instead of getting angry and blasting Horsley, [or Philip Fradkin for not entertaining a call while he’s promoting his last book, see Comments section: (http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201108021000)], then focus on resolving the visitor center/entrance fee issue.

Channel Islands are federally protected and with permit access only.  Cabrillo National Monument requires permits for groups of ten or more.  (Entrance Fee.)
Monterey Bay Aquarium, albeit a commercial facility, is a revenue source and handles crowds. (Entrance Fee.)
But each of these are staffed to receive and manage the funds.

Although the county has the authority to implement management of its park, they have replied, “I agree in principle but limiting visitors without a visitor center or adequate staff to monitor, it is not possible at this time.”

You have agreement from the county on the need for a visitor center and staff, but the county’s busy dealing with its budget problems, and since no one’s dying at FMR and it’s not a money-maker, there is no immediate cause for concern.  Instead of finding fault with the county, provide them with the answer to:  How to implement a visitor kiosk/entry fee/permit system for field trips? 

Notification of the new policy will need to be sent to all universities and schools that visit FMR for field trips, as they are accustomed to arriving without notice, parking throughout the neighborhood, etc.  This includes a need to educate the general public who massively visit on weekends.  This includes the need to update the many internet sites that list FMR as a great place to visit.

It is really disappointing to read some of these comments and experience the overt hostility against visitors to the reserve.  So why are some commenters ready to characterize these visitors as villains when they simultaneously propose them as the source of new revenue?  In fact, some people seem to take the real and perceived offenses of a minority of visitors so personally.  Being so strident against visitors is only going to result in a lot of negative attention which, ultimately, means less funding for the reserve.

Craig, perhaps you are missing the distinction being made here between placing the blame on the shoulders of the ill-informed and unsupervised visitors as opposed to how the county, which is in a position to know better, chooses to promote the reserve and host those visitors.

In other words, if the county is the trusted steward and custodian of the Reserve, and the Reserve’s primary function is to serve as a Marine Sanctuary, then it stands to reason that as a good custodian and steward of the Reserve, it will seek to limit or otherwise restrict visitor impacts on the Reserve to the extent that these negatively impact its primary raison d’être as a safe haven for marine life.


All we are asking is that the county be a good host, just as you would if you opened the doors of your home to a large group of visitors.

If you chose, for example, to host a party in your home, and you found yourself overrun by unruly guests, you would seek to limit the number of people coming in the front door and do a better job watching the ones you are allowing in. You’d do this to safeguard your family, your valuables, and your home - so that you can keep hosting parties for many years to come.

Nothing different is being asked of the county.

—DavidV

I completely agree that the county needs to provide more resources to the Reserve to better enable it to become a better host to visitors.  The Reserve is a marine sanctuary but one that needs the support of the community in order to survive which is why visitors are important.  I understand your analogy but I don’t think it fully applies to this situation.  Yes, you do want to limit the impact of unruly guests but being too restrictive ruins the party for everyone.  Wouldn’t it be better to enlist your behaving guests in limiting the impact of any unruly people and wouldn’t that save time and resources?

Craig,

Are you suggesting that volunteers take up law enforcement duties at the FMR? 

As I’m sure you are already aware the Friends of the FMR are prohibited from enforcing the marine mammal act and marine reserve rules.  FMR volunteers are not trained in law enforcement.

Comment 29
Wed, February 22, 2012 11:27am
Craig Gillis
All my comments

No, that’s not what I was suggesting at all.  What I am talking about is letting the ranger know when a problem with another visitor is occurring.  For example, I keep an eye on visitors that go past the cones on the beach near the park headquarters.  Most turn back quickly when they see the seals begin to react but, with some, I’ve had to politely remind them of the need to keep a distance.  So far, everyone I’ve experienced in that situation has shown genuine concern for the seals and quickly complied with the rules so that the ranger never had to get involved.

Keep up the good work!

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