Ocean inspiration

Gerick Bergsma, courtesy of Marine Photobank 2010

Last week the Fish and Game Commission met in Monterey. The Otter Project & Monterey Coastkeeper staff spent the better part of two days in the ballroom of the Beach Resort in Monterey (which sounds more glamorous than it actually is), speaking in support of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), promoting our new program MPA Watch, and watching an unusually mellow Commission banter with each other and the public.

There were two items on the agenda of particular interest–first, the Commission considered whether to move forward with an environmental review on the package of MPAs that have been negotiated for the South Coast. That includes the coast from Santa Barbara down to San Diego–definitely the most densely populated piece of coastline in California.

Although The Otter Project has focused primarily on Central Coast MPAs, we believe in the importance of extending the network throughout otter range current and historic–which covers ALL of California! On a personal note, I went to college in San Diego, and spent an idealic and formative part of my life there. It was in La Jolla that I learned to surf, on a 6’8 fish board that was missing a fin. I snorkeled in the cove, and swam in the warm water just about year round. Living near UCSD put me just blocks from one of the best beaches in San Diego, and I spent a good part of those years as a veritable beach bum!

Of course I was a college student beach bum, and that means that stretches of beach time were interspersed with library marathons, exams and papers. In my academic life I was discovering environmental policy. I had an academic affinity for policy–which combined my love of politics, communications and science–but my real passion was for the environment. It was the joy that I derived from the coastline that inspired me to want to work to protect it. This, ultimately was the plea I made to the Commission–to give full protection to the place that inspired my own path towards conservation and sustainability.

In our work to save sea otters–and the places that they need to exist–we grapple with highly technical scientific concepts, and complicated policy issues. As we negotiate SMRs over SMCAs in the MLPA process to designate MPAs, its easy to lose sight of what we’re actually doing. After telling my best friend something to that effect, he admitted, “I have no idea what you just said.”

I’m lucky to have a friend like him to point that out to me–because it’s an important point. In working to save the sea otter, we need to keep inspiring people to care about sea otters, or the coast, or the ocean, or whatever it is that is special to them about this place. It’s important to talk about the science and the policy–it’s how we make the changes we need to make–but it’s also essential that we share the things that inspire us.

After several years of working to save sea otter habitat, I finally went out into it this weekend, for my first dive in Monterey Bay. I got my certification in Thailand, so conditions were quite a bit different, and I was excited to explore. Although I didn’t see any otters during the dive (we did see a few during our post dive cocktail), I had an encounter with a harbor seal, who, according to my dive partner, followed me for some time before I realized it. Swimming through kelp and rocky bottom, looking for interesting things, I found a new respect for sea otters who forage for food down there–especially after the abalone I spotted turned out to be  rock for the fourth time.

The dive was yet another reminder to me of the importance of going out into the places that we’re trying to save, to play, work, and observe.

Speaking of inspiration, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS–another acronym) is hosting a Student Video Contest in conjunction with the upcoming Blue Film Festival, to be held in Monterey this summer. Students from Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and San Luis Obispo counties, 4th grade through college, are eligable to participate; videos must be submitted by June 30th, 2010. You can visit the Sanctuary’s website for more information.

The Otter Project is only as strong as its membership support, and we want our members to be inspired to protect sea otters, be it through film, photos, or experience. Please share what it is that inspires you about otters, the coast or the ocean–and help inspire others!

About Allison

I am the new Executive Director of The Otter Project in Monterey, California! Originally from the Bay Area, I went to school in San Diego, and came back north to Monterey for graduate school, where I found my calling: saving sea otters! Working for The Otter Project combines my passion for environmental policy with my love of animals. When not advocating for sea otters, I enjoy yoga, volunteer wildlife rehab, reading, and spending time with my cat Alyssa, who, for the record, I did not name. I have been with The Otter Project since November of 2007.
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