Coastal monument extended to include Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands
Today, President Obama designated the first land-based extension of the California Coastal Monument, encompassing 1,665 acres of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. I started visiting this spectacular spot on the Mendocino Coast a decade ago and was immediately struck by the tremendous energy of its dramatic folded rock and the surf exploding against rugged islands. Over time, I explored wetlands, meadows, sand dunes and the estuary of the Garcia River, where restoration and a shift to sustainable logging practices in the watershed have spurred a comeback of the river’s prized coho salmon and steelhead. With this new designation, many more visitors like me will come to hike, tidepool and explore the many treasures here, including views of its distinctive lighthouse, waterfalls, arches, and steep cliffs that evoke the shaggy feet of a gigantic wooly mammoth. When they do, they’ll provide a vital boost to Mendocino County’s tourism and recreation economy, which employs about 5,000 county residents.
At the monument’s seaward edge, a rich array of ocean habitats begins. Exquisite formations of ridged rock honeycombed with crevices and caves in the ocean serve as a nursery for abalone, sea urchin and rockfish. At low tide, visitors can explore the tidepools that emerge between the shore and the aptly-named Sea Lion Rocks.
For decades, the Stonetta family ran a dairy farm on the monument site (the family continues to manage a farm producing organic, locally marketed dairy products on adjacent lands). Public agencies bought this property in 2005 and opened it to public access; a mere two weeks later about 800 people showed up to dive for the rich store of red abalone that had enjoyed de facto protection as long as the Stornettas restricted access to the coast through their land. With no site-based protections in place, the abalone population in the intertidal zone plummetted by nearly 80 percent in less than three years. That drop helped spur the state’s decision in 2010 to designate much of this nearshore area as State Marine Protected Areas, “underwater parks” created through the extensive public process of the Marine Life Protection Act. Sea life can now recover and thrive in these havens.
Land and sea are integrally connected, and nowhere more so than here. A powerful upwelling center off Point Arena bathes the ocean in this area with nutrients, contributing to its high productivity; salmon grow fat on this fuel and bring nourishment from the ocean upstream when they return to spawn and die; land animals forage in the tidal zone; seabirds nest on the cliffs and rocks; marine habitats depend on clean water. This new monument recognizes that connection and provides a continuum of protection by linking with marine protected areas. California’s oldest underwater park, at Point Lobos near Monterey, also combines ocean and land-based protections, and draws more than 400,000 visitors per year.
The agencies responsible for managing Point Arena also recognize the land sea connection; the federal Bureau of Land Management worked cooperatively with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), local Indian tribes and nongovernmental organizations during the public design process for marine protected areas and on the monument designation, and continues to collaborate with many of those entities on outreach and education.
The Point Arena-Stornetta addition to the Coastal Monument doesn’ t cover a large area relative to typical wilderness area designations. But it contains a diversity of habitats seldom found even in much larger tracts, and links directly to highly varied and productive protected areas in the ocean. Diversity is the key to resilience ecologically and economically: the new monument is the perfect centerpiece for a flourishing sustainable tourism industry that complements Point Arena’s farms, orchards and fishing businesses. Representative Jared Huffman and California’s senators deserve credit for leadership in this effort, as does President Obama for stepping forward when Congress failed to act.