The Conservancy's Oregon Coast Ecologist
Good news! Oregon’s three new marine reserves off Cascade Head, Cape Falcon and Cape Perpetua — created by the Legislature — will protect fish as they rear and grow; then the fish disperse into areas where they can be sustainably harvested. Read on to see how Conservancy ecologists helped balance human use with nature’s needs.
Original Story by Jen Newlin
It was a treasured routine. On Fridays, Debbie Pickering went down to the fish market in Lincoln City and got fresh, local red snapper for dinner. But that was 30 years ago. “Now you just can’t get it, or it’s too expensive,” she said.
The causes may be complex, but too many fishers chasing too few fish likely has something to do with it. For Pickering, coastal ecologist for the Conservancy, the missing rockfish make the issue personal. The red snapper, and a myriad of other creatures, are on her mind as she works with a community team for a proposed marine reserve off Cascade Head, where she’s devoted much of her career.
It's an area where no extractive activities are allowed. A marine protected area has lighter restrictions and is likened to a state park. It’s where resources are studied, managed and protected, but are not necessarily off limits.
“I’m glad the Conservancy is taking more of a responsibility in the ocean and not stopping conservation at the edge of land,” Pickering said.
Sources note that marine protected areas worldwide cover less than half of 1% of the ocean. Off Oregon’s coast, that statistic is slimmer. Compared to Oregon’s land protection, where an estimated 10% is in highly protected status, some think the pace of ocean conservation could be in hot water.
“People sometimes see the ocean as this benign, blue surface,” said Dick Vander Schaaf, the Conservancy’s Oregon director of marine conservation. “But the ocean is a world of complex ecosystems and species that are wondrous and dynamic. It’s really not just sand.”
Oregon’s coastal waters were already flanked by marine protected areas in Washington and California in 2005 when Oregon officials began a public process for establishing our own network. A Conservancy assessment of Pacific Northwest marine conservation needs and priorities helped inform recommendations of the state’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council. From that process, last year, the Oregon Legislature designated a marine protected area and two marine reserves and asked for evaluation of another four.
The state designated Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and Marine Protected Area and Otter Rock Marine Reserve. The areas will be used for research, biodiversity conservation and recreational uses that don’t disturb ocean resources. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife created community groups for the potential sites — off Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua and Cape Arago. The groups’ recommendations are due in November and will be addressed in the 2011 legislative session.
Vander Schaaf sits on the Redfish Rocks team that is chartered to draft monitoring and management plans for the new site. He also sits on the team evaluating the proposal for a marine reserve off Cape Falcon. Pickering is an alternate for the Cascade Head team.
Both want to see more marine protected areas, but neither thinks the process will be smooth sailing. Communities are keen to protect natural resources, but are also worried about economic impacts of designations; some fishing folks — protective of their livelihood and history — don’t embrace more regulation.
But Pickering hopes to see red snapper in local fish markets again. And maybe, she said, marine reserves and protected areas, which benefit the ocean’s complex systems, can help.
Jen Newlin is a writer and graphic designer for The Nature Conservancy.