"Did you see that vermilion rockfish? It was enormous! And that big school of senorita fish? I swam right beside them!" Comments like these were heard at popular dive sites in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary the week of July 2-14, as volunteer divers participated in the Great American Fish Count. Organized for the first time in the Monterey Bay area, the event was sponsored by NOAA, the Marine Conservation Network and the Project AWARE Foundation.
The Great American Fish Count is an annual underwater fish species and abundance survey conducted by volunteer recreational divers. The pilot program began in 1992 when a small group of divers and biologists conducted a standardized fish census near Anacapa Island in Southern California to increase public awareness of the diversity and condition of marine fish populations. Modeling their efforts after the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, 50 volunteers accompanied by National Park Service biologists identified 27 species and counted 4,804 fishes. A modest beginning, but then the Audubon count began with just 25 observers in 1900 and now brings together over 22,000 people to count birds in 1,563 locations. The Great American Fish Count organizers have conducted similar fish counts every year, and their efforts have triggered counts in other areas. Already the fish count has grown to include volunteer groups in the Virgin Islands, Florida, Bahamas and other sites in California.
In Monterey this year, divers participated in one of two training sessions to prepare them for the event. The sessions included a fish identification program led by Dan Gotshall, noted marine biologist, photographer and author. Sarah Tamblyn and Lori Katz from the Marine Conservation Network presented survey techniques for counting fish and distributed waterproof data forms. Following the training, dive teams dispersed to various sites throughout the sanctuary and proceeded to count fish. Over 100 divers participated in the event with some teams contributing several individual surveys. The data has been compiled and sent to Gary Davis of the National Biological Survey at Channel Islands National Park for analysis. Summaries of the data are available to the participants and interested persons.
The Marine Conservation Network, a California based non-profit organization, helped coordinate the event, promoting it throughout the diving community. Founded in 1993, the Marine Conservation Network promotes conservation-oriented activities and encourages involvement by scuba divers interested in learning more about the marine environment.
NOAA and the Marine Conservation Network intend to organize the Great American Fish Count in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary each year. They look forward to even greater participation by scuba divers and snorkelers next year.
For more information about the Great American Fish Count, contact Sarah Tamblyn of the Marine Conservation Network at (510) 838-2544.
Recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ruled to uphold a Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary regulation that prohibits the removal of minerals, including jade, from the sanctuary. Though the ruling may be a disappointment to some jade collectors, NOAA believes it is important to make sure Monterey's unique jade resource is preserved for future generations.
"Managing a sanctuary means balancing the needs of the future with the needs of the present," Sanctuary Manager Terry Jackson said. Until the designation of the sanctuary, collectors, particularly divers removed jade from Jade Cove, and according to some, loose pieces of jade have been more difficult to find over the years.
A group of jade collectors, sculptors and divers originally requested that NOAA review the regulation prohibiting the extraction of oil, gas or minerals from the sanctuary in hopes that an exception could be made in the case of jade.
After a careful review of the issue which included an on-site visit to Jade Cove and a meeting with jade collectors, NOAA decided to retain the regulation as written. Access to Jade Cove, however, is not restricted and the public is free to visit, dive and explore the site.
Jade Cove, where the majority of jade has been collected, is one in a series of small coves near the town of Gorda south of Big Sur. Before sanctuary designation, beachcombers and scuba divers regularly collected jade in and around Jade Cove, even though treacherous waters in the cove kept all but the most determined collectors from attempting underwater recovery. Usually, beachcombers removed jade pebbles from the beach, while divers collected larger pieces from below water, either by hand or other means.
Jade collectors themselves estimated that up to several tons of jade were removed from the area annually The largest piece of jade taken from this area was a 9,000-pound boulder of nephrite jade that measured eight and a half feet long and five feet high.
NOAA staff members considered factors such as resource protection, the scope of the collector's jade removal activities, the amount of jade removed, uses of the jade (some of it is sold), other sources of jade and existing prohibitions on mineral extraction applicable to Jade Cove. In the end the decision was consistent with state law that was in effect prior to the sanctuary designation, and is still in effect today.
State regulations prohibit commercial extraction of minerals anywhere along the California coast without a permit, and no permits have ever been issued for the Jade Cove area. Therefore, the State Lands Commission considers the extraction of jade from Jade Cove to be theft of state property.
Similarly, the National Forest Service prohibits the removal of any rocks or minerals in the Los Padres National Forest without a lease. Above the mean high-tide mark, Jade Cove lies within the Los Padres National Forest.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was designated primarily to protect the resources within its boundaries, and the regulations were created with such protection in mind. NOAA promotes all public and private uses within the sanctuary consistent with resource protection. NOAA is committed to that mandate and hopes that exploitation of the jade resources will cease, allowing present and future generations the opportunity to visit Jade Cove and observe its natural beauty.
If you have questions or comments in regard to the prohibition on jade collection, please contact Sanctuary Manager Terry Jackson at (408) 647-4201.
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Last modified on: June 14,