Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Childrens Pool in La Jolla is closed for Harbor Seals.

In 1931 a sea wall was built at this tiny La Jolla California beach to create a children's pool, that was safe from waves. This safe harbor however was also a perfect haven for harbor seals to raise their puCalifornia Cps during the breeding season. Local residents to used the beach resented the harbor seals. The water quality has deteriorated having high levels of bacterial contamination. Divers and spear fishermen still like to use the site. Over the years a debate has raged between residents who want to take back the children's pool and those who want to protect the harbor seals.  The debate has played out in state and federal courts, in city council votes and in the legislature. There have been protests staged on both sides of the issue.

Last spring the city imposed night time closures of the beach after incidents of visitors harassed the seals by punching, kicking or sitting on them. Unfortunately people can't be trusted to live this close to a harbor seal colony. When I visited the children's pool there were only a few harbor seals in the children's pool, most of them out by the retaining wall. During pupping season however there can be hundreds of seals on the beach. The site has become a tourist attraction giving visitors a great view of the beach and harbor seal colony from the cliffs.

In a unanimous vote, the California Coastal Commission will close the beach during pupping season which is between December 15th and May 15th.  This ordinance is the strongest action to date that protects the harbor seal colony. A chain will be installed to block the lower stairs leading to the beach. A sign will be posted warning visitors of the regulation. Violators will face misdemeanor penalties of up to $1000 or six months in jail. In the past year, a thin rope was stretched across the beach to guide visitors away from the seals in pupping season. When disturbed, a mother seal can give birth prematurely or abandon her pups. The rope wasn't very effective at keeping people from harassing the seals. Perhaps the chain and ordinance will be more effective. Some residents feel that the seasonal closure exceeds the city's authority. Apparently only the federal government has the authority to manage seals under the marine Mammal Protection Act.

In a short walk up the coast, snorkelers were in the water and seals would playfully approach them while staying just out of reach. Such close interactions in a natural setting are rare. In water the seals have the advantage of speed and agility, but on land they can be vulnerable to harassment. The debate still rages about this small children's pool. But the seals have won a victory and can raise their pups in peace this Christmas season.

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