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The Green Life: Surfers Establish New Reserve in Santa Cruz

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January 19, 2012

Surfers Establish New Reserve in Santa Cruz

Natural BridgesLongtime surfer and coastal-protection advocate Dean LaTourrette likes to joke that his job compensates him, in part, with waves. As executive director of Save the Waves Coalition, a nonprofit focused on protecting threatened surf spots around the world, he usually has a schedule flexible enough to accommodate regular payments in the icy waters off San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

Lately, prime weather conditions have allowed him to carve into surging bonuses even more frequently: "It's a season for the ages, really, for Northern California," he said, reflecting on a recent Saturday session. "All this dry weather is paticularly good. We've still gotten plenty of swell, but the weather's been phenomenonal."

When off the board, LaTourrette is preparing for the April 28 enshrinement of the Santa Cruz-based organization's third World Surfing Reserve on a seven-mile coastal stretch of its home turf. The designation already graces iconic breaks in Ericeira, Portugual, and Malibu, California, recognizing the rare recreational, historic, and environmental qualities associated with each place. The group hopes the reserves will educate locals about the importance of protecting the sites from the threats of development and pollution, as well as inspire others to initiate their own coastal-protection projects.

The site slated for dedication is on the coastline of Santa Cruz, a place credited as the birthplace of surfing in North America and home to the celebrated right-hand point breaks at Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. It's in the heart of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where a diverse ecosystem flourishes.

Mark H. Carr, a UC Santa Cruz professor of marine biology, explains that Monterey Bay's northern section has a gyre, an ocean circulation pattern that traps water. "It tends to collect a lot of larvae," he said, adding that it "may be sort of an important nursery habitat." Carr also explained that giant kelp forests closer to the reserve's northern boundaries stand on sandstone reef features, which support biological communities distinct from those in the granite-based forests farther south.

Save the Waves is working with local environmentalists, activists, and elected officials to draft a local stewardship plan to guide the preservation and education efforts after the dedication. The current decision in process is how to tackle water-quality issues along Cowell Beach, which has been called California's most polluted beach.

Despite the difficulties ahead, LaTourrette is ecstatic about establishing a reserve on the Santa Cruz beaches where he learned to surf 25 years ago: "It's fantastic to be able to do something in a place where I got going and have such a connection to," he said. "We do a lot of international work and don't always get an opportunity to do local work. So this has been a great opportunity and exercise for us to partner with the community." 

--Ryan Jacobs / image courtesy Will Henry

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