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Monterey Is a Model for Sustainability and Ocean Conservation

Source: San Francisco Chronicle/Carolyn Jung - March 4, 2016 in Politics

Monterey Is a Model for Sustainability and Ocean Conservation
Photo: Ed Suominen/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Humans and nature have not always been kind to Monterey and its majestic bay.

With its deep blue waters now teeming with life, it’s hard to fathom that there was a time when whales, otters, sardines, kelp and other marine life were stricken here, fished to near depletion or driven elsewhere by the warming and changing of the currents.

While natural and man-made pressures still persist, seeing the bay now is to view it through the lens of what many consider a model success story of ocean conservation. After all, it was one of the first places in California where ocean protection took hold long before that notion became popular. Today, the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary is the largest protected ocean area in the continental United States, spanning 6,094 square miles from the waters just north of San Francisco to the southern end of the Big Sur coast.

“It really has come back incredibly,” says Paul Greenberg, a James Beard Award-winning author who has probed the state of this country’s seafood in his best-selling books, “American Catch” and “Four Fish.” “It’s really a testament to the way the ocean can turn around if you leave it alone. With Monterey, you can see that not far from a major population area, you can have a successful ecosystem. For that reason alone, it’s worth a visit.”

Tourists may come to gawk at cute sea otters now frolicking in the waters year-round. But in the 1800s they were hunted so voraciously for their pelts they were finally declared a threatened species. In the 1930s, Julia Platt, former Pacific Grove mayor and a doctor of marine zoology, pioneered legislation that created one of the first marine protected areas that many scientists credit for helping otters to recover in Monterey Bay.

Their return was vital, Greenberg says, because they eat abalone and sea urchins, keeping those populations in check to allow the kelp to thrive and nourish rockfish, sea birds and anchovies.

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