Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Southern Cal Road Trip and the Marianas Trench Monument

It’s Carnival of the Blue time again. Angelo’s hosting it on his blog so I figured I’d try and help him out with some content. Besides, last time I submitted a post for it I happened to be awarded the editors choice for my piece about the big fish.

Today I’m going to take a few moments from my open-heart surgery theme and get back to the concept of conservation. There’ll be no discussion about bodily functions or painful incisions or even cute nurses in this one! In a way today’s post does relate to my recent ordeal as its something I’ve wanted to write about since experiencing the beauty of the southern California coast during my “alone” time just prior to going under the knife.

Soon after we got word that I needed my tricuspid valve repaired my wife and children all got sick while staying in the small downtown LA hospital guesthouse. It was imperative that I did not catch what they had and we also needed to get our kids to grandmas and grandpas since they would need to be in good hands while Denise and I dealt with what was to come.

So when they all flew to Canada the words ROAD TRIP echoed in my ears. I’ve always wanted to see San Diego and the coastline between there and LA so after picking up the car and a bunch of maps I was on my way. Just my camera and me. No set plans, no one to answer to, no chance of getting lost, as taking a wrong turn would only mean a different experience than the one originally planned. The freedom to do as I wished when I wanted to was exactly what the Dr. ordered and something I’ve not experienced in a long time.

I’ve done similar road trips in my life prior to getting married and having kids. Two similar ones come to mind and have bearing on what I plan to illustrate today. In 1997 I did a trip up the East coast of the USA from Philadelphia to Gloucester including stops in Boston and the Cape Cod. In 2002 I had the opportunity to travel the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne Australia, an amazing stretch of scenery famous for things like the Seven Apostles. Images of both trips are ingrained in my head not only because of the beauty encountered and the untouched picturesque scenes I was able to capture on film but also because they brought me to the edges of the earth where I was fortunate to experience nature as it has existed since, well, ever since.
In all three cases the ability to witness nature essentially untouched by human hands was only possible because someone, somewhere along the line, recognized that these areas needed protection from our own destructive forces. In all three cases local, state and national parks, refuges and protected areas allowed me access to places with untouched vistas and landscapes.
This is especially true for the American treks since large human populations often encroached these areas from all sides. Without some sort of protection they would have easily been swallowed up becoming, at the very least, inaccessible and at worst destroyed forever.
As I unfolded the California state map I quickly put an X on what is essentially the southwestern most point of the USA, Point Loma and Carbrillo National Monument.
Yes I know you could get further south by heading to the boarder of Mexico but not without going though the city of San Diego and with a limited amount of time I just didn’t want to spend it doing that. I also decided to skip the beach cities around LA on the way down and hit them on the way back. So I headed south on the I5 and along with thousands of other people hit speeds twice and three times that which is possible on Saipan. At San Onofre the freeway begins to hug the coast and it becomes easier to access beaches and view points overlooking the Pacific. I’m a water person and every trip such as this is spent making turns and taking exits that hopefully lead to the horizon with nothing but blue water underneath. At Oceanside I turned off the freeway and continued south along the Coast Highway, the closest major route running parallel to the ocean. This road passes through a number of different communities each it seemed with three common characteristics: a town center, a low-lying stretch of highway with easy beach access and an elevated stretch with only pockets of spots where the vista could be accessed due to the build up of housing etc.
With each, if it were not for parks preventing development, I’m sure that every square inch of real estate fringing the cliffs and beaches from San Diego to LA would have been swallowed up giving only the owners and their lucky friends the ability to access the water and experience the amazing views carved out over time.
Have you ever been on an adventure, not really knowing where you’re going or how to get there and realizing that “over there” behind all those homes there must be a really great view. It can be extremely frustrating at times especially when you think in context of how our grandparents (or perhaps their grandparents) probably never had such a problem.
Back in the old days access difficulties would have been more related to lack of infrastructure and the pioneering skills needed to make your way through virgin territory. I’ve always been grateful to the planners of communities who’ve had the forethought to set aside areas and parks where the common folk don’t need to worry about being wealthy or having connections with locals in order to take in the view.

Thankfully along this southern drive, intertwined with all the human developments, there are numerous places offering outsiders and locals alike amazing lookouts and access to sandy beaches where surfers and sunbathers dot the transition from land to sea. In some cases such as state run parks there is a daily or weekly fee. In others the real trick is in finding a parking spot for the seaside public park. In others the location is reserved for campers and RV’s but the bottom line, despite the frustration of often needing to fork out 5 or 10 bucks, access is possible to those who seek it.
Arriving at the entrance to Carbrillo National Monument I paid my $5 fee and was happy to learn that 80% of it stays right there to support park programs and should I have the time to do so I would be allowed access for the following six days.
Unfortunately I only had one afternoon but I can safely say if I ever find myself back in this area again I will plan on taking several days to take in everything this place has to offer. From hiking trails with interpretive signs to lighthouses, tide pools and a multifunctional interpretive center you would be hard pressed to see it all in less that a couple of days and that would only be possible if you did not take the time to stop and enjoy the amazing views over looking the pacific and San Diego.
Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people take in this protected area every year generating not only millions of dollars in revenue but also leaving visitors educated and revitalized by the beauty of what nature has created.So how does this all fit in with the Carnival of the Blue. Well although many land based parks, refuge’s and monuments have been set up around the world to allow limited human access while protecting terrestrial based resources, endangered species and unique ecosystems the same can not be said for our worlds oceans especially on a relative scale when you consider they make up over 70% of the planet.

On a grand scale the proposed concept of the Marianas Trench Marine Monument provides a unique opportunity for us to protect a body of water large enough so as to have a real positive effect on preserving the worlds oceans as a whole. It also provides an opportunity through the development of infrastructure and educational resources to change the make up of the local economy and skill set of our local people.

With establishment of the monument will come a world-class interpretive center and other revenue generating opportunities desperately needed by the local community? With increased press and notoriety the tourism sector will prosper providing jobs and income for a wide range of local residents. Through national parks programs directly funded jobs will be created and educational opportunities including increased scientific voyages will follow. These scientific expeditions will include international and local scientists eager to study the pristine area over time. Also, in a similar way to the land based parks I experienced on my drive south, future generations of tourists and locals alike will be able to travel to these remote areas knowing they have access to waters that exist in the same state as they did when their ancestors were alive. The ability to witness Mother Nature as it was intended to be will live on for future generations.
On the flip side imagine the great loss if none of the coast line from LA to San Diego was open for public viewing in its natural state. How many tourists would come? How much revenue would be lost from non-existent visitors centers and souvenirs sales including T-shirts and key chains. Imagine if none of the state park fees went to educational programs or interpretive signs. My trip down south would never have been the same, in fact it likely would never have happened if it not for the fact that someone, somewhere along the line saw the value of setting aside vast areas for the enjoyment of future generations.

Imagine the loss if the people of the CNMI don’t do as so many have done before them the world over and embrace this opportunity.

The following are links to additional articles I've written about the Marianas Trench Monument in chronological order. Those with an * have been published in the Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety.

April 25th 2008
Act Two - Northern Island Marine Monument

Friday, May 9, 2008
Marine Monument - Why Kill It Now?*

Monday, May 12, 2008
Marine Monument – Personalities & Politics*

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Marine Monument - Lets Talk eh!*

Friday, May 16, 2008
Marine Monument - The Benefits / It's Not All About the Fishing*

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Marine Monument - Get Informed

Friday, May 23, 2008
Marine Monument - Ruth's Round Up

Saturday, May 24, 2008
Bush Eyes Unprecedented Conservation Program - NPR Report

Monday, July 14, 2008
Coral Triangle Meet the Trench Monument

Friday, July 18, 2008
Pew's Role Defined


mark r said...

Well said, Mike.

Dexter said...

I like the Mariana Islands. I've been there twice. There is something uniquely beautiful about them, and I have had the privilege to see many a Pacific isle. What you people look out over is, for the most part, the same that the ancestral Marianians' looked out over. Beautiful.
Your islands remind me of West Marin County, in Northern California. You are West, West Marin perhaps, which is not a bad place to be environmentally or economically.
Save your islands--the Marianas are not some cheap tourist destination. They have the potential to be the "greenest" islands in the Pacific, if your population has a vision to see that.
Good luck on your islands' futures, like the mainland, they will need a few good peoples' vision.