One of my favorite books is Carlos Eyles’s autobiography Last of the Blue Water Hunters. In a riveting history of spearfishing, he chronicles his return to the ocean, including our Channel Islands, after decades away and his ultimate mourning as he observes and reflects on all that’s been lost in the time in between.
I love to fish and dive, and though I marvel at the beauty of our underwater ecosystems, stories like Eyles’s and those of friends and neighbors who grew up in Santa Barbara many decades ago make it clear that they are not as bountiful as they once were.
There is, however, reason for hope and celebration. This Saturday, January 18, is California’s fifth annual Underwater Parks Day. California currently leads the nation in ocean protection, having recently completed a statewide network of underwater parks designed to ensure healthy, vibrant ocean life for generations to come. In 2012, five new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were implemented along the Santa Barbara coastline, adding to the network of 14 MPAs at the Channel Islands in effect since 2003. For the first time in decades, these areas are being left undisturbed to return to a condition more closely resembling what our forefathers experienced.
This year, Channelkeeper is working to promote eco-tourism in these areas, and we’re partnering with local businesses to develop fun, educational outings to explore the nearby MPAs. These places provide exciting opportunities for diving and other forms of non-consumptive recreation. Even if you’re not ready to take the plunge just yet, we should all take comfort in knowing there are places in the Santa Barbara Channel being preserved and restored so that we, and our children, can one day get a little closer to experiencing the oceans of old.