Ecosystem Health and Unlimited Access — Not a Good Expectation

This sea surface temperature map shows the confluence of waters near Hollister Ranch. (Blue indicates 60s; yellow-orange is 60-70 degrees.)

Hollister Ranch lies near the major oceanographic and biogeographic boundary of Point Conception where a cool southward-flowing ocean current meets the warmer waters of the southern California Bight. This confluence sets up a unique transition region of extraordinary marine and intertidal biodiversity. High biodiversity thrives on Hollister Ranch largely due to the inaccessibility of the coast and the ranch’s stewardship through its managed access program. The ranch’s ongoing managed access program allows small groups, including schoolchildren and scientists, to visit the unique coastal resources through supervised programs that serve to minimize human impact on the fragile ecosystems.

The public is quick to cheer when lands are set aside for preservation and public access, and quick to protest when public access is limited. However, the goals of providing unlimited public access and maintaining ecosystem health and diversity are mutually exclusive. A recent study in the journal Science indicates dwindling biodiversity for two reasons. First, highly biodiverse regions are not necessarily the regions targeted for preservation. Second, a large fraction of the lands set aside specifically for preservation are losing species diversity and ecosystem health due to intense human pressure.

The goal of the Coastal Zone Management Act, passed by Congress in 1972, is to “preserve, protect, develop, and where possible, to restore or enhance the resources of the nation’s coastal zone.” The Hollister Ranch is meeting this goal through its successful and ongoing managed access program to this rich and unspoiled coastline.

Carter Ohlmann owns land at Hollister Ranch and is a research oceanographer with the Earth Research Institute at UCSB.


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