On the Gaviota Coast this past Saturday morning, a crew of stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers could be seen far off on the horizon, making their way against the current toward Naples Reef, an underwater treasure they believe is worth holding onto. Comprised of people committed to preserving offshore hotspots that harbor significant levels of biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the team included members of Below the Surface, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, The Ocean Conservancy, Surfers Without Borders, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Ocean Futures.
“The importance of Naples Reef — from both a biological and cultural perspective — can’t be overstated,” said Michael Sheehy of Channelkeeper. “Naples Reef is one of the most biologically productive and diverse marine habitats in all of Southern California and offers Channel Islands-caliber diving and snorkeling just offshore from Santa Barbara. This paddle-out was designed to raise awareness about the once-in-a-lifetime chance we have to protect local treasures like this forever.”
Saturday’s paddle from El Capitan Beach to Naples was prompted by Below the Surface, a nonprofit that is teaming up with organizations to highlight critical offshore habitats. Their statewide tour is hitting nine such spots from La Jolla to the Humboldt Bay, which are in line to be considered for the next round of Marine Protected Area designations. That process — which is designed to stop or limit fishing in areas so that often overfished marine life has a chance to rebound — begins in October.
Below the Surface cofounders Kristian Gustavson and Jared Criscuolo explained: “We wanted to come out, and travel to these areas and show the importance of people, and their role in improving the quality of ocean life, and provide future recreational experiences for paddlers and surfers. We will go across the nation to team up with similar organizations such as the ones you see today, and get these areas protected.”
According to those involved Saturday, the biggest threats to Naples Reef are habitat destruction, climate change, and overfishing. They say that the scientific data shows that the preservation of this area will not only increase overall population growth within the reef and preserve fish nurseries, but will provide a refuge for larger pelagic fish and species threatened by overfishing. Naples is also in a unique transition location offshore, where a mix of organisms from both northern and southern regions of California live, and provides visitors with an incredibly rare experience to witness this merger of life underwater.
Explained Greg Helms of The Ocean Conservancy, “The most heavily studied and biologically prolific spot on our coast, Naples Reef is a true fish production powerhouse, housing more biodiversity and productivity than other areas — even compared to the rest of the globally significant Gaviota Coast.”
Those interested in helping advocate for protection of Naples Reef can visit the Save Naples Reef organization’s Web site at caloceans.org/savenaplesreef.