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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Wildlife Disturbance Symposium 2019: A Growing Movement

The 5th Annual CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium was held at the William Penn Mott Jr. Training Center and Asilomar State Beach and Conference GroundsThe 5th Annual CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium was held at the William Penn Mott Jr. Training Center and Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds A Growing Movement for Wildlife

On November 4, 2019, nestled in a grove of Monterey pines overlooking Asilomar State Beach, a record crowd convened with the common goal of protecting the wildlife of the California coast and beyond. Nearly eighty participants at the 5th Annual California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium (our highest attendance yet) came to hear presentations from fifteen speakers describing wildlife disturbance issues and ideas for solutions. They came from as far away as Washington D.C. to share their knowledge and experience. They came to meet others from government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local businesses to find common ground, common goals and ways to work together to foster awareness and stewardship.

From Trinidad to La Jolla

symposium claire nasrClaire Nasr presents the results of her master's thesis study predicting disturbance risk During this day-long event, presenters brought news from the coastline of California — from the northern town of Trinidad south to the upscale community of La Jolla. Even wildlife at the more remote places along our coast are not immune to the impacts of human disturbance. The Trinidad Coastal Land Trust shared about their community science program organized to monitor disturbance along their rugged coast, and attendees were given a summary by a recent graduate of Humboldt State University of her statistical assessment of disturbance risk to select marine species. Speakers from Southern California described the decades-long battle for beach access at the notorious Children’s Pool in La Jolla and a code of ethics for professional wildlife photographers. We heard about the challenge of balancing the needs of humans and elephant seals at the beaches of Pt. Reyes National Seashore and San Simeon, and the clamor of human-generated sound navigated by the marine species of Monterey Bay. 

What do symposium sarah codde talkSarah Codde from Pt. Reyes National Seashore showcases new infographics to reduce human conflict with elephant sealsMonterey Bay stakeholders see as the most pressing conservation challenge when cohabiting with urban sea otters How do Marine Protected Areas protect seabirds from disturbance? Symposium attendees learned the answers to these questions and more! Updates on the progress of ongoing wildlife disturbance-related projects are always on the agenda, like the Respect Wildlife Campaign (rooted in our first symposium), the certification program, Community Active Wildlife Stewards (CAWS), and a new Monterey Bay Whale Watching collaborative, so attendees can follow along as these projects grow and evolve.

Each year, participants contribute outreach materials to our “Outreach Gallery”, a forum for sharing what has been done, and getting feedback on new ideas. Our collection is growing and this year we encircled our room with colorful and creative handouts, stickers, banners, and flyers. The gallery also supplemented spoken presentations with several posters on wildlife disturbance related topics.

symposium panel otterThe wildlife law enforcement panel takes questions from attendees as our sea otter napsIn an unprecedented special session, we gathered a panel of experts in wildlife law enforcement to review and discuss the potential and limitations of state and federal law enforcement to curb wildlife disturbance. The audience was able to hear from state and federal wildlife law enforcement staff and courtroom prosecutors from the US Department of Justice Wildlife Crimes Section and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and participate in a Q & A session with a panel of six experts. With considerable debate and confusion about the scope and effectiveness of law enforcement as a tool to reduce human disturbance to wildlife, this session was especially eye-opening and informative. Look for a future blog with a more detailed summary this special program.

Gaining Momentum

Building on a seabird-focused Wildlife Disturbance Symposium organized by Seabird Protection Network in 2013, Sea Otter Savvy has partnered with the Seabird Protection Network and California State Parks to organize this wildlife disturbance symposium since 2015. Our goal from the start has been focused on maximizing the effectiveness of diverse efforts to mitigate human-caused disturbance to coastal wildlife by fostering agreement upon common strategies and messaging, creating a forum for the sharing of new ideas, and supporting collaboration.  After a full day or talks and activities, attendees were invigorated and inspired to return home with new solutions and connections. With human population steadily on the rise, our wildlife need champions more than ever. It is clear from the growing interest and participation in this symposium that the momentum of this movement to reduce human-caused wildlife disturbance is growing. Let’s keep the wave of awareness moving forward and work together to create a more peaceful world for our wild neighbors.

Alicia Amerson (Projects for Wildlife Podcast, The Photologists), long time symposium attendee and member of the Respect Wildlife Campaign team, shares her list of ten takeaway messages from the day:

1. Let folks know if signage is not working in your area - then you can collaborate to make new signs to help reduce disturbance.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
2. Report wildlife infractions to NOAA, USFWS, and CalTIP.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
3. Take video of infractions, get their license plate or boat number, and send in.⠀Evidence is the only road to prosecuting violations! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4. Don't tell the person who is committing the infraction that you are calling them in. Let the professionals deal with them.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5. The "Sometimes the best relationship is a long-distance relationship" signage campaign by National Parks Service is effective.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
6. Partner and grow collaborations to protect wildlife from human disturbance in your local area.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
symposium glass full7. Get community science programs up and running, or join an existing program in your area.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
8. When asked what you are studying or observing - tell the person "Oh, I am just counting the number of times the animal bites a person who gets to close"⠀(a tactic used by one of the presenters!)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
9. Know who you are in the project — are you the person who looks at the issue with the glass half full or half empty!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
10. It takes all of us and our unique skills to protect wildlife!⠀⠀

symposium group selfieAttendees of the 2019 CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium gather for a group photo

Attendees represented these agencies and organizations:

NOAA, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, National Park Service, CA State Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Dept. of Justice, Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Bureau of Land Management, Seabird Protection Network, Point Blue Conservation Science, Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, Sea Otter Savvy,  MPA Collaborative Network, Humboldt State University, San Diego State University, University of Bristol, Bay Net, Friends of the Elephant Seal, The Marine Mammal Center, Save the Whales, Fast Raft Whale, ExperienceWildlife.com, Projects for Wildlife Podcast, and others.