La Jolla Beaches: What You Need to Know

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Welcome to part one of our five part blog series (see part twothree, four and five) on the best ways to enjoy San Diego’s very own ASBS and Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores are both protected areas — the Cove and Shores are both classified as Areas of Special Biological Significance and La Jolla Shores is also a marine reserve known as the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. These posts will show you how to enjoy these special places while not harming those that live there. 

Hello, my coast-loving friends! This is the first of a series of posts about the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve and how to enjoy the best of the tidepools, while protecting our coast. A tidepool is a rocky habitat on the coast, squeezed between the waves and dry land. It is a somewhat extreme place to live on, but it’s great to explore. The activity of exploring the tidepool is called tidepooling.

La Jolla Shores is one of the busiest beaches in San Diego with its waters used by tourists and locals alike. It features bounded rocky formations, both in the North and in the South, where tide pools form during low tide. These are great places to watch the sea-life; to observe the lives of tiny animals and see the connections between different species and the elements. la-jolla-shores-sdck

During winter, low tides are much lower, creating the best conditions for tidepooling. However, during summer, the tides are higher and the water is warmer, creating perfect conditions for snorkeling. The best place for snorkeling is the rocky formations at the south of La Jolla Shores because the waves are smaller. Groups of snorkelers often flock to this area, looking for sea-life and unique rock formations.

Less known is the fact that La Jolla Shores is part of the of Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve (SMR) and subject to several rules and protection measures. Unlike in the Scripps tide pools, there isn’t a sign telling the beach-goers about the status of the area. 

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a State Marine Reserve is a demarcated area to protect part of the marine environment, where “is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a permit or specific authorization from the managing agency for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes”. It is the most restrictive of marine protected areas – you shouldn’t take anything but pictures.

Educational and recreational uses are encouraged, as long as they don’t damage the environment, so enjoy! There is so much you can do in La Jolla Shores: swimming, kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, tide pooling, or just chilling on the beach.

In the next posts, we will talk about two great ways to enjoy the reserve; tidepooling and snorkeling, and learn the best ways to reduce our impact and enjoy ourselves safely during these activities.

Written by Thais Fonseca Rech



Published in Marine Conservation

Protecting Our ASBS Better: What Do You Expect From A Coastal Champion?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Watershed Management PlanASBS Blog 1

The City of San Diego, University of CA, San Diego/Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD/SIO), and San Diego Coastkeeper make up the La Jolla Shores Coastal Watershed Management Group. Their priority is to manage urban runoff and protect the health of the two adjacent ASBS’s in La Jolla (see picture right). 

In 2008 the group authored the Watershed Management Plan that was developed from a series of stakeholder and project partner meetings. Experts from the fields of urban runoff management, ocean and environmental science, data management, and public participation were consulted to develop a holistic program to address the complex issues and California Ocean Plan standards associated with an ASBS.

La Jolla Shores has an ASBS Protection Implementation Program that represents the initial stage of ASBS protection. It supports four essential and interactive components of the Watershed Management Plan, including:

  1. Urban Runoff Management – addresses needs to reduce watershed pollutant impacts and the prohibition of waste discharges into an ASBS
  2. Ocean Ecosystem Assessment – addresses the need to identify health of the resources, impact of runoff, and effectiveness of management measures
  3. Information Systems – addresses the need to develop resource management tool serving variety of end users
  4. Public Participation – addresses the need to engage public in protection and management of resource

By incorporating all four components, the two La Jolla Shores ASBS will be protected by reducing urban runoff pollutants from discharges and establishes important assessment and monitoring tools. The focus is to reduce or eliminate the primary sources of water quality threats. This plan will provide multiple benefits by protecting not only the ASBS; it also includes high use public beaches and two Marine Protected Areas nearby.

Incorporating Information Management into ASBS Management

Integrated information management systems are a critical tool to efficiently assess and manage regulatory programs. Information management systems can display data in the interrelated language that biological-physical-chemical processes present in the watershed and marine environment. These data can then be assessed and available to a wide range of users that span both regulatory and non-regulatory based data collection efforts.

Our goal was to design a modular problem driven application that builds upon different standards and protocols.
We strived to emulate existing ocean observing systems web portals for ease of navigation and familiarity. Utilizing open standard formats and protocols enables access to varying structures and distributed data sources. Since some of the data shown on the website is derived from other sources, the goal has been to access services or data directly instead of hosting copies. This format allows for varying data types enabling a customized portal.

The online tool that is entering its’ beta testing mode now, was designed to establish the infrastructure needs and generate a conceptual design that is required for long term assessment of ASBS performance and related management decisions. The system will expand upon the current information management framework developed by UCSD/SIO for the La Jolla Shores Coastal Watershed Management Plan. Local and regional information sharing initiatives are promoted, and support low impact development (LID), water conservation, and public engagement through outreach and data visualization. The end-product will be to develop a usable information system for a range of users.

Online Features

ASBS Blogpic 2

The greatest attribute of this site is it allows for various data layers to be viewed together spatially via a central map. While providing metadata, specific data values and time series.


  • Large map with slide-able side panels
  • Adjustable map-time
  • Time series of selected data
  • Specific layers have options which can be changed once selected
  • Collapsible legends
  • Metadata for each layer and links to special studies and documents
  • Map bookmarks to help you zoom to areas of interest

Data Layers

The data layers that are included in online tool are grouped by near-real time observations, static point observations, and spatial observations/models.ASBS Blog pic3

  • San Diego ASBS Meteorological Sensors – Meteorological stations along the coast provide wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation, rainfall, and water temperature data.
  • San Diego ASBS Outfall Monitoring Stations – Seawater and storm water outfalls at Scripps Institution of Oceanography that are monitored in accordance with the California Ocean Plan.
  • San Diego ASBS Bacteria Monitoring Stations – Bacteria monitoring in the surf zone is performed weekly in the San Diego-Scripps Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). Data shown are the last reported results sent to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
  • Harmful Algae & Red Tide Regional Monitoring Program – Water samples and net tows are collected once per week to monitor for HAB (Harmful Algal Blooms) species, and naturally occurring algal toxins, as well as water temperature, salinity, and nutrients. Occurs at 8 piers along the California coastline.
  • State of California ASBS System Boundaries – boundaries of the 34 designated coastal regions in the California Ocean Plan as Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) in an effort to preserve these unique and sensitive marine ecosystems for future generations.
  • Historic Probability Exposure Maps (2008-2009) – estimated spatial extent of the surface plume for a historical dataset from 2008-2009, to determine the probabilities of exposure of each ASBS to coastal discharges for annual circulation patterns.
  • High Frequency Radar Surface Currents – Data collected from high-frequency (HF) radar can be used to infer the speed and direction of ocean surface currents (to 1 meters depth).
  • Regional Ocean Model System (ROMS) Model Output – a model produced and distributed by Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE) at UCLA and the west coast office of Remote Sensing Solutions, Inc.
  • Sea Surface Temperature – analysis map layer displays the NOAA/ NWS/National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s (NCEP) daily, high-resolution, global sea surface temperature analysis.
  • Winds – The North American Mesoscale Model (NAM), refers to a numerical weather prediction model run by National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) for short-term weather forecasting.
  • Wave Height – Wave Watch III (WW3) is a third generation wave model developed at NOAA/NWS/NCEP (National Centers for Environmental Prediction).

For more information regarding this online tool or the technical back-end specifics contact

Published in Marine Conservation

Snorkel with the Leopard Sharks in La Jolla Shores

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

BONUS! One more special in our four-part (now five-part) “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

A long time ago I went snorkeling for the first time, it was in the Caribbean’s clean tropical water, where without effort, I saw so many soft and hard colorful corals like coral fans and other beautiful species that provide a home for hundreds of fishes and invertebrates.

Snorkel with….Sharks

Let’s say that the first time I was invited to snorkel in La Jolla my expectations were really high. But then they mentioned the magic word SHARKS next to snorkel … and I was sold.

Finally the day arrived, the sun shined brightly, which helped since my tropical bones were still adapting to the cold waters, and I was impressed to see the beach so clean and neat. Did I mention that La Jolla Shores is part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, establish in 1970 to protect 6,000 acres of shore to underwater habitats. The park is divided into two marine protected areas: the San Diego-Scripps State Marine Conservation Area, which runs from Scripps Pier north to Black’s Beach, and the Matlahuayl (mot-LA-who-ALL) State Marine Reserve, which runs from Scripps Pier south to La Jolla Cove. A state marine reserve is a type of marine protected area where the removal of all living marine resources is prohibited and activities like tidepooling, kayaking, snorkeling and diving are promoted. The day was perfect for some snorkel fun, I got suited up with mask on. They said no flippers needed, so I guessed we didn’t have to go so far to see these “sharks,” but to my surprise, you didn’t need a wetsuit or a mask–just luck to be in the right place at the right time in this Area of Special Biological Significance, located in the southern portion of La Jolla shores (I don’t want to tell the secret…okay, it is in front of the Marine Room). The right time is the summer time and voilà sharks start showing up with their beautiful spots. Yes, these were the leopard sharks (not the tiger sharks in case you got worried like one of my friends).

The amazing experience of meeting the locals

It was almost surreal, the sharks were four to five feet long (they can grow up to six feet) and even their cousins, the shovelnose guitarfish, came to say hello. Even when I was seeing it with my own eyes, I wanted to know why they were here, since it seems like they are hanging out in the same spot around the same time every year. A few months later I got the most recent scientific explanation from a scientist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Andy Nosal. He is also a postdoctoral researcher at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. He explained that the leopard sharks that congregate in La Jolla shores are mostly pregnant females, which take advantage of the warmer waters during the day (from spring, summer, and fall months) and the local food source (fish and invertebrates in the sandy shores and the California Market squid that they hunt during the nights in La Jolla Submarine Canyon). Again, Mother Nature does it better–I guess if you are pregnant, warm water and yummy food is a good reason to be here, beside no predators so triple score!

What you can do

The only possible inconvenient to these sharks’ pregnancy retreat could be us, so if you want to snorkel with the leopard sharks remember not too close is the best policy. Be respectful, they are not going to hurt you. Really, their teeth are really small and are adapted to crushing their food, which doesn’t include you. If you get too close, it is possible that they just swim away. I guess like any pregnant living organism they just want to have their bellies full and relax! Come visit your Areas of Special Biological Significance like these Underwater Parks in La Jolla Shores, embrace nature with a morning snorkel with the sharks and be part of the solution if you see any illegal discharge of sewage and/or waste, inform the authorities. Obviously remember that this is your place to have fun and enjoy nature so please keep it clean!

For more information on:

Snorkel with the sharks tours:

Areas of Biological Significance
Coral Reef photo from Marine Science Today
Snorkel with the leopards sharks photo from Andy Nosal

Published in Marine Conservation

Surf the ASBS

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Part four of four in our “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

surf-divaI’ve heard more than once that the best surfer is the one having the most fun. That’s a nice thought, but it’s not strictly true. If you’re dropping in, mouthing off or otherwise being rude or unsafe in the water, it doesn’t really matter how much fun you have.

I think of San Diego’s Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) similarly.

The view is gorgeous and the sand is white, but that doesn’t automatically make the ocean at La Jolla Shores, Scripps Pier or the Cove the best in San Diego. What do make them special are the habitats and creatures underwater.

With Scripps poised at the northern end of one of our ASBS, constantly studying and learning from it, and La Jolla Cove at the southern tip with breathtaking diving and snorkeling in reef and kelp forest, it can’t be beat. If you show up with a surfboard, though, La Jolla Shores or the Pier are almost always where the fun is. You’ll see the La Jolla Shores Surfing Association in the parking lot (“Surfers dedicated to the guardianship of our ocean and community,” how rad is that?), Surf Diva set up in the sand (hello economic benefit to clean water!), the San Diego Surf Ladies (there’s always someone to surf with!) hauling long and short boards into the break and sometimes me. I’m probably on an 8’11” TDK, my wetsuit has a few holes in it.

For the most part, I’m happy on a day that I catch a few waves and see that guy who is always riding the nose. And on my best day, I get a visit from one of the critters in the ASBS.

Just like the jerk or the kook, obliviousness does not excuse bad behavior. Luckily the ASBS comes with a state-funded project to protect it. The City of San Diego and UCSD/Scripps Institution of Oceanography have numerous research and infrastructure projects to keep runoff out of our water. Have you seen the new parking lot at Kellogg Park? That’s pervious pavement – a low impact development technique that lets water filter down through the ground instead of sheeting off into the ocean. You’ll notice diversion projects in the streets to prevent pollution-laced rain and urban drool – like overwatering and carwashing – from running down to our ASBS.

surfers-at-la-jolla-shoresCoastkeeper partners with them to spread the word. We host education events, celebrate World Oceans Day, Coastal Champion Awards and World Water Monitoring Day in the ASBS and write stories like this. (Start with #1 in the four-part series if you missed the diving, swimming or kayaking articles!)

So, let’s be the best surfers. Respect the people in the ocean. Respect the ocean itself.

I love my ASBS.


Photos from Surf Diva.

Published in Marine Conservation

More Trouble for San Diego Fairy Shrimp

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

A little bit of redesign could save four, maybe even nine, vernal pools that house the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp. Vernal pools are unique seasonal wetlands found in southwestern coastal California and northwestern Baja California, Mexico. Vernal pools used to cover over 200 acres of San Diego, but 95-98% of that habitat has been destroyed. Although San Diego fairy shrimp are not easy to see, they play an imporant role in our environment. They eat smaller vernal pool organisms and are eaten by birds and toads. We will lose a key player in the food chain if San Diego fairy shrimp are not protected.

San Diego Coastkeeper has closely followed two projects that will greatly impact the San Diego fairy shrimp and its sensitive habitat: Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark in Otay Mesa and Castlerock near the San Diego/Santee border. 

Castlerock-MapLast Thursday was a particularly rough day for San Diego fairy shrimp because the San Diego Planning Commission approved the Castlerock project. The project plans to develop almost 204 acres of land belonging to the City of San Diego into over 400 single-family homes, but before construction begins the land may be annexed to the City of Santee. The project also plans to destroy four vernal pools that house San Diego fairy shrimp. Adding those vernal pools to the five that will be destroyed by Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark makes a total loss of nine vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp. 

One of Coastkeeper’s concerns about the Castlerock project is that the developer plans to destroy four vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp and preserve vernal pools without them. The developer plans to rebuild vernal pools to house San Diego fairy shrimp near the preserved pools. But if that habitat were suitable for San Diego fairy shrimp wouldn’t they already be living there? At the Planning Commission hearing, Commissioner Quiroz echoed our concern about relocating the San Diego fairy shrimp; she even mentioned that the relocation process seemed “backward.” 

Coastkeeper asked the Planning Commission to consider sending the project back for redesign to remove four houses from the project’s design. Eliminating those four houses would reduce the project by less than 1% and would completely avoid the vernal pools with San Diego fairy shrimp. But the Commission approved the project four votes to two with Commissioners Quiroz and Wagner voting against the project and Commissioner Peerson recusing herself.

After providing comment at the Planning Commission meeting, Coastkeeper’s next step is to ask the San Diego City Council to require the developers, of both Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark and Castlerock, to redesign the projects to avoid the vernal pools. The City Council hearing for Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark is at 2 p.m. on September 9. The City Council hearing date for Castlerock has not been set yet, but Coastkeeper will post the details when they become available.

Published in Marine Conservation

Now You Sea Me, Now You Don’t

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Part three of four in our “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

How do you describe your time in the water? For some, it’s a workout- like swimming laps in the ocean, preparing for a triathlon in the coming months. For others, it’s a religion- like surfers paddling out every sunrise and sunset, no matter the size of the swell or the direction of the winds. In both of these groups, attendance in the water isn’t expected: it’s second nature.

During the past few months, I’ve been absent when Poseidon taps his trident and takes roll. In fact, this mini-exile from any saltwater has left me feeling pretty dry (insert any common excuse here). So when given the chance to finally end my dry spell in the La Jolla Cove, courtesy of Hike, Bike, Kayak, I couldn’t resist. Despite the fact that I had never kayaked before, it’s not easy to pass up an opportunity to visit (in my opinion) the most beautiful area of special biological significance (ASBS) that San Diego has to offer.

Last Wednesday I accompanied two of my esteemed water-crazy colleagues into an adventure that would last around two hours in the La Jolla Cove. One of them, honored as Commuter of the Year on land, could just as easily win the same honor in the water (she may have to wait until her next life as a blue-nose dolphin.) The other learned how to surf in Maryland and loved it so much that she moved to San Diego just to keep at it. Not to my surprise, both of them had already swum La Jolla Shores that same morning.

After we rented our gear and agreed to a trip without a guide, we approached the sands of La Jolla’s beaches. I tempered my excitement with caution while we learned how to paddle, and about the ins and outs of where to go and what is/is not allowed. There were couples, families, tourists and locals: each of them seemed to be enjoying the day despite the breezy conditions and the fickle absence of the Sun.

Soon after the three of us made it out past the break, we seemed to drift into our own separate directions for a bit. Personally, I was fine with this— being without a tour guide facilitated a freedom in this experience that I always cherish in the water. The ebb and flow of my body in the kayak coupled with the unmistakable scent of the sea evoked a familiar mind-body-environment connection that transcends the physical senses. It’s easy to “lose yourself” in this moment, especially in the La Jolla Cove.

It wasn’t long after we regrouped that we came upon a most curious sea creature bobbing its head above and below the water not more than five feet from two swimmers. Even as the three of us drew closer, the seal swam a half-circle around us, as if he came around to close his front door on our way in to greet him. Bobbing its head up and down at an unpredictable rate, “Now you see me, now you don’t” said the seal.

At first, I was sure this seal was a young pup. But upon further inspection, I took note of its salt and pepper whiskers and imagined it as an elderly man embracing the joys of a long-anticipated swim. Sticking his tongue out as he shoots through a wave, the old man isn’t acting his age— he’s a boy again. He can’t remember his age and neither can this wise, old seal playing peek-a-boo with us in the Pacific. 

Eventually he moved along, and so did we. Throughout the remainder of our expedition, the Cove came and went, along with several moaning seals that formed a dog-pile on the cliffs overhead. I have never heard the siren’s sound, but I am sure that wasn’t it. Accompanied by some stoic cormorants perched nearby, the seals seemed comfortable enough— I think their calls were an ode to self-expression. “It’s my cove, and I’ll moan if I want to.” 

On our way back, I noticed a jellyfish so bright that I swore it was yellow. As it drifted along not more than two feet away from my kayak, I decided that I had seen the same one that some swimmers had mentioned earlier in our trip. At that point, I was sure my time kayaking in the La Jolla Cove was a memorable one. Feeling as if our experience had reached its end as we pulled into shore, my kayak took hold of a wave that sent it rushing forward and to the left: sending me spiraling out of the vessel with a quick smack to my forehead.

Sheepishly, I flipped over the kayak and pushed it into shore. Apparently, Poseidon wasn’t too happy with my long absence from the ocean. Nonetheless, I felt blessed to kayak the La Jolla Cove that day and truly enjoyed my time as a guest in that silly seal’s water— I love my ASBS.

Published in Marine Conservation

The Best Thing About San Diego

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Part two of four in our “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

Each Spring, I wait impatiently for Daylight Saving Time. Like many others, I’m anxious to “spring ahead” to take advantage of the longer days. But the thing I most look forward to after the time change is swimming in La Jolla Cove. Every Friday evening during the summer, dozens of triathletes gather at La Jolla Cove to enjoy one of the most breathtaking swims in the country.

As I walk down the stairs to the beach at the Cove, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the place’s beauty. Kids and parents playing in the surf, sea lions and cormorants perched on the cliffs above the water, the Cove is unlike any other place I’ve been.

Jill MPA la jolla covePlunging into the refreshing water, the first thing I always spot is a Garibaldi or two swimming by. The bright orange color of this California state marine fish makes them easy to spot even on days when visibility isn’t great. These fish are only found from Baja California to Monterey Bay—nowhere else in the world—and it’s illegal in California to collect them or keep them without a permit. Another notable feature in the Cove is the swaying sea grass. Stare at it too long and it will make you seasick!

Swimming from the entrance to the Cove out to the ¼ mile or ½ mile buoy is always an adventure. Friday night swims are so popular that it’s important to keep an eye out for other swimmers to avoid collisions. Once out in the open water, I keep my eyes peeled to try and avoid swimming through kelp beds. The kelp forests of La Jolla Cove provide a habitat to many species and are beautiful to behold. Of course, swimming straight through a patch of kelp is a strange and slimy experience. On a clear day, it’s not unusual to see a school of fish swimming deep below.

Once out at the buoy, I always pause to enjoy the beauty of La Jolla Cove and the Shores. I’m grateful the area is a marine protected area and an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). As an ASBS, there are strict rules protecting water quality here— making La Jolla Cove and Shores possibly the best place in San Diego to go for a swim.

A few weeks ago, I brought a friend from Austin, Texas out to a Friday Cove swim with me. She summed up the experience by saying, “Best happy hour ever.” My thoughts exactly.

Published in Marine Conservation

Participate in Public Hearings!

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Here is an update on the proposed Toll Road project from student attorney Morgan Embleton.
For more info about our legal clinic, click here.

When most people think “legal,” they immediately think courtroom. But participating in public hearings is one of the many tools that San Diego Coastkeeper uses to advocate for clean beaches, clean water, and sustainable water use. Just this summer alone, Coastkeeper has attended several public hearings at the Port of San Diego, the San Diego Planning Commission, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board – and we plan to attend a few San Diego City Council meetings later this summer. At these hearings, Coastkeeper has addressed climate change, air quality, water quality, vernal pools, San Diego fairy shrimp, protection of coastal resources, and cleanup of San Diego Bay at the shipyard sites.


During the majority of these hearings, Coastkeeper representatives address the decision makers during the public comment period, which means we have three minutes to voice our concerns and present solutions. But sometimes we attend public hearings to show support for issues championed by our fellow environmental advocates. It is very important to collaborate with organizations that have similar concerns about a particular issue or a project. It would be impossible for one organization to attend hearings related to every environmental issue in the region.

For instance, members of Coastkeeper’s legal team attended a Regional Water Quality Control Board public hearing to show our support for Surfrider and to Save Trestles! At the hearing, Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) asked the Board to approve their plan to build a segment of the SR-241 toll road that would undoubtedly have turned into a larger toll road, extending all the way to Trestles and San Onofre State Beach. But hundreds of supporters turned out to show the Board that Southern Californians don’t support a new toll road that threatens our watersheds, Trestles, and San Onofre State Beach! That participation paid off when the Board denied the permits necessary to build the toll road extension.

Sometimes it takes more than just the facts to show decision makers how the public feels – it requires interested citizens and organizations to come and show support by taking up space in the hearing room. Can’t get off work to attend a public hearing? Don’t worry, there are other ways to participate that do not require attendance. Interested members of the public can submit written comments to voice their support of or opposition to a project. Coastkeeper will also keep participating in as many hearings as possible to continue protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters in San Diego County.

Published in Marine Conservation

What’s Happening to Otay Mesa’s Vernal Pools?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

The following blog was written by student attorney Morgan Embleton.
For more info about our legal clinic, click here.

The endangered San Diego fairy shrimp lives in vernal pools, increasingly rare seasonal wetland habitats found in southwestern coastal California and northwestern Baja California, Mexico. Vernal pools are active in the spring and lie dormant during the rest of the year. But even when vernal pools are visible, San Diego fairy shrimp are very difficult to see with the naked eye – they only grow to be about a quarter of an inch long! Although San Diego fairy shrimp are not easily seen, they play a vital role in the vernal pool environment by eating smaller organisms and being eaten by birds and toads. Vernal pools were once present on over 200 acres of San Diego County however, as a result of development, only scattered pools remain. Since San Diego fairy shrimp and vernal pool habitat is being destroyed, the City of San Diego is in the process of developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to preserve the species and its sensitive habitat.

But the San Diego Planning Commission recently reviewed the Brown Field Metropolitan Airpark project, which will destroy five vernal pools in Otay Mesa, and approved it. The Commission also recommended that the San Diego City Council do the same. The project as proposed will develop 331 acres of land into a massive airpark in Otay Mesa, including a fixed based aviation operation, fueling stations, offices, hotels, restaurants, industrial space, commercial space, airplane hangars, and a helicopter operating area. But the project site is home to some unique animal species, like Burrowing Owls, Coastal California Gnatcatchers, and San Diego fairy shrimp. Unfortunately, the project will greatly impact these unique species’ habitat – especially that of the San Diego fairy shrimp.

The Brown Field project is set to destroy at least five vernal pools that house the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp. To mitigate the project’s impact, the developer plans to recreate vernal pools elsewhere in Otay Mesa. But Coastkeeper is concerned because vernal pool reconstruction has been unsuccessful in the past. San Diego fairy shrimp can only survive in very specific vernal pool conditions. San Diego fairy shrimp cannot survive in recreated vernal pools if the pools hold water for the incorrect period of time, are the wrong temperature, or the wrong depth. Also, San Diego fairy shrimp eggs can be damaged when the bottom of the vernal pools are scraped to collect eggs for relocation. Relocation of San Diego fairy shrimp is also difficult because they reproduce with other shrimp in vernal pools, creating a new hybrid species and minimizing the population of actual San Diego fairy shrimp.

After providing comment at the Planning Commission meeting, Coastkeeper’s next step is to ask the San Diego City Council to do one of two things: require the developer to redesign the project to avoid the vernal pools or put the project on hold until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a biological opinion establishing that reconstruction of vernal pools will be successful for San Diego fairy shrimp. Coastkeeper believes that the Brown Field project should not be approved unless more information is made available. Otherwise, Otay Mesa may lose vernal pool habitat and San Diego fairy shrimp forever. If you want to protect San Diego fairy shrimp, join us at the hearing on September 9 at 2 p.m. or email a letter to the Mayor and City Council at

Published in Marine Conservation

Diving and Snorkeling the ASBS

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Part one of four in our “I Love My ASBS” blog series highlighting why we love San Diego’s Areas of Biological Significance.

I recently took up scuba diving. The classes were held at La Jolla Shores and this weekend, I went exploring at La Jolla Cove. So far, I’ve scuba dived a total of 3 days: all in the La Jolla ASBS.

Mostly, I was concerned with completing all of the tests according to my instructor’s directions, and trying to prevent any of my organs from exploding. But I was able to look around a little bit while I was underwater and discover what an amazing place the Cove and the Shores are. One may even call it an area that had special biological signifigance.

California has 34 Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). You can view a statewide map here. San Diego’s La Jolla Cove and Shores are home to one of them. The San Diego Basin Plan (our region’s Water Quality Control Plan) describes the process as:

The Regional Boards were required to select areas in coastal waters which contain “biological communities of such extraordinary, even though unquantifiable, value that no acceptable risk of change in their environments as a result of man’s activities can be entertained.”

These areas are now known as “Areas of Special Biological Significance” and La Jolla is home to my favorite ASBS. This area is so rich in biodiversity that more stringent protections need to be in place to safeguard this special place: safeguards that prevent urban runoff from polluting this area.

Back to the underwater world- I had a very short time to look around. Again, I was trying to keep my organs from exploding (granted, a mostly irrational fear). But, in that short time I was able to see:

While snorkeling afterwards, I saw a bunch of Shovelnose Guitarfish and a ton of Leopard Sharks. The two things I still want to see are Octopus (the best sea creature, hands down) and Mantis Shrimp (click this link to see how awesome these little guys are).

I got to see all of this marine life in a very short time out there and I’m already looking forward to doing even more explorations in our ASBS. After all, it is right here, no need to travel far.

I love my ASBS.

Published in Marine Conservation