Thursday, November 13, 2008

Proposal For Closure Zone.

At the start of last summer some of us were brought together to discuss the possible closure zone being proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the Orca Whale Recovery Plan.  The San Juan region is in the travel and foraging range of the Southern Resident Orca Whale population.  A population that has been suffering from either increased pollutants in the oceanic system, the lack of salmon which they feed on, or various other reasons. Southern Resident Orca Whales obtained the status of endangered and part of that status is for a recovery plan to be put in place to help increase the survivability and increase the population.  In part of the Recovery Plan, which has not been released to the public yet, there has been talk of closing a section of the west side of San Juan Island.  The zone would be from Mitchell Point to Eagle Point and from shore to 1/4 mile offshore.  This would be a NO GO ZONE to all water craft, motor or non motor craft (KAYAKS).

One of the main issues here is that San Juan County Park (SJCP) is in the middle of the closure zone.  SJCP is one of the only campgrounds that offers water front camping with beach access to launch kayak on the island.  This is one of the few places the public and commercial kayak operators can access the west side of San Juan Island.  The revenue paid to the SJCP by commercial kayak operators goes along way in supporting the operation of the park.  The loss of the ability to launch from SJCP would jeopardize the parks existence.  The loss of overall revenue to the island would be a disaster.  There is also a public boat launch for power boats within the park that is to be open for public use at all times.  In creating the idea of the closure zone NOAA seemed to over look the fact that the park was even there in the proposed zone and that there was a boat launch that is for public access.  There are many issues with the closure zone that we might see in the upcoming Recovery Plan proposal.  

But what will the closure zone actually do?  That is the golden question.  If you look at the core issues with salmon populations not doing so well.  The lack of and destruction of spawning grounds for the salmon.  The high level of toxins such as PCB's in the water.  These are just a few of the bigger problems.  If you look at those issues, there is no easy solution that is a act fast public viewable initiative.  So what the closure zone will do is provide a great PR move for NOAA so the the public will have the ability to see that something is being done.  Though if the concentration were to focus on the more difficult problems (PCB's, Salmon spawning grounds etc).  The result off viewable success may be slower, but you will actually have created a platform for a true recovery.

If the closure zone is right or wrong is a hard question to answer.  I personally feel there is a lack of evidence to support such a closure.  Plus the closure at the cost of possibly putting SJCP out of business, destroying the kayak industry on the island which in turn would decrease the overall revenue to the island.  Does this sound like a good idea given there is little to no evidence that kayaks have the much of an exacerbated affect on Southern Resident Orca Whales ?

Well this is the question for each individual to decide on.  If you are a kayaker or have visited the San Juan Islands and been on a kayak tour.  You can see how amazing having the opportunity to kayak along the west side of San Juan Island can be.  As a kayaker who lives in the region and having little choice on where I can already launch my kayak.  I do not want to see more unnecessary closures.  At what point will NOAA decide the closure must be larger or incorporate other regions of the islands into closure zones.  

The Recovery Plan drat should be available to the public soon.  Then there will be a time of public comment.  If you are a member of a paddle club that kayaks this region, a commercial company that operates in this region, or a resident of the state.  Be aware of this issue as this would be a great loss to all water enthusiast.

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