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Marine Reserves: Sanctuaries for Science

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GPS Coordinates to Otter Rock Marine Reserve: 44.7449985, -124.0548005

Youth Correspondents Reporting: Cassidy Dubois, Jeremy Shaffer and Russell Stone

The Oregon coast is visited by millions of people every year. Many of them fish, crab, kayak, surf, sail or SCUBA dive in the waters offshore. With so many people using a limited area, how can the state of Oregon protect its resources for future generations? This was a question three of our Youth Correspondents posed to Charlie Plybon on a rainy day at Otter Point State Recreation Area.

Charlie works for Surfrider, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches. Surfrider is one of several organizations which work together to study marine reserves, designated areas along the Oregon coast where human activities are limited in order to protect natural resources. Surfrider helps raise awareness about the reserves, but the administration of these areas actually falls to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in cooperation with the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL), the Oregon State Police (OSP) Fish & Wildlife Division and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD). Other organizations, including the Oregon Coast Aquarium, work on ecological monitoring to help scientists learn more about nearshore ocean environments.

“In general, the purpose of marine reserves are to conserve habitats, protect biodiversity and allow for scientific research,” Charlie told us.

Our correspondents learned about these offshore treasures during an annual Marine Reserves Awareness Day held at Otter Rock, the site of the smallest marine reserve. Oregon’s other reserves include Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua and Redfish Rocks, south of Port Orford.

Video: Sanctuaries for Science

Although the reserves technically exist underwater, all of them are located within three nautical miles (3.45 miles or 5.5 km) from shore and have nearby parks, beaches and natural areas easily accessible to the public. The offshore areas are open to some recreational activities, including SCUBA diving and kayaking, but what Charlie calls “extractive activities” are curtailed. This includes any activity which removes live animals and plants from the area. Since fishing is one of the prohibited activities, the reserves act as breeding grounds for many native species including rockfish, lingcod, boccacio and cabezon. Scientists may also use the reserves to monitor local species populations to gauge how their populations are being affected by larger environmental issues such as climate change.

On the adjacent beaches and headlands, the public can enjoy collecting shells (as long as they do not contain any living animals) or hunting for fossils or sparkling agates.

Charlie also encourages the public to remove any trash, plastic pollution or other human-made debris they might find washed up on shore or caught in the tide pools. Doing so will help improve the marine reserves and keep them healthy for native animals.

As part of the Awareness Day activities, our Youth Correspondents helped collect and analyze marine debris with the staff of Oregon Coast Watch.

“Most of what we’ve found is plastic stuff,” Russell said. “It’s amazing the varieties of trash you can find out here. Everything from soda bottles to fishing nets. That’s the one thing you can’t get past with the marine reserves. You can do a good job of keeping people from directly harming the reserve, but the ocean will still bring in more trash and pollutants.”

Cassidy added: “Some of this debris comes from very far away. We found all kinds of objects with Japanese writing on them, for example. Cleaning up the beaches is a constant process.”

Despite these challenges, Charlie sees a bright future for Oregon’s marine reserves.

“We haven’t actually seen a whole lot happen ecologically with the reserves yet,” Charlie said, noting that the oldest reserves were only established five years ago. “It can take decades or even generations for coastal environments to respond to these kinds of conservation measures. I think the future of Oregon’s marine reserves is really about providing for generations to come… We can think of them as an investment in our futures.”

If you want to learn more about the state’s marine reserves, the best resource is their website at oregonmarinereserves.com.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Oregon's Marine Reserves

Download this PDF to help you understand these overshare sanctuaries.

Oregon Marine Reserves State Brochure

This colorful brochure from the State of Oregon will help you better understand and enjoy the reserves.