I live in southern California, a place filled with beaches and tourists. Many residents choose to live here, in no small part, because of the beaches. One beach has been the center of controversy and litigation for years. That’s the Children’s Pool at La Jolla Cove.
La Jolla is a “wealthy enclave” of San Diego. If the name rings a bell, that may be because La Jolla is where Mitt Romney’s (in)famous vacation home with the car elevator is located. But anyone can go to La Jolla Cove, including sea lions.*
The Children’s Pool is a beach area protected by a seawall where sea lions hang out, and it becomes a pupping area for mama sea lions every year. The problem is that some people want to protect the Children’s Pool and sea lions, while others want the sea lions evicted due, as far as I can tell, to noise and poop. More information here, here, and here.
In 2007, we took a family trip (of a lifetime) to the Galapagos Islands through National Geographic Expeditions. I mention the tour company because they are deeply green. We were told not to bring soap, shampoo, or hair conditioner as biodegradable products would be provided. They took great pains to explain the sustainability practices we would be expected to adopt, none of which were onerous.
To get to the Galapagos, we flew from the U.S. to Guayaquil, Ecuador, changed planes, then flew to a tiny airport on one of the Islands. From there we were loaded onto panga boats and motored out to the big ship. Walking to the waiting panga, we had to dodge sea lions sprawled on the benches, steps, and the pier itself. The sea lions were everywhere. And they didn’t give a tinker’s damn that we were inconvenienced. We didn’t know what to make of them, but were enthralled.
As we toured the different islands in the Galapagos archipelago, we discovered that the Ecuadorian government is deeply committed to maintaining the natural environment of the Galapagos, including leaving the sea lions the hell alone. We have (non-digitized) photos of kid #3 swimming in the shallows, surrounded by young sea lions. They would play with her in the water. So cool. The rule was to leave the critters be, but enjoy them (without touching, feeding, or harassing) if they came up to you.
(Not sea lions, but iguanas all over the rocky shore. See how the people come right up to them but don’t touch? I’m pretty sure we can do this in America, too.)
Having that experience and then returning home to the ongoing lawsuits and shouting matches over the La Jolla sea lions was disturbing and frustrating. I simply don’t understand the sheer ego that dictates eviction of creatures who have just as much right to be on the beach as people do. And is it really so hard to come up with a way to honor and protect them while still allowing humans to enjoy both the beach and watching the sea lions? The Ecuadorians didn’t seem to have a problem doing it. They’ve struck a balance between environmental protection and tourism. I’ve got the cynical feeling that fighting over the Children’s Pool is a profit center for a bunch of lawyers, and that people who buy multi-million dollar mansions believe they can shape the entire world to their whims.
*Some of the marine mammals at La Jolla Cove are California Harbor Seals, some are sea lions. They’re commonly referred to, as a group, as sea lions by locals.