Matt and Mara at Dockwalkers Moss Landing

#MPAmondays– The fog had burned off hours ago, the sun concentrated its intensity onto the harbor of Moss Landing, it was going to be 100 degrees on the coast that day. We were five strong plus Matt’s puppy, Mara, snacked and ready to go–nothing could deter us from hitting the docks. Equipped with canvas tote bags full of boating provisions, pamphlets, maps, and various boater schwag, we reviewed our clean boating talking points and, with a grounded enthusiasm, walked the plank, searching for our first boater.  

Our long-standing Dockwalker program has, for the last 16 years, championed clean boating. It is in a world of corrosive misconceptions and archaic boating practices that we provide clarity and guidance on clean and green boating that directly impacts our 26 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the Monterey Bay. Oil pollution from boats is a priority of our program. It is estimated that Americans spill nearly 180 million gallons of used oil each year into our nation’s waters. This figure is 16 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska! Yes, oil spills like Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon are catastrophic, but little spills can be just as dangerous. Did you know that one pint of oil can produce a slick that’s approximately one-acre on the ocean’s surface?

Marine Protected Areas are no exception to this kind of pollution. Oil entering the water at Moss Landing Harbor has the potential of finding its way into the ocean and could be funneled into the Elkhorn Slough Marine Reserve on an incoming tide. The slough is one of the most critical ecosystems in the Monterey Bay as it provides habitat for endangered and keystone species, an abundance of food for residents and traveling migratory species alike (birds in particular), and a safe nursery ground for the reproduction of many animals that play crucial roles in the overall health of the bay. So what do we do about oil pollution?

Well for us, we walk the docks.  We educate.  We provide free resources.  It’s what Dockwalker’s do, and it all began as a modest program right here in Santa Cruz.  Now our renowned dock presence has grown into a statewide Dockwalker initiative that’s coordinated by passionate individuals and partnering organizations like us. It has been adapted and used nationwide as an education and outreach model for many community engagement programs.

So walked we did. Five bright eyed Dockwalkers and a curious pooch approaching boaters of every ilk to engage in a conversation about clean boating. How do you wash your boat? How do you change your oil? Are you familiar with MPA rules and regulations? What happens if you discharge hazardous waste into navigable waters?

The days arc took us from frustrating and disheartening tales of commercial fishing boats polluting like there’s no tomorrow to a soft spoken old-salt-of-the-earth man who said he believes in what we were doing and stands behind all of our clean boating practices. When it comes to this type of work, you celebrate the small victories and let the failures bead away, always refining and learning new approaches to restore our natural resources and be its steward.

Just remember, Marine Protected Areas are no exception to pollution. They may have charted boundaries, but oil and trash know no boundaries.  We are the only ones that can prevent pollution from entering our marine sanctuaries.  So boat on, be a steward, and share the knowledge of #MPAmondays brought to you by your community marine conservationists, Save Our Shores.

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