The tide pools at Indian Beach are a major attraction. People scramble over rocks that are alive with crabs and barnacles and that shake with the thud of ocean waves to peer into the pools, catching glimpses of green anemones, sea stars and other mysterious but iconic ocean creatures.
Rocky shores account for roughly 41 percent of Oregon’s 362-mile coastline. Certain towns, parks and beaches are powerhouses of the coastal tourism industry thanks to highly recognizable natural features like tide pools, headlands, cliffs, rocky beaches and offshore rocks.
Oregon’s Territorial Sea Plan, first adopted in 1994, coordinates management of the state’s ocean resources and guides both state and federal agencies. The section that addresses rocky shores hasn’t been touched since 1994.
Now the state is in the process of updating the sea plan, incorporating new information, concerns and interests that will inform how such areas are managed and protected for years to come.
A working group tasked with gathering public input held workshops along the coast in February and March. They visited Cannon Beach last week. If there was any question about the year, one thing is now very clear: It’s not 1994 anymore.
“A lot has changed between 1994 and today and lot of that has to do with how we understand our near shore and the research in our near shore,” said Charlie Plybon, chairman of the working group and Oregon policy manager for the Newport chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental organization.
Maps are out of date. Certain sections of rocky shores that used to see few visitors are more popular now. Populations and tourism have changed, ballooning on the North Coast where major highways funnel people directly from the valley to the beach. Technology has changed. Drones swing low over tide pools and skirt cliff sides.
People document visits to Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park on social media — hashtag Haystack Rock, hashtag Pacific wonderland. There’s a regular rotation of articles listing the top 10 “secret beaches.” There’s a better understanding of intertidal areas’ importance and vulnerability.
“The fact that people still appreciate these areas and value these areas … that seems relatively unchanged,” Plybon said.
At the Cannon Beach workshop, attendees pointed out how the growing popularity of fat bikes — bikes with thick tires able to be ridden across sandy beaches — has brought people to areas they may have never thought to access if the only option was to walk.
“There are potentially more people accessing these places in different areas,” said Andy Lanier with the state Department of Land Conservation and Development. “Whether that’s through a new way of transporting yourself there or just that there’s more people visiting in general.”
Sea birds and other creatures
Cannon Beach and Arch Cape residents worried about the impacts on sea birds and marine creatures hope an updated rocky shore management plan could offer more protections. Though the rocky shores plan includes six different management categories, only three are actively managed: the designations for marine garden, habitat refuge and research reserve.
Certain rocky shore areas people might expect to have some kind of protection under the state plan, places like Falcon Cove, are listed as “not yet designated.”
Melissa Keyser, a member of the working group and coordinator of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, noted that three years ago, she and volunteers would only see a few drones on the beach. There were concerns such activity could impact nesting seabirds. Last year, they saw a drone a day.
Beyond drones, there are concerns about people harvesting off rocky shores. As certain types of foraging increase in popularity, some of the generous harvest levels allowed by the state could start to eat into intertidal residents like mussels, said Nadia Gardner, an Arch Cape resident and environmental advocate.
Up and down the coast, working group members heard about growing human populations, upticks in tourism and an increase in the use of drones.
“Hearing that, I think, was important,” Lanier said. “I don’t know that it was necessarily surprising given population growth and the growth of our cities and counties, but I also think there’s been a concentrated drive to increase tourism on the coast because that’s one of the ways our coastal economy is supported. I think there’s some recognition by folks in the audience that that’s a double-edged sword.”
It’s important that the working group didn’t go into these public meetings with a draft plan or main topics of discussion, said Deanna Caracciolo, a policy fellow with Sea Grant, who has been helping lead workshops and gather information. Instead, the workshops were open, fluid. That was intentional.
“We want to make sure everyone has a voice in this update,” she said.
The state is in the first stages of a public scoping process, gathering and assessing public comments. Work on a draft plan amendment will begin in the summer and will likely carry through January.
More information is available at oregonocean.info
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
People can submit comments through email, by filling out a questionnaire on the website, by contacting working group members directly or by giving oral comments at public meetings.
The next working group meeting will take place in April