It was no accident the conference took place on May 15. That was the last day of the Dec. 15 to May 15 annual closure of the pool, and institution of the rope barrier, to protect harbor seals during their pupping season.
The California Coastal Commission is expected to vote during its June meeting in San Diego on whether to grant the City of San Diego’s application to allow a 10-year extension of the seasonal rope barrier separating humans from pinnipeds at the pool.
Shared-use at Children’s Pool has been a contentious issue for more than a decade pitting animal rights advocates against beach-access proponents. The battle between the two sides has turned ugly at times. Seal advocates once used bullhorns to warn people away from seals.
But such extreme conflicts have subsided in recent years.
Adrian Kwiatkowski, spokesman for the Seal Conservancy, formerly La Jolla Friends of the Seals, said shared-use is working.
“The pool has been closed for five months, and open the other seven, and the guideline rope has prevented conflicts between humans harassing seals, and people who are passionate about seals’ protection,” he said. “It has brought peace and calm to all involved. We don’t want to go back to what existed before.”
Added Kwiatkowski: “We support the extension of the 10-year permit cycle. There’s lots of coastline for humans to have access to the ocean. This is the one spot where the seals haul out and give birth. The rope is legal. It is advisory. People don’t have to stand behind it.”
“The seasonal beach closure has reduced seal harassment to zero during the pupping season while dramatically reducing police calls with no citations issued,” said Dr. Jane Reldan, president of the Seal Conservancy. The guideline rope has been successful in preventing human harassment of the harbor seal colony during the non-pupping-season months.
“Without the rope, people can get too close to the seals. These permits are an elegant compromise which balance human coastal access and animal habitat protection while maintaining this unique and special coastal resource,” Reldan said.
Arguing the City refused to do an environmental impact report for their last Children’s Pool beach closure permit application, Ken Hunrichs of Friends of Children’s Pool said: “The Coastal Commission should not renew these permits without imposing strict benchmarks for actually improving sand and water quality. The City must be required to repair and open the existing beach ramp for all visitors, especially those mobility impaired using wheelchairs. Any permit extension must only be for a limited term, and with defined improvement goals for any future renewal.”
Added Hunrichs: “The City’s closure plan has caused increased biological pathogen hazards from widespread animal waste on the sand, polluted water and a closed public beach. This failed five-year experiment is contradictory to the mandated uses set in law by the California State Tidelands Grant [Trust].”
The crescent-shaped, manmade pool was created in the 1930s by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps specifically as a safe wading area for children.
But the pool has since become a de facto seal rookery.
Pro-beach access advocates contend the rope barrier and periodic pool closure violates the intent of the trust governing the pool, which they say was intended to provide public access to recreational users in perpetuity. Seal supporters contend the barrier is needed to protect seal mothers and their pups from human harassment, with pups dying if they’re separated from their mothers.