Eagle Eyes on False Klamath Cove

False Klamath Cove—A Marine Refuge

Located in rural Del Norte County between Klamath and Crescent City, False Klamath Cove (FKC) is a special place, home to a myriad of marine life. Boulder fields dot the sandy beach that remains a little coastal safe haven, despite being only a few yards from Highway 101, one of the major travel routes in California. Tidepoolers, fishermen and tourists visiting the beach can witness a frenzied spectacle of birds just offshore on the impressive FKC Smoke Stack Rock, a well-known rookery for nearly 45,000 birds. This small but important sanctuary protects at least eight different bird species, including Double-crested Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers and Tufted Puffins. Under the Marine Life Protection Act, Smoke Stack Rock was designated as a special closure area with a 300-foot buffer zone, from March to August every year.

False Klamath Cove has significant meaning to the Yurok and surrounding tribes. The Yurok village of ‘O Men’ is located near the mouth of Wilson Creek, known today as False Klamath Rock Special Closure Boundary. © Kirt Edblom

The location of FKC puts it at the unique intersection of conservation management groups. As part of the Yurok ancestral territory, FKC lies on a stretch of coast with great cultural significance to many indigenous people who have been environmental stewards of this coastal ecosystem for thousands of years. Today, multiple agencies including The National Park Service and California State Parks also play a role in managing the area, which receives curious visitors year-round.

However, Yurok tribal members and local community members are aware of the North Coast’s unique landscape and are willing to contribute their expertise and knowledge for improved management. Within the last couple years, the Yurok tribe started an independent project in order to gather statistical information necessary for marine management initiatives. This group, called the Eagle Eyes of False Klamath Cove, portrays the uniqueness of the North Coast rural communities that include local tribes still practicing their culture traditions to this day.

Eagle Eyes of False Klamath Cove 

In July 2017, the Eagle Eyes of False Klamath Cove (EEOFKC) began their initial extensive data collection as an observational behavioral study of human activities—from the number of people and the type of activity occurring, to the method of entrance to the beach and the type of recreational vehicles present. By identifying patterns of human behavior and use of the beach, EEOFKC aims to inform management strategies and implement interventions that reduce disturbances to marine life.  The creation of North Coast baseline data is critical as preliminary research found that there were no visitor use studies or data on this area prior to EEOFKC’s data collection on human activity.

Unlike many community science programs, where volunteers only collect data for a couple hours every few weeks, EEOFKC has adopted a considerably more thorough process. Observers are stationed at an overlook for twelve hours at a time, recording all human activity (from the water to the parking lot) during the entire duration of the shift. The consistency and dedication of EEOFKC volunteers is unparalleled, and over one thousand surveys have been completed since the program commenced in 2017.

“Volunteers have appreciated that fact that they are able to preserve the beach, while having fun, going as they always have, and gaining invaluable data to protect our oceans for future generations.” John W. Corbett founder of EEOFKC

Joining Forces—EEoFKC and MPA Watch

In 2018, EEOFKC decided to align their impressive data collection methods with MPA Watch, a statewide citizen science program where trained community members contribute observational data on public use along the coast, aiding in the adaptive management of MPAs.

By adopting similar standardized protocols, EEOFKC has been able to contribute data to the MPA Watch online database which allows their surveys to be accessed on a statewide level. Since February 2018, EEOFKC has submitted over 1,451 surveys to MPA Watch, an extremely impressive collection of data considering most other sites average half that amount.

Stewardship and observation of Er’hler-ger’, ‘O Men ‘ We-roy or False Klamath Rock has been practiced for over 10,000 years.

Importance of California Tribes’ Involvement in Marine Conservation

Indigenous peoples, such as the Yurok Tribe, have an intimate connection with the land and sea, for which their livelihood has long depended on. As the original environmental stewards, native peoples possess traditional ecological knowledge that contributes to their understanding of not only the natural processes but also the imminent threats to both terrestrial and marine environments.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are within tribal ancestral lands throughout California, since Native Peoples were the first to originally inhabit the state.   Many Tribes have continuously maintained stewardship and subsistence harvesting through the modern era of European colonization and rising populations.  Therefore, it makes sense that modern day California preservation and protection incorporate Native American stewardship efforts.

When members of the Yurok and Tolowa Tribes recognized that there was a severe lack of written information regarding human beach use, they devised a plan and took action in order to cultivate better management strategies.  Engaging tribal nations and local communities in statewide programs like MPA Watch, is crucial for innovating more collaborative adaptive management tactics.  The goals of these programs have manifested in strategies for reducing negative human impacts on marine life habitats, like the treasured bird rookery in FKC.

In many rural areas, Native Peoples are the only consistent presence and conservation eyes.  There is a strong interest by Native peoples to ensure that ocean resources, vital to their culture and way of life, are protected forever.  As conservation efforts become visibly more important for protecting marine life, there is no doubt that the MPA Watch program and other management agencies would benefit from increased tribal involvement throughout California.

Regardless of the many differences that exist between government workers, commercial fishermen, local beachgoers, NGOs and Native Peoples — one common purpose that continues to unite them all is conserving California’s unique coastline for future generations.

Get Involved with MPA Watch

MPA Watch programs across the state of California are continually training a network of volunteers to monitor resource use inside and outside Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Volunteers are trained to identify onshore and offshore ocean activities and collect data on coastal and marine resource use.

To learn more visit their website at mpawatch.org/get-involved/. For general questions please contact the statewide coordinator at angela@wildcoast.org.