The city of San Diego as been given 72 hours to remove seals from a beach at the area of La Jolla so that children may use a concrete paddling pool there. The pool was originally built and gifted to the city by a local philanthropist in the 1930s and nowadays contains such high levels of bacteria that there are signs advising people not to use it …. yet they still do. (…??!…candidates for the Darwin Awards no doubt…)
As you might expect with one of these ‘man versus the environment’ issues, passions are running high. City authorities are now at loggerheads with those who say that the seals are a valuable tourist attraction, the seals need a period of rest each day and that the area should instead be made into a sanctuary for the animals.
As the seals are a federally protected marine species, the only suggested solution is to employ someone to walk up and down the beach with a public address system loudly playing the sound of dogs barking . (Torture for nearby human residents too I would have thought). Of course, passions are so inflamed that authorities feel that the person with the dog barking address system will need police protection – probably 2 officers will do.
I suspect the seals have always visited this beach and maybe back in the 1930s, when La Jolla was a quiet little seaside resort, shared use of the beach by man and animal wasn’t perceived to be a problem. During the 1990s seal visitors increased and coincidentally, by that time there had also been an explosion of human visitors and residents.
I was at La Jolla a couple of times in the 1990s and my visits gave me magical memories that I treasure and make me want to visit again some day. Forget the man-made attractions of cafes, restaurants and up-scale boutiques because I can find those around every corner. What I can’t easily see in very many places, and therefore made my visit so special that I’d like to return some day, was the beautiful coastline and particularly the ability to get close to a large gathering of wild seals. People had gathered too – some on the beach just yards away from the seals, some standing up on the little harbour wall. All of us just quietly watching, all no doubt enjoying an all too rare opportunity to get so close to an aspect of nature that we rarely see.
In my opinion it would be a huge mistake to try to remove the seals. Not only will it be costly to keep two policemen on ‘seal patrol’, if the annoying public address system does the trick the seals may move on, but they may well take up residence on the very next beach along, causing a nuisance to swimmers, surfers and beachgoers there. If they should sadly disappear entirely from the La Jolla area then I think that the town will notice a big drop in visitor numbers. To me La Jolla without the wildlife is just another pretty coastal town and I (along with many others, I suspect) will have little reason to return.
Then there is the bigger moral question of who really owns this or any other piece of coastline? Is it ever ours to trade – to sell or to give away, imposing our will on all those who share it? I’d argue that the marine life was there long before man and so we have a duty to be good new tenants, finding ways, wherever humanly possible, to discretely share the same space. Besides which, is it really so difficult for us to find another place for a toddlers’ paddling pool?