San Elijo Lagoon paddleboarders
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For decades, kids and families have made recreational use of the front channel of San Elijo Lagoon’s mouth, between Coast Highway 101 and the railroad tracks, south to behind Restaurant Row. It’s less crowded than Cardiff State Beach across the street, the water is warmer than the ocean, and it’s generally wave-free (except for larger-than-normal tides).

The still water is a perfect place for little kids to splash, play, throw sand, and for grown-ups to practice balancing on paddleboards or in kayaks.

Because the lagoon intake is part of the San Elijo Ecological Preserve, it has been state-protected water for years. Now, due to increased regulations, using the area could be considered trespassing, a misdemeanor.

Marine Protection Areas, enacted in 2012, affect approximately 2351 square miles of ocean, estuary, and offshore island waters, from Point Conception to the Mexican border; 50 new or revised areas have recently been implemented.

The San Elijo Lagoon is now part of a new overlay of environmental protection, one of a few new categories. Known as the San Elijo Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area, the new category offers multi-agency protection by state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife game wardens, the city, county, and the nonprofit San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

The bottom sign means you could be ticketed...but not likely

The bottom sign means you could be ticketed...but not likely

So, who put up the new signs recently, under the Coast Highway 101 bridge at the mouth of the lagoon on Cardiff State Beach, advising that it is now against the law to enter the lagoon’s front channel? One sign advises no taking of fish, shells, sea creatures, or plant life. The other advises, “Swimming, paddelboarding, canoeing, kayaking, or other recreational access is prohibited.” A tip-line phone number is also posted to report violators.

The state parks superintendent for northern San Diego County, Robin Greene, said, “It wasn’t us. Our jurisdiction ends at Coast Hwy. 101.”

After phone calls made to state offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Monterey, Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Lt. Scott Bringman, a wildlife game warden, visited the site and reported, “DFW didn’t post them, but they are correctly worded for the MPA,” he said. He explained that the signs probably came through a collaborative effort of area agencies.

Other signs have recently been posted up and down the coast, both educational and regulatory, including at Encinitas’ Moonlight Beach, for the Swami’s Marine Protected Area, which extends down to Seaside beach.

Fishermen and kayakers have in the past railed against expensive trespassing tickets in area lagoons; areas that previously had not been posted. It’s the old “ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law” story.

On August 29, I asked folks using the lagoon channel if they saw the new signs that restricted access. None did. Twelve-year old Christine from Encinitas said if a warden told her and her friends to leave, they would, but, “The same animals they are trying to protect also are on the other side, in the ocean,” she said.

Rene, from O.B., who has a degree in biology, was going paddleboarding in the channel with friends. “The effects of human activity here is nil,” she said. “Of course we respect the need to protect our resources, but surfers and water people are very environmentally conscious.”

Lt. Bringman said he encourages his wardens, if needed, to give just warnings. “Realistically, someone would have to be doing something pretty egregious for a warden to write a ticket [in the San Elijo channel],” he said. Should that come to pass, as of January 2016, the misdemeanor citation will become only infractions, something that would not stay on one’s record, said Bringman.

For regulations, maps, and GPS coordinates of all the Southern California Marine Protection Areas, download the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s update.

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CaptainObvious Sept. 2, 2015 @ 9:18 p.m.

Perhaps some investigative journalism is in order. Borrow a kayak and paddle around until an "authority" shows up. It should be a great way to spend your day working on the clock.


Oceanlover Sept. 3, 2015 @ 10:18 a.m.

"The San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve was formally dedicated in 1983." says the San Elijo Conservancy website that jointly manages the land with the County of San Diego. Did you ask those guys? No? Glad Sacramento and a random person with a degree in biology could be so much help.


Joe92007 Sept. 3, 2015 @ 10:56 a.m.

I don't think Ken Harrison really wanted to write this waste of space or he is just a really bad reporter. There is so much information in here that is flat out wrong that I don't know where to begin. It is like he went looking for uniformed sources. Rene the biologist must be made up because no real biologist would ever say our impact is "nil" because she participates in a low impact sport. The visitor center, over 50k people per year visit, is right up the road and would have answered all his questions. The real biologist at San Elijo could have explained human impact, why that stretch needs to be protected from human disturbance, and where the signs come from. (Go check it out, cool spot) So hung up on the signs, very strange angle to write this story from. Encinitas loves its protected areas and we take pride in our coast and lagoons. There is plenty of calm water before the bridge to enjoy as everybody knows. Basically, the Reader just made up an issue that was not there before. Wait, did the Reader sell to Fox News?


Ken Harrison Sept. 4, 2015 @ 11:22 a.m.

THX for reading the Reader Oceanlover and Joe Cardiff. Please re-read the article. It is not commenting on the San Elijo Lagoon as a whole, an incredible resource along our coastline. My only interest was the small strip behind Restaurant Row and the recently posted signs in an area that families use, posted by an unidentified agency or NGO that may cause someone to be cited for a misdemeanor for trespassing.

My street-cred is very pro lagoon protection as I'm old enough to remember when the biz leaders in Cardiff wanted to turn the-then-called-slough into a yacht marina (1960s) and I personally served (1980s) a cease and desist letter to the construction crew illegally repairing a storm damaged billboard in the lagoon. You notice there are no more billboards in the wetlands next to Coast Hwy. You're welcomed.


Joe92007 Sept. 4, 2015 @ 4:15 p.m.

Wait, so I could be launching my boat from Cardiff instead of driving 30 min! I kid but in all seriousness I think you did touch on something that anybody driving the 101 or recreating in the area is thinking. Why can't we go in there and take advantage of the calm water.? The answer is at the visitor center and Mr. Plopper touched on it in his clairification. That is a very narrow channel that feeds/empties the lagoon, too narrow. The whole area between Seaside and Cardiff Reef should be open to the ocean. The road and railroad tracks block everything but the channel you are concerned with. Therefore, that little stretch is extremely important to the health of the lagoon. Now, imagine that area open to paddleboarders, swimmers, kayaks, etc. Would they really have "nil" impact on the lagoon? Can you quote somebody credible to support that statement? I'm no marine biologist but I do live near a holiday inn express so I think I can say with authority that human activity in that channel would have a negative impact on the lagoon as a whole. Futhermore, every lagoon in the county deals with a similar issue. Go to Northern California and you will notice many of the lagoons are bridged the entire length. There are so many worthwhile issues with regards to San Elijo (rail trail, sand dune construction, the mountian lion sightings, the treatment plant pollution) and I feel you were kind of bashing our beloved lagoon at its most vunerable spot. I see more and more sealife in this protected stretch of coast that it really is very exciting. The reefs are crawling with baby lobster, octopus, and the abalone seem to be coming back. Schools of bait fish under you while surfing, bigger than the legal take sized fish everywhere, no lobster traps in the line up, whale spouts on the horizon is what it is all about for the "environmentally conscious."



Ken Harrison Sept. 4, 2015 @ 6:17 p.m.

I think we're saying the same thing - preachin' to the choir. The massive I-5 widening being planned right now is supposed to address the scape and fill atrocities of the Caltrans' 1960s. Lets hope for a open replacement bridge as you describe.

Decades ago, when we started losing Hwy 101 to winter storms, the town council advocated for a replacement of 101 with an open bridge next to the tracks, also replacing the track's berm with an open bridge. Unfortunately the then County government could care less about little ol' Cardiff by the Sea.

But in this day, I doubt the lagoon protectors would want to give up their restored tidal sand dunes they've worked very hard on.

And com'on Joe Cardiff, the only way we humans could mess up that channel with nature's four-times-a-day tidal flushing is to change our car's oil in the Kraken parking lot and let in drain into the lagoon. Even that, Mother Nature would clean itself within a few days.

So kids, enjoy your paddle boarding in the channel, but please don't go any further, like under the railroad bridge.


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