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Piedras Blancas: A New National Monument

Protecting California’s Coast

Before leaving office last month, Barack Obama extended protection to over 6,000 acres of land on California’s coast by upgrading six sites to national monuments across coastal lands in Orange County, Santa Cruz county, Humboldt county, and our very own San Luis Obispo county.

With this decision, the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse located in San Simeon is now the Central Coast’s newest national monument. In Humboldt County, the new sites are Trinidad Head, Lighthouse Ranch, and Lost Coast Headlands. Santa Cruz’s newest monument are the Coast Dairies, while outcroppings and small islands off the Orange County coast are now protected, too.  With this declaration, Piedras Blancas and all of the other new sites shall remain untouched from oil and gas drilling, or any other development in the future.

As stated by the White House, expanding the California Coastal National Monument territory in this way will protect scenic views, important coastal natural resources, and areas of cultural and historical significance, like the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

Photo: (c) @basakprints

The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Translated to “white rocks” in Spanish, Piedras Blancas is a reference to the large, offshore white rocks that early mariners used as navigational landmarks back before the light station was constructed. To aid maritime navigation, the light station was established at Point Piedras Blancas in 1875. Mariners were assured of their location and warned of the rocky coastline by the lighthouse’s distinct light pattern, which flashed a white light every 15 seconds.

The lighthouse was first illuminated on February 15th, 1875, so this month marks it’s 142nd anniversary of operation and what better way to celebrate than to be deemed a national monument? Don’t miss the excitement—be sure to explore the history and beauty of the lighthouse yourself, visit San Simeon for a tour during this special transition. Tours of the lighthouse are offered every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning year-round, no reservation needed.

Photo: (c) www.lighthousefriends.com

Point Piedras Blancas

While the rocks that the monument are named after pose a hazard to ships, they serve as the home to many marine animals. While harbor seals, sea lions, and birds rest on these offshore rocks, elephant seals settle on nearby beaches. A designated Whale Trail viewpoint is just 7 miles south of the lighthouse, making San Simeon the perfect place to watch grey whales, humpback whales, and bottlenose dolphins breach the surface of the water. Biologists from Southwest Fisheries Science Center even utilize Point Piedras Blancas to count these Gray whale mothers and calves between March and May.

Point Piedras Blancas is also a popular spot for sea otters to wrap themselves in kelp for rest, which are  one of the three marine mammal species being studied at Piedras Blancas. Here, a United States Geological Survey biologist coordinates the biannual range-wide California sea otter count, maintains records of dead California sea otters, and keeps track of year-round census data on the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, a popular Central Coast attraction.

Photo: (c) @debbieh_art

A National Monument

The next steps, as outlined by manager of the Piedras Blancas Outstanding Natural Area Ryan Cooper, are to change names on signs and brochures. Then, the public is encouraged to participate in developing a new management plan that will determine the future of the Piedras Blancas Unit of the California Coastal National Monument.

This newly designated national monument will benefit the San Simeon community in a variety of ways, including economic benefits, a boost in community pride, and a celebration of the rich coastal heritage that we’re so fortunate to be a part of.

Photo: (c) @rose_badrigian

 

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