The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a state protected marine area in Moss Beach, will reopen to the public more than a year after prohibiting visitors when nature outings were at an all-time high due to the pandemic.
“We’re definitely excited and ready to educate people who have either been away or are new to the area,” Carla Schoof said, San Mateo County Parks Department spokeswoman.
With an increase of park staff to monitor the reserve, park officials felt comfortable with moving forward with the reopening Monday, May 3. Volunteers from the nonprofit Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve will also be on location to help support visitors.
Staff, many having been with the Parks Department for a decade or more, will serve an educational role, Schoof said, either informing visitors of reserve protocol or teaching about protected marine life.
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is part of the Montara State Marine Reserve, a portion of marine land protected by the Marine Life Protection Act. The protected areas are intended to conserve biological diversity by supporting unique marine habitats, act as a marine life sanctuary and serve an educational purpose.
Due to state guidelines, educational visits are not yet allowed but studies on marine life and the habitat have been ongoing, Schoof said. Still, she noted rangers and park staff will be available to point out interesting features within the reserve.
As a resting place for up to 350 harbor seals, protections are put in place to protect offspring during pupping season which Schoof said is nearly over. If startled, mother seals will sometimes abandon their pups on shore, potentially resulting in a detrimental amount of separation.
Reserve visitors are asked to stay at least 300 feet away from any marine mammal and behind orange cones set out on the beach as an indicator of a sensitive habitat.
At low tide, visitors can walk through surfgrass flats to see a variety of sea urchins, kelp crabs, sea stars, mussels, anemones and other marine life. Touching of any marine life is prohibited and visitors are recommended to watch their step to avoid stepping in any tide pools.
While Monday, May 3, will not be a low tide day, Schoof said opening day visits can serve as a great introductory course on reserve habitats.
The reserve closed in late March last year as park officials recognized an increase in public activity during the state’s initial shelter-in-place order. Residents from all over the Bay Area began flocking to the county to enjoy its array of beaches, parks and trails resulting in an increase in trash left behind.
While an increase in trash or destructive behavior was not immediately spotted at the reserve, Schoof said officials opted to end public access as a safety precaution, given the sensitive habits in the area.
“Our responsibility is to protect that marine life,” Schoof said. “We are excited about reopening but we want people to remember this is a reserve and we do have rules.”
Food, drinks and toys are prohibited, Schoof said, noting the reserve is not a recreational beach. Pets are not allowed to the tide pools but may walk along Dardanelle Trail while leashed. Schoof recommended visitors keep their groups small and to have a second plan in case their first destination is crowded.
Visit parks.smcgov.org/press-release/fitzgerald-marine-reserve-reopens-monday-may-3 for more information on rules when visiting the reserve and for access to a self-guide tour sheet.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106