By Conor Mihell
Published: December 17, 2010

Forward thinking, decades ago, made all 366 miles of the Oregon coast public property, allowing for unfettered access to some of the best sea kayaking in North America. Now, Oregon is on the cusp of creating a network of marine reserves that would ensure the coast remains attractive to paddlers for years to come.

One proposed reserve would, if approved by the state legislature, form a series of protected oases for teetering populations of lingcod and rockfish—species that influence the biological diversity of the coast. The public comment period for the reserve closes on Monday, Dec. 20.

While California is a North American leader in creating no-take marine reserves, Oregon only has two areas where vulnerable fish stocks are allowed to reproduce without the threat of fishing. In early December, the state's Ocean Policy Advisory Council unanimously supported three new marine reserves on the state's northern coast, at Cape Falcon, Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua. Final judgment on these areas will be passed by the state legislature in January.

Monday marks the last day public can comment on a fourth marine reserve at Cape Arago, near the town of Coos Bay. Cape Arago would create an important link between existing southern Oregon marine reserves at Redfish Rocks and Otter Rocks, located near Port Orford and Depoe Bay, respectively.

Besides effectively forming a protected marine corridor and "acting as a hedge against" habitat-related changes due to climate change, Portland, Ore.-based writer and photographer Neil Schulman says the Coos Bay section of the Oregon coast is one of the nicest to paddle.

"There are lots of offshore rocks and wildlife and rich intertidal zone," says Schulman, who is also the chair of the Portland chapter of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. "And unlike much of the coast where you have to deal with surf, it has some fairly protected launching and landing spots."

What's more, Schulman notes that a marine reserve would support a proposed water trail in Coos Bay and boost the region's fledgling tourism sector, which is slowly replacing waning logging and fishing industries. State legislation outlaws fishing, crabbing, hunting, pipelines, and industrial-scale wave and wind energy developments in marine reserves, but still allows paddling and powerboating. If all four new marine reserves receive final approval, about ten percent of Oregon's offshore waters would be fully protected.

In supporting marine reserves, Schulman traces his roots in paddling Oregon's wild Pacific coast. "I think, for most paddlers, what drew us into the sport was that rich environment," he says. "This is our playground, and it's better if it's healthy."

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