A group of about 50 volunteer kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders begin training in May to help prevent people from disturbing wildlife in Morro Bay as a part of the SeaLife Stewards program.
Robin Hazard is a state park interpreter and volunteer coordinator for the SeaLife Stewards program.
She said disturbance of wildlife can be anything that causes an animal to change its behavior, such as dive underwater or fly away. She said disturbance can increase animal death rates, so the stewards serve an important role.
Hazard said Morro Bay is a hot spot for both human and wildlife activity, so wildlife disturbance is frequent.
Program volunteers will go through three days of training that includes virtual and in-person sessions and water safety evaluations. They learn wildlife identification and best practices to lessen disturbance.
This is the sixth year the SeaLife Stewards program is being organized by Morro Bay State Park.
Hazard said the state park compiles an annual report that shows the effectiveness of the SeaLife Stewards, who are a good source of information about the bay for people exploring it.
“You can ask them ‘What’s that bird out there? What’s that animal doing?’ So, not only is it really cool for visitors to enhance their experience out on the bay, but they also help to educate the public on why it’s important to keep your distance from wildlife,” Hazard said.
Hazard said a good rule of thumb is to stay five kayak lengths away from marine mammals and never face the animals directly with a kayak or paddle board.
The volunteers are distinguished by their signage, shirts and hats that indicate they can offer information.
Helena Lake has been a volunteer with the SeaLife Stewards for four years. She said the stewards aren’t in the water to police behavior, but rather to offer an educational experience.
Lake said she is inspired to keep returning as a volunteer because of that aspect of the program.
“For me, I can never learn enough about the sea life out here," Lake said. "It’s just unbelievable. I just love it. I love being on the water. I love kayaking. I love people. So for me it was a win-win.”
Volunteers will complete their training by the end of May and will be out on Morro Bay through September. For more information and to submit an application contact Robin Hazard at SeaLifeStewards@gmail.com or call (805) 712-4776.