Monterey-to-San Diego research trip

Ian Montgomery, 20, and Michael Taylor, 21, kayaked into Port San Luis propelled by a strong tail-wind Friday. The day of paddling began at 4:30 a.m. at Spooner’s Cove in Los Osos and led them past the massive, rarely-glimpsed reactors at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

“We felt like we were in a James Bond movie,” said Montgomery, one of three Stanford students kayaking 400 miles from Monterey to San Diego to document the ecology and culture of the coast.

In previous days’ travels, they had seen the powerful spout of a whale off the Harmony Headlands; kelp forests thriving near Cayucos; and sea otters near Morro Rock.

Twenty-year-old Lane Hartman, who on Friday took his turn driving the group’s supply car, described Central Coast waters as “kinder” than Big Sur’s, where twelve-foot swells forced them to skip portions of the trip.

They left Monterey on June 25 and will spend 43 days of the 60-day trip kayaking. “We could walk there faster,” Montgomery said.

But speed is not the goal of this expedition, which will be spent photographing the coastline and intertidal ecosystems; tallying the number of trash and marine mammal encounters; recording interviews with locals who make their lives and livelihoods around the water; and, of course, taking plenty of time to surf and sun in otherwise inaccessible locations.

Hartman, Montgomery, and Taylor are from Michigan, Los Angeles, and the Marshall Islands, respectively, and share a love for great bodies of water.

“It’s nice to soak in whatever you’re passing through,” Montgomery said.

On the Central Coast, so far only two pieces of trash have tarnished their journey: a Budweiser can and a Fourth of July balloon.

The men hope that their trip, funded by Stanford University and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, will produce documents that will be useful to future researchers investigating how the coast continues to evolve.

They are creating a catalog of marine life along the coast by photographing 25 by 25 centimeter square sections of shoreline ecosystems with a standardized framing tool called a quadrat.

They will compare their findings with those of Ed Ricketts, a pioneering marine biologist who is known not only for his ecological studies of the California coastline in the 1920s and 30s, but also as the inspiration for the character “Doc” in his good friend John Steinbeck’s novel “Cannery Row.”

“He provided a snapshot of his time,” Lane said of Ricketts, adding: “We’d like to provide a snapshot of California as we see it.”

Judging from their intellect and vitality, and from the stories of ukulele jam sessions they’ve initiated with the inhabitants of Big Sur, their vision is thoroughly scientific, and even more thoroughly human.

Follow their journey at http://californiacoastalmission.wordpress.com