Dec 04, 2020

Use Leave No Trace Principles on Your Next Morro Bay Excursion



With COVID-19 still in the forefront of American life, many people have felt a draw to the outdoors as a place of solace. Whether you’re an outdoor pro or a complete newbie, it’s important to be mindful of the impact we have on the landscapes we seek refuge in.

A kayaker enjoys time out on the bay. Photograph courtesy of Tom and Paula Medeiros.

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics developed a series of seven principles that outline how to minimize our impact.  These principles can be applied to any outdoor excursion, from spending an afternoon at the beach, to an overnight at a designated campground, to a remote backpacking trip.

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

Let’s look at seven ways we can ethically enjoy the outdoors in Morro Bay, using these principles as a guideline.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Whether you’ve been to Morro Bay before or not, it’s always good to stay updated on rules and regulations—and even more so during COVID-19! Always have a clean mask with you whether you’re headed into town, out to the beach, or for a hike. Remember to pack ample water and snacks for your outing, and be sure to pack out anything you packed in.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable, Designated Surfaces

By traveling on designated and maintained trails, and camping only in specified campsites, we can minimize our overall impact on natural and sensitive landscapes. While venturing off-trail may seem like an exciting adventure to you, it could compromise the health and well-being of local threatened species, like the Western Snowy Plover, whose populations have declined largely due to disturbance and habitat encroachment.

In cases where there are no designated trails available, utilizing durable surfaces like rock, gravel, sand, or dry grass can also minimize impact.

Western snowy plover chick. Photograph by Greg Smith.
Western snowy plover chick. Photograph by Greg Smith.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

The rule of thumb? If you pack it in, pack it out. Spending time in the outdoors is a luxury, and it’s imperative that we makes efforts to leave these places in the same or better shape than we found them. Before leaving your lunch spot or campsite, double-check for forgotten trash or spilled foods. Keep a close eye for microplastics, which can actually be more deadly than large pieces of plastic when consumed by wildlife.

A woman with an orange backpack carries a plastic chair and looks out toward the sand dunes.
Wendy, a former Estuary Program volunteer, brings her backpack for trash pickup whenever she runs or hikes near the bay. That way, she can easily pack out her own trash and leave the trail cleaner than she found it. Photograph courtesy of Wendy Disch.

Disposing of waste includes trash as well as natural human and pet waste. Always go to the bathroom in designated areas, if possible. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can always guarantee when it comes to our four-legged friends! Morro Bay and our Mutts for the Bay program have poop bag dispensers conveniently located all around the bay, so that you’ll never find yourself without a bag! Click here to find a dispenser near you.

Our Monitoring Coordinator, Karissa, enjoys backpacking with her dog, Willow.
Our Monitoring Coordinator, Karissa, enjoys backpacking with her dog, Willow.

4. Leave What You Find

Morro Bay is filled to the brim with interesting geology, flora and fauna, and archeological sites. Instead of taking a cool rock or artifact with you, or picking bundles of flowers, consider taking a picture and admiring from afar.

You might find bones, shells, and other natural treasures along your sandspit hike. Please leave them there for the next adventurer to admire.
You might find bones, shells, and other natural treasures along your sandspit hike. Please leave them there for the next adventurer to admire.

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

According to the U.S. Forest Service, nearly 85% of wildland fires in the United States are caused by people, and many of those result from improper campfire use. Make campfires only when and where they are permitted, and do so using established campfire rings. Be sure to burn all wood and coals to ash and put out campfires completely before leaving the site.

6. Respect Wildlife

Respecting Morro Bay wildlife means interacting with the natural world around you in specific ways, some of which may not be familiar. While the following actions may seem innocent, all of these behaviors jeopardize the health and even the survival of more sensitive species.

  • Don’t feed the animals! Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Observe wildlife from a substantial distance. Do not follow or approach them. If an animal raises its head to look at you or moves away, you are much too close.
  • Give wildlife even more space and consideration during sensitive times like mating and nesting season, when they are raising young, or when resources are scarce in winter.

For more information on how you can minimize your impact to local sea otters, including respectful and safe ways to photograph them, visit Sea Otter Savvy.

observers sit quietly and watch sea otters from the shore
The best (and most sea otter savvy) viewing is from shore. Observers may sit quietly and observe the natural behaviors of the sea otters without causing disturbance. Photograph courtesy of Sea Otter Savvy.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Although you may have been planning the trip of a lifetime to Morro Bay, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one enjoying this beautiful place! You can respect other visitors and locals by wearing a mask and leaving space between you and others, both on the trail and off (ideally six to eight feet or more!). You can also be mindful of the impact that loud noises and voices have in pristine natural areas.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics established these guidelines in the mid-1980s, but their value lives on today. Each of the principles are developed and guided through scientific research, which can be accessed on the Leave No Trace website.

Post by Makenzie O’Connor, Leave No Trace (LNT) Master Educator

Help us protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary! The Estuary Program is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. We depend on funding from grants and generous donors to continue our work.

Thank you for your support!