Investigations

Carpinteria, El Capitan and Refugio State Beaches, Santa Barbara County

Along California's Central Coast, some visitors to state beaches have become known as the "bucket brigades."

They are not as harmless as they sound.

While crime in some state parks is of the more urban variety – bathroom vandalism, brawls, parking lot break-ins – the coast's sensitive tide pools have been under an assault of their own.

Richard Rozzelle, superintendent of the Channel Coast District, said the Carpinteria, El Capitan and Refugio state beaches have been especially vulnerable to visitors who "want to take home an animal and think it will live in their backyard."

The three state beaches in Santa Barbara County are renowned for their tide pools, which reveal the splendor of starfish, sea hares, crabs, snails, sea anemones and more.

"It's a fascinating environment that people like to see, but they also want to take it home," he said.

Rozzelle said most of the theft and damage is inadvertent, as people can't seem to resist the urge to explore – and then plunder along the way. Park staff and volunteers have taken a proactive approach, he said, trying to educate visitors that picking up a sea creature or plant – even if they put it back – can cause irreparable harm.

Rozzelle said poaching by professionals, or those seeking a meal, is less prevalent, given the visibility of law enforcement and crowds of campers. Those people work elsewhere on California's coast.

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