Photos from Laguna beaches on coronavirus lockdown showcase need for preservation

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Aerial Cinematography by Sparkle Films LLC

With Laguna Beach’s picturesque coves and beaches on lockdown amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic, recent entries in the Laguna Bluebelt photo contest not only captured isolation, but also the presence of a rare species.

The photographs submitted by 64 professional and amateur photographers to this year’s ninth annual contest included scenes from the sky, along beaches, underwater and along rock outcroppings.

The contest put on by the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition isn’t just about pretty pictures; it’s about raising awareness to protect the 7.2 miles of Laguna Beach coastline that are Orange County’s only Marine Protected Area, and a “no fish” zone.

“Despite all of the pressures of self-isolation and uncertainty from the COVID-19 virus, photographers showed a remarkable sense of resiliency to undertake all of the tasks necessary to capture these uplifting images and work through all of the requirements to submit their entries,” said Jinger Wallace, one of the contest’s organizers.

The contest opened on March 3 and was judged by some of Laguna’s most noted professional photographers: Tom Lamb, Mitch Ridder, Patsee Ober and Cliff Wassmann. First through third place winners were selected in both categories. Five photographers also won honorable mentions. Entries came from throughout Southern California.

Cory Sparkuhl, of Laguna Beach, took first place in the professional category with his photo “Downtown Lockdown.” Shot by drone about 300 meters above Pacific Coast Highway and Main Beach the photo captures Laguna beaches the day after they were officially closed.

“Once I lifted off, I got a shot of Hotel Laguna, and thought, ‘Great shot,’” said Sparkuhl, 35, who owns a video production and photography business. “I was out 150 to 200 meters and I thought I’d take it up a little higher and put it straight on the highway. I was amazed with the results.”

Sparkuhl said he also had a good number of ocean shots, but opted to enter the one showing the emptiness of the town.

“It shows something historically in our moment and I incorporated the ocean with it,” he said.

Others winners in the professional category:

  • Second Place: “Soft Cascade,” Christine K Le of Torrance
  • Third: “Tie Dye Sunrise,” Jeff Ott of Westminster
  • Honorable Mentions: “Path to Chaos,”Alexey Bever of Mission Viejo; and “Splash!” Mary Hurlbut of Laguna Beach

Julianne Steers, of San Clemente, took first place in the amateur category for “Flashy El Nino Tourist?” The photo shows a Largemouthed blenny –  believed to be a new species to Laguna Beach. Typically found along the Mexican coast, the fish inhabits shallow waters.

“Its normal range is the Sea of Cortez where the waters are quite a bit warmer,” said Steers, a marine biologist.

The El Nino cycle that emerged off the Southern California coastline between 2015 and 2017 brought a handful of species to the underwater world never seen here before, she said.

“Somewhere around that time, it was spotted in La Jolla, then near Catalina and I’ve been spotting them here in the last year,” she said, adding she chose to submit the photo to the Bluebelt contest because it is in line with the mission of education and preservation of the local coast and Marine Protected Areas.

“The ecosystem is changing,” she said. “There are so many images you can have within Laguna, I selected it because it was a rare occurrence.”

Other winners in the amateur category include:

  • Second place: “Nudibranchs in Space,” Sandra Dildine of Oceanside
  • Third place: “Walk on Water,” Heidi Walker of Laguna Niguel.
  • Honorable mentions: “Rushing Water,” Regina Borsilli-Brown of Laguna Niguel; “First Steps,” Stephen Sponagle of Laguna Niguel; and “Misty Morning Hop,” Brian Sciacca of Laguna Beach

One last photo will be selected for the Bluebelt contest as the “Best of the Rest.” The public is invited to vote on the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition’s Facebook page. That contest ends on April 25.

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