ENCINITAS — Reporting only one citation, law enforcement officials estimate Moonlight Beach received an all-time high number of visitors last week with the reopening of Encinitas’ coastline to active beachgoers.
“Attendance was beyond any holiday weekend,” Marine Safety Captain Larry Giles said. “It was the highest number of people I’ve seen in my 33 years of lifeguarding and it lasted from before sunrise past sunset.”
Despite the large crowds, officials at the San Diego Sheriff’s Department reported residents were relatively compliant and willing to listen to deputies enforcing state-mandated social distancing policies as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We looked at this as an educational first week,” Lieutenant John Boyle of the County Sheriff’s Department said, confirming the majority of contact between deputies and people was conversational, teaching residents how to implement social distancing practices on beaches and restricted access points.
The only citation issued occurred near the Swami’s Beach access point, involving an individual seen using a closed staircase, discarding cigarettes on the beach, and sitting. Law enforcement officials reported the individual was given multiple chances to move and refused prior to being issued the citation.
Officials acknowledged that the closure of all access points other than Moonlight Beach stands as one of the main challenges facing law enforcement during this first reopening phase.
Prior to the reopening of Moonlight Beach to active recreation, the City of Encinitas wrapped coastline staircases and trail entrances in caution tape, which proved inefficient. Within 24 hours of reopening Moonlight, large chain link fencing was placed on all other beach access points to fully restrict access.
“All of the [tape] was chronically getting torn down,” Giles said. “We, the lifeguards, were having to replace it constantly.”
Law enforcement officials also recognized the effect that the red tide and bioluminescence was having on the current beach crowding situation, with Giles noting the crowds of beachgoers lasted beyond sunset and into each evening.
“It’s a lot of people from out of the area, as far as Riverside and San Bernardino, coming down the coastline to see this red tide,” Giles said. “Because of COVID, “there’s nothing for them to do in town so they’re all staying around the beach. It’s just as crowded during the day as it is at night.”
In the last week, multiple Encinitas residents called in noise and crowding complaints during the evening hours, and though there were no citations issued, deputies addressed the large groups in question and dispersed the crowds.
“I think it’s really up to the public to help self-police this,” Giles said, in reference to evening beachgoers and the usage of restricted access points. “It’s the only way we don’t end up having to go through what Orange County just experienced, having the governor close beaches down.”
In the coming weeks, Marine Safety officials will re-evaluate summer beach programming.
Hosting nearly 10,000 participants each summer, surf and volleyball camps and Junior Lifeguard training, among other programs, will likely be adjusted in some manner, if not canceled outright.
“A lot of these kids aren’t getting their spring swim lessons like they normally would’ve and so they aren’t being properly prepared for these programs,” Giles said. Marine Safety officials will meet in the coming weeks to decide on how to safely move forward with such programming this summer.
With temperatures rising, and as long as the red tide lasts, law enforcement officials and active beachgoers will be put to the test, as residents from all over Southern California likely seek to escape the heat during the day and catch a glimpse of the bioluminescence at night.
Caitlin Steinberg is a Leucadia resident who is covering all things Encinitas for The Coast News.
She is also a fine art photographer, as well as a military historian and CEO of Operation Green Faces, a 501(c)3 nonprofit preserving the oral histories of UDT & SEAL Team operators in the Vietnam War.