Luiz Rocha: coasts to explore by land and sea

Professor Luiz Rocha is curator of ichthyology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. As a marine biologist, he studies obscure coral reefs lying far beneath the surface of the sea, literally diving into uncharted depths. He’s on a mission to ensure that conservation efforts are focused on these reefs and their ecosystems. A primary part of his work involves describing the fauna he finds. And Rocha has had two species of fish named after him: Pempheris rochai (Rocha’s sweeper) and Sparisoma rocha (Rocha’s parrotfish). Here, he shares some travel tips you can enjoy without a PhD

San Francisco is a very touristy town. Over 10 million tourists go there every year. But very few of them cross the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and go to Muir Woods National Monument. It’s a beautiful national park with redwoods that are sadly declining because of climate change.

Muir Woods National Monument

Some of the best hiking trails in all of California are in that area. If you’re going out to the north of San Francisco to hike, it doesn’t even need to be in the national park. It could be anywhere around Marin County.

Some of the trails I use for mountain biking are world-class, and it’s very easy to find them. If you search hiking trails on Google Maps and you’re just outside of San Francisco, you’ll discover many beautiful options.

You’ll also see lots of wildlife. I was almost run over by a deer once while mountain biking. It jumped out right in front of me. If I’d been seconds later, it would have hit me. Just 20 minutes to the north of the city, there are turkeys, bobcats, and I see deer all the time.

My other secret tip is a bit more remote. I did an expedition to Oman once. We rented a car at the very southern tip of the country, on the border with Yemen. We drove along the coast all the way to Muscat, stopping to dive at the beaches. And those were some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Completely remote, completely isolated, there was nobody, not a footstep as far as the eye could see. 

It’s an interesting region because in the winter months, there’s such strong upwelling that you can dive with kelp, just like you would in California. Then in the summer monsoon, all the cold water goes away, and it’s very much a coral reef community. So it switches night and day between the seasons.

There were not many places to stay. In the southernmost town, Salalah, there were places as it’s quite a big city. But as soon as we drove out of there, we had to stop and camp. Thankfully, there were beautiful beaches everywhere, which is not what Oman is known for.

Follow Luiz Rocha on Instagram: @coralreeffish

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