Sierra Magazine

One Small Step

Taking Flight to Save the Shore

Ken Adelman Corralitos, California
Retired Internet entrepreneur and California coastline protector, age 39

"It started in 1996, when I made a call to the Sierra Club offering the use of our helicopter in the Club’s fight to protect the California coastline. My wife pilots while I take aerial photographs. One of the frustrating things early on was seeing something stupid that somebody had done and realizing it would have been nice to have a ‘before’ picture–before that part of the coast had been destroyed. But the only way we could get those photos was to shoot the entire coastline. That’s what we’ve done. The Web site we launched last year ( contains about 12,100 digital ‘before’ pictures taken roughly every 500 feet.

"The only part of the coast we’ve not shot is a 50-mile stretch around Vandenberg Air Force Base. We can’t get permission to fly over it. But we’re getting ready to begin the second round of photographs of areas we’ve already covered.

"There’s 1,100 miles of coastline in California. I divide it into three categories: North from San Francisco to the Oregon border is remote and basically not threatened. Then there’s the urbanized coastline, especially from Santa Barbara to San Diego and also Santa Cruz, which has already been ruined. Finally, there are the ‘in-between’ areas. Typically, these are under development right now, with housing and cities nearby expanding toward the coastline. These in-between areas are where we need to focus our conservation efforts.

"Our photos let the California Coastal Commission see what’s happening. The commission frequently uses our photos for development decisions or enforcement action, since they bring truth to the process. Citizens use the photos to fight developments all along the coast.

"I do it because it’s my home, and I don’t want to see people destroy it."

–interview by Marilyn Berlin Snell 

Tidal Wave: More than half of the 290 million people in the United States live within 50 miles of a coast; 28 million more are expected to reside there by 2015.

For information on how you can help, visit; for news about what states and federal agencies are up to, see

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