Thursday, May 26 , 2016, 7:22 pm | Fair 64º

Landmark California Coastal Records Project Posts 17,600 New Aerial Photos

By Susan Jordan for the California Coastal Protection Network |

Just last week, Kenneth and Gabrielle Adelman, the husband and wife team behind the landmark California Coastal Records Project, flew the entire California coastline in just three days and took 17,600 new pictures, the latest addition to their ongoing effort to create a permanent record of the coast.

Dana Point
Dana Point Headlands in 2004, before construction of the Strands new mansions and seawall. The after photo is below. (California Coastal Records Project photo)

While one flies their Robinson R44 helicopter, the other leans out the port side using a Nikon D800E taking digital photos, one every second, that are downloaded into their Apple
MacBook Pro. Once back on the ground, the work of loading them onto the website begins. This latest 2013 digital aerial survey was to be posted on the website this Tuesday, available by clicking here.

It was back in 2002 when the Adelmans had the brainstorm to create an aerial database of the entire California coast from Oregon to the Mexican border. They knew it would be important work, but they had no idea how many people would utilize the site or how important it would become to tracking impacts from climate change, sea level rise, new development and illegal activities over decades.

Avid pilots and environmentalists, the Adelmans had been asked in 1998 by Mark Massara, then-director of the Sierra Club’s Coastal Program, to document San Simeon Point for the fight against the huge resort and golf course the Hearst Corporation wanted to build there. That started the ball rolling.

“After defeating the Hearst resort plan, we received numerous requests to photograph illegal activity and other environmental changes on the coast, but were frustrated by the lack of ‘before’ pictures," Ken Adelman said. "So in 2002, after a year of planning and purchasing the needed photographic equipment from Nikon, we created the first intact digital aerial database of the California coast from Oregon to the Mexico border.”

The site, the California Coastal Records Project, was an instant success with more than 30,000 hits in the first day of operation. As of October, the site has been viewed more than 9.4 million times.

Once word spread about this new aerial database, the Adelmans received a request from Dr. Gary Griggs of UC Santa Cruz to restore two aerial surveys filmed by the Department of Boating and Waterways in 1972 and 1979. Next, the California Coastal Commission offered up a photographic survey from 1987. And finally, the State Coastal Conservancy contributed a complete set of coastal images from the late 1980s and 1993. In all of these cases, these valuable photos were sitting in cardboard file boxes gathering dust just waiting to be brought back to life.

“The restoration and scanning of these films and slides was an enormous task, but we realized the incredible value they brought. In one fell swoop, we were able to extend our 2002 dataset back in time a full 30 years to 1972, the year the Coastal Initiative was passed," Gabrielle Adelman said. "These are the only surviving photographs that document the entire California Coast from that era and are immensely valuable.”

Perhaps most remarkable is that the Adelmans have self-funded the entire project and made the photos available free of charge for nonprofit use via the project’s website. Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network, handles permissions for the site.

Dana Point after
Dana Point Headlands in 2013, after construction of the Strands new mansions and seawall. (California Coastal Records Project photo)

“When the Adelmans told Mark and I that they were ready to film the coast, we were thrilled because we understood the inherent value it would have," Jordan said. "But we never could have imagined how the project would grow in scope and application and the diversified uses the photos would serve. I have authorized use by leading academic institutions, research scientists, federal, state and local environmental and planning agencies, and news media from across the globe who are extremely grateful that this extraordinary resource exists.”

Gary Griggs, one of the scientists who regularly utilizes the site in his work, says, “Ken and Gabrielle Adelman’s personal dedication to the coast of California and this project has given all of us an invaluable and instantly accessible record of the entire coastline of California and how it has changed over the past 40 years. No other state or any nation on Earth has such a permanent and accessible history. The California Coastal Records Project is the resource I turn to more often than any other, whether for teaching, research or public presentations.

"With the Adelmans’ encouragement and support, and as a way to bring more visibility to their site, we have just completed a book, The California Coast from the Air, which includes about 150 of their most striking photographs along with short stories and descriptions, and which should be available in the spring of 2014.”

The project was almost derailed in 2003 when Barbra Streisand demanded that the frame in which her house appeared be removed from the database. Although the image of her house comprised just 3 percent of the photo in question, Streisand nonetheless sued the Adelmans for $50 million in damages. Citing their constitutional right to free speech, the Adelmans countersued asserting that the removal of any frames from the database would compromise the integrity of this scientific and historic database. The Adelmans prevailed, Streisand had to write a $155,567.04 check to their attorneys, the site remained intact and the term the Streisand Effect joined the international lexicon.

"The California Coastal Records Project reveals the near endless wilderness, splendor & varied development along the entire California coast, and makes it available to anyone at anytime from any place in the world — but it does much more than that," Mark Massara said. "You can visit places along the coast that are otherwise private or inaccessible, that are threatened, or that are about to undergo natural change or physical development. The Adelmans have created a baseline to measure development and climate change over time and it has changed the way regulatory land use and real estate business and development decisions along the coast are made, in a visual, positive and productive way."

— Susan Jordan is director of the California Coastal Protection Network.

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