Friday is the deadline to submit photos for the second annual Laguna Bluebelt Photo Contest.

Photos must have been taken in any one of Laguna's protected areas between Jan. 1, 2012, and Friday. They may be submitted to info@lagunabluebelt.org, one per person. Winners will be announced Jan. 21.

"Last year we held a photo contest to celebrate the implementation of the new Marine Protected Areas and Underwater Parks Day," said Bluebelt member Sandy Dildane at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "We decided to make it an annual event.

"We've got some great prizes from local businesses, including a dive boat trip with Laguna Sea Sports, a scenic helicopter ride with OC Helicopter, a kayak tour with La Vida Laguna, whale watching with Captain Dave's Dolphin safari and gift cards from La Sirena Grill."

Bluebelt member Michael Beanan said the contest is open to everyone.

"There is more sealife, and it is friendlier to us," Beanan said.

He said Laguna Bluebelt, which actively supported the creation of the marine protected areas in Laguna, is working to reduce the flow of secondary treated sewage from the treatment plant into the ocean outfall off Aliso Beach.

Dildane thanked the council for its support of the Marine Protected Areas.

"As a year-round ocean swimmer and snorkeler in Laguna for over 20 years, this last year I observed more baby and juvenile fish than I have ever seen before," Dildane said. "There was a baby garibaldi boom in late summer into the fall — they could be found all over the reefs. Juvenile blacksmith, senoritas, kelpfish, sargo and many more tiny fish that I cannot identify were abundant in the kelp.

"Many times on a calm day, swimming in the kelp felt like I was swimming in an aquarium."

Dildane attributed the abundance of marine life to a healthy restored kelp forest in Laguna.

"The ocean bottom, which I see in a swim from Oak Street to Main Beach on a sunny day, gives us a great view of a beautiful spread of ocean flora," said Bluebelt member Tom Girven. "In addition, last summer I was able to able to observe a great abundance of bait fish in schools of what could be thousands of fish; many garibaldi, our state fish, and rays, both young and mature."

Bluebelt member Charlotte Masarik said she saw a baby garibaldi for the first time Sunday as she scrambled on rocks from Crescent Bay to Emerald Bay to tidepools during a minus tide.

"Besides the usual rich marine life, there was dolphin frenzy out in the water, a big fat seal sitting on a close-in shoreline rock that I swear you could touch and three gray whales went by," Masarik told the council. "Imagine that. Best of all there was no fishing line snagged on the rocks."

Although not a tidewater docent, Masarik said anyone who would like a tidepool tour may call her at (949) 494-1630.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said more docents are needed.

For more information about the organization or the contest, visit http://www.lagunabluebelt.org.

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