By Samantha Murray, The Ocean Conservancy
They grow up so fast! I can’t believe it’s already been a year since California established the first statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). I remember when these special places were just a glimmer in our collective eye—when scientists, fishermen, agencies and conservationists were still flirting with the idea of protecting coastal waters in a string of underwater parks from Mexico to the Oregon border.
And now here we are, one year later, celebrating a first birthday on December 19 and 124 fun reasons to get outside, get in the water and raise a glass to California’s future. Looking forward and looking back, here are some of my favorite reasons to celebrate:
1. Booming business
At a time when the economy is still top of mind for most Americans, California’s MPAs actually protect the jobs of people who rely on the tourism industry. It’s no secret that California’s world-famous coast attracts millions of tourists every year, but what may be news is that California’s ocean economy totals $43 billion. From tourism and recreation to fishing, California’s beaches mean big business. So whether visitors are into tide pooling, bird-watching or kayaking, protected areas draw in new people and enhance their wildlife experience, which means money in the bank for local innkeepers, restaurants and gear shops.Check out our new video, How Do You MPA?, for more activities that get people excited about visiting protected areas.
2. Better surf sessions
MPAs protect all of California’s key habitats, from river mouths and submarine canyons to rocky reefs and kelp forests. Thick coastal kelp canopies mean twin benefits for surfers: They shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, but also protect breaks from the afternoon winds, refining the ocean surface and grooming swells to extend surfing hours. Whether you’re a big wave surfer at Mavericks or just getting your feet wet at Asilomar, there are loads of MPAs to surf in California for almost any level of experience. And the fact that these surf spots are protected means a better chance that you’ll encounter dolphins, harbor seals or sea otters during your session.
3. Wilder diving adventures
Suit up in your finest (and warmest!) neoprene and take the plunge to discover what lies beneath the waves in California’s coastal waters. As one of the oldest MPAs in the state (it was established in 1960, then expanded in 2007), Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is an iconic example of what decades of protection can mean for habitat and wildlife, where wolf eels, lingcod and exotic-looking nudibranchs and anemones set the scene for an adventurous diving experience. Here are 10 California protected areas that offer a spectacular diving and snorkeling experience.
4. More critters
Like our land-based parks (think Yosemite!), California’s marine protected areas enhance our recreational experience while also allowing us to protect the ocean wildlife along our 1,100-mile coastline. Awe-inspiring species like elephant seals, giant sea bass and Garibaldi all stand to benefit from marine protections, and early results from the Channel Islands andCentral Coast show that protected areas are already doing their job for species like spiny lobster and some types of rockfish. Check out the top 10 animals you might spot in one of California’s protected areas.
5. Unprecedented public participation
More than 10 years in the making, California’s marine protected areas were designed by the people for the people. Hundreds of fishermen, tribal leaders, divers, surfers, conservationists, business owners and government officials worked to map out protections for their regions. Tens of thousands of people provided input in meetings and through written comments, making this a trailblazing public process. The torch has been passed today, as thousands of volunteer citizen scientists are now monitoring sea life and ocean uses through programs like LiMPETS, MPA Watch and Reef Check.
This continuity of public involvement is certainly something worth celebrating. After all, without all these dedicated ocean lovers, California wouldn’t have a network of protected areas in the first place. With that in mind, I encourage you to pledge your support for the ongoing protection and monitoring of the MPAs by signing this petition. Your continued support will ensure that these places are protected for many anniversaries to come.