January 13, 2012

California, USA

Photo: Gilliane Shayman

“California has taken the lead in understanding that the ocean really matters,” says Dr. Earle. “We know how to take from the ocean. California is giving back by establishing a network of protected areas.”

California’s four National Marine Sanctuaries (Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay) cover almost 9,500 square miles of Pacific Ocean. In addition to these, more State Marine Protected Areas are added under the regulation of the California Department of Fish and Game. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999 directed the state to redesign it’s system of marine protected areas to function as a network in order to increase effectiveness in protecting coastal marine life, habitats and marine ecosystems.

What is a marine protected area? It’s an area of coastal ocean set aside to protect ocean life and habitat. There are three classifications of MPAs in California. The most restrictive are the Marine Reserves where all fish, wildlife and habitat are protected from extraction. The second are Marine Parks, where limited recreational fishing is allowed, but commercial fishing is prohibited. The least restrictive are Marine Conservation Areas where some consumptive recreational and commercial activities are allowed. For a detailed list of regulations and maps of current California MPAs, click here.

Dr. Earle shares her perspective on the significance of California’s commitment to it’s ocean environment in this inspiring video from Kip Evans.


The benefits of MPAs go far beyond protecting individual species of fish. They protect sea life and their underwater homes in a way that regulations focused on just one or two species cannot.  MPAs provide places where fish can feed, breed and thrive, and where human impacts are minimized. As a result, marine life living within MPAs grows more diverse, abundant, and larger in size – and larger fish have exponentially larger numbers of young to replenish depleted populations.

Marine life within MPAs also seed neighboring areas where fishing is allowed. MPAs supply predators, such as marine mammals and sharks, with increased availability of food,  and MPAs can  offer insurance or a ‘savings account’ against events such as climate change and oil spills.  

Google Earth’s ‘Explore the Ocean’ layer invites you to dive in and explore California’s Marine Protected Areas. Check out how ‘Deep Sea Squid take a shot in the dark when it comes to mating,’ in the Monterey Canyon, and then head North to the ‘Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary: Cold Water Oasis’ for starters! 
To learn more about California’s Marine Protected Areas, including educational resources and much more, check out The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation’s comprehensive website on the subject.  Their primary website also has a wealth of information, and “the sanctuary foundation is a shining example of the merit of collaboration between public agencies and private organizations.” Their commitment and dedication to making California’s MPAs a reality has been extraordinary.
We think you’ll also enjoy the Kip Evans film, Waves of Change about MPAs on the Central California Coast.

Southern Californians are celebrating the establishment of the new MPAs this winter with a number of events. Mark your calendars!

On January 21st, staff at the Ocean Institute, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla and other partners will join to educate the public about the statewide network of Marine Protected Areas and explain the need for the “underwater parks.” Visitors can learn more about MPAs and explore ocean sustainability through activities and games from 10 AM to 3 PM on Jan. 21. For more information, call 949-496-2274.

In San Diego on February 4th, Wildcoast and The Tijuana River Estuary invite the public to ‘Meet Your Underwater Parks’ on Saturday, February 4th from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Tijuana River Estuary Visitor Center, 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach. The event is free.

Learn more about the new Marine Protected Areas around San Diego, and take a guided nature walk through the estuary to better understand its connection to the ocean. Special guest speaker Dr. Octavio Aburto from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will discuss the successful MPA in Mexico’s Gulf of California, also one of Dr. Earle’s Hope Spots. His talk will be, “Cabo Pulmo: Marine Protected Area Success Story.”

Still in the works are MPAs for San Francisco Bay from the Golden Gate to the Carquinez Bridge, and on the North Coast from the Oregon border to Alder Creek near Point Arena. With more MPAs on the way for California’s Coast, we look forward to celebrating the continued regeneration of our coastal ecosystems and an increasingly thriving ocean for future generations to enjoy and protect.

By Deb Castellana

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We've Updated Our Privacy Policy

Read our new privacy policy here.