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California’s Marine Protected Areas Are Working

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This is a guest blog by James Horrox, which originally ran www.frontiergroup.org. This is the second in a series of blogs about a report, new life for the ocean, which we co-authored with Frontier Group.

In 2004, following the adoption of California’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act, California began a consultation and planning process that would culminate in the implementation of the nation’s first statewide MPA network in 2012. About 852 square miles of ocean off the California coast – a little more than 16 percent of the state’s waters – were kept under protection of 124 MPa. Of this MPA area, about 60 per cent (9 per cent of state water) is in no MPA. Preliminary studies have shown that these protections are already delivering substantial benefits to fish and other wildlife and habitats.

A 2013 study by the MPA of the state’s Central Coast found an abundance of certain fish species, including cabazon, lingcod and black rockfish, in protected areas compared to non-protected areas. The endangered black abalone – a species of sea snail that once numbered in the millions along the California coast but now nearly decimated to extinction – increased in number and size inside the MPA within five years after these protections were implemented. Hui. Similarly, within five years of the establishment of the North Central Coast’s Sea Lion Cove State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) – created to protect an important abalone nursery – the red abalone population had experienced a “rapid growth”.

The research also found evidence that California’s MPAs are benefiting ocean environments outside their borders. A 2015 study looking at larval dispersal within and outside the MPA found “significant spillover” in surrounding areas, indicating that protected areas are potentially important sources of new additions to populations of a large percentage of resident species. Similarly, a 2019 study revealed connectivity between kelp rockfish populations in several Central Coast MPAs and nearby non-protected areas.

channel islands mpa

In 2003, the state of California designated 10 marine reserves and two marine conservation areas in the state’s waters within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary – 1,470 square of sea around the islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. mile area. Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of Southern California. In 2006 and 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) increased protection in the sanctuary’s deep, federal waters, bringing the total number of marine reserves in the network to 11. Within these reserves, all fishing and other extractive activities are prohibited, while two marine conservation areas allow limited consumption of lobster and pelagic fish.

Channel Island Sanctuary is the largest MPA network from the continental United States. Several endangered species and a diverse patchwork of vulnerable habitats exist within its range, including rocky shorelines and sandy beaches, onshore kelp forests, soft-bottom habitats and rocky reefs, and deep-sea coral parks.

Within a few years of its designation, surveillance studies were already beginning to see the effects of the protections given to the area. A study published in 2010 found that the density of fish species targeted (i.e., fished) within protected areas had increased by 50 percent, and their biomass increased by 80 percent in the first five years of the reserves’ existence. was. The biomass of predators inside the reserve was “significantly higher” than in unprotected areas, with 1.8 times more fish eaters (animals that mainly eat fish) and 1.3 times more carnivores in these areas.

This is important, as both of these groups play important roles in kelp forest ecosystems. The California sheephead and spiny lobster, for example, are important predators of sea urchins, and help prevent kelp beds—which support more diverse communities, complex food webs, and healthy fish populations—by uncontrolled sea urchin populations. from being destroyed through excessive grazing.

A 2015 study found that the average size of heads of kelp bass and California sheep was “significantly larger” in most marine reserves of the Old North Channel Islands than in non-protected areas. The same study found that three of the five targeted invertebrate species in the northern Channel Islands – the California spiny lobster, red sea urchin and warty sea cucumber – were significantly more abundant in these protected areas.

Conservation also had a significant impact on the overall biomass of the species. Between 2008 and 2013, the average biomass for targeted fish species within the boundaries of the North Channel Islands reserves increased by 52 percent, while outside these MPAs it increased by only 23 percent over the same period. A separate study, also published in 2015, similarly found that the biomass of targeted fish “is steadily increasing within all MPAs in the network.”

The success of California’s MPAs has been attributed to a comprehensive, stakeholder-driven planning process prior to their implementation. The process focused on integrating regional scientific knowledge, involving local communities, and evaluating the potential economic impacts of maritime security along the California coast. California has also been recognized for its post-implementation management strategy. Since implementing its MPA network, the state has managed a well-organized, multi-agency leadership team, with a focus on “scientific monitoring, inter-agency coordination, public education and outreach, and enforcement”. Implemented MPA Management Program with resources from To provide a valuable case study in how to plan, implement and manage a successful statewide network of marine protected areas.

Image credits: Flickr, Quentin.

  1. UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Preliminary results show California Marine Protected Areas are successful, accessed 7 July 2020, archived here https://web.archive.org/web/20200709202552/https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/early-results-suggest-california-marine-protected-areas-are-success.
  2. California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Regional MPA Statistics, accessed 7 July 2020, archived here https://web.archive.org/web/20200709202726/https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/MPAs/Statistics.
  3. National Marine and Atmospheric Administration, National Center for Marine Protected Areas, Marine Protected Areas of the United States: Conserving Our Oceans One Place at a Time, nd, stored on https://web.archive.org/web/20200709203735/https://nmsmarineprotectedareas.blob.core.windows.net/marineprotectedareas-prod/media/archive/pdf/fac/mpas_of_united_states_conserving_oceans_1113.pdf, 4.
  4. Samantha Murray et al., “A Rising Tide: California’s Ongoing Commitment to Monitoring, Managing, and Enforcing Its Marine Protected Areas,” Ocean and Coastal Management, 182, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.104920, December 2019.
  5. California Ocean Science Trust et al., State of California Central Coast: Results of Baseline Monitoring of Marine Protected Areas 2007–2012, 2013, archived here https://web.archive.org/web/20200709204109/https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=133101&inline.
  6. Ibid., 3.
  7. California Ocean Science Trust and California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ocean Protection Council, Summary of the California State North Central Coast Marine Protected Area Monitoring Program 2010-2015, stored on https://web.archive.org/web/20200709204815/https://og-production-open-data-cnra-892364687672.s3.amazonaws.com/resources/953d0edd-7d41-4558-9bb6-3242eb3cec93/ncc- state-area-report-nov-2015.pdf?signature=pi6p5Wt26uUgb%2FTz23Fsbme9GGI%3D&Expires=1594331282&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJJIENTAPKHZMIPXQ, 5.
  8. Ellis E. Harada et al., “Monitoring Spawning Activity in a Southern California Marine Protected Area Using Molecular Identification of Fish Eggs”,one more 10(8):e0134647, doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134647, 2015.
  9. Diana S. Betscher et al., “Dispersal of Nearshore Marine Fish Connects Marine Reserves and Adjacent Fishing Areas Along an Open Coast,” molecular ecology, 28(7):1-13, DOI: 10.1111/MEC.15044, February 2019.
  10. California Department of Fish and Game, Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and Channel Islands National Park. 2008. Channel Islands Marine Protected Area: the first 5 years of surveillance: 2003-2008. Arame, S. and J. Ugoretz (ed.), p.2.
  11. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, accessed 20 June 2020, archived here https://web.archive.org/web/20200709224928/https://channelislands.noaa.gov/.
  12. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary: Marine Reserve, accessed 20 June 2020, archived here https://channelislands.noaa.gov/marineres/.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Scott L. Hamilton et al., “Incorporating Biographies in the Evaluation of the Channel Islands Marine Reserve Network,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107 (43): 18272–18277, doi: 10.1073/pns.0908091107, October 2010.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Daniel J. Pondella et al., South Coast Baseline Program Final Report: Kelp and Shallow Rock Ecosystems, 2015, archived here https://web.archive.org/web/20200709230401/https://caseagrant.ucsd.edu/sites/default/files/SCMPA-27-Final-Report_0.pdf, 49.
  17. Ibid., 59.
  18. Ibid., quoted in Samantha Murray et al., “A Rising Tide: California’s Ongoing Commitment to Monitoring, Managing, and Enforcing Its Marine Protected Areas,” Ocean and Coastal Management, 182, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.104920, December 2019.
  19. Jennifer E. Casale et al., “Recovery trajectories of kelp forest animals are rapidly yet spatially variable across a network of temperate marine protected areas,” scientific report, 5:14102, September 2015.
  20. Samantha Murray et al., “A Rising Tide: California’s Ongoing Commitment to Monitoring, Managing, and Enforcing Its Marine Protected Areas,” Ocean and Coastal Management, 182, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.104920, December 2019.

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