Harbor seal with pup
Photo by Erica Crawford
by Kaitilin Gaffney, The Ocean Conservancy
On April 13 the California Fish & Game Commission made a landmark decision to protect the scenic coastline and rich marine habitat of the central coast by establishing a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). This network is the result of thousands of hours of work volunteered by marine scientists, members of the fishing industry, recreation interests, and conservationists including many Central Coast residents.
This historic event culminates seven years of work since former Assemblymember Fred Keeley co-authored the Marine Life Protection Act, which requires the State to establish a network of marine protected areas along the entire California coast. The Central Coast was selected as the first phase for statewide implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act.
The adopted MPA network designates 29 marine protected areas for protection from Pigeon Point to Point Conception and is expected to go into effect later this summer. The Commission’s decision will place a total of 18% of state ocean waters off California’s central coast in some type of protected area, leaving more than 80% of the area available for fishing.
The adopted MPA network reflects a compromise from what conservationists had sought; however, it is an important first step and may serve as a model for the nation. The MPA plan encompasses some of the most well-known and biologically-important areas of the California coast from Big Sur to the elephant seal rookeries at Point Año Nuevo to Vandenberg Air Force Base near Point Conception. The plan expands protection for Point Lobos, one of the state’s few existing State Marine Reserves, where thousands of divers each year experience the vibrant wildlife of a healthy ecosystem where all marine life is protected.
The second phase of implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act, focusing on the north central coast from Alder Creek in Mendocino County to Pigeon Point in San Mateo County, is now underway and is expected to be complete in 2008. The entire statewide MPA network is expected to be in place by 2011.