California’s Marine Protected Areas
On December 15, 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to create a comprehensive network of marine protected areas (MPAs) along the Southern California coast between Point Conception and the Mexican border. Its historic decision is a hard fought victory for conservation efforts and a marquee moment in California’s legacy of environmental protection.
We often refer to MPAs as “underwater state parks.” They are small areas where extractive use (such as fishing or kelp harvest) is either restricted or entirely disallowed. MPAs increase fish populations by providing a safe haven where fish can live and grow larger.
In 1999, California passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). Designed to protect California’s coastal ecosystems, the act called for the creation of a statewide network of MPAs. The state was subsequently divided into sub regions with the area between Point Conception and the Mexican border comprising the “South Coast Study Region.”
The recently adopted plan establishes the size, location and level of protection for MPAs along the South Coast. This compromise plan incorporates the input of numerous regional stakeholders including divers, fishermen, conservationists and scientists.
Through years of collaborative design, the stakeholders created an MPA network that maximizes conservation benefits while minimizing the economic impact on the fishing industry. It protects iconic hotbeds of biodiversity, creating healthy fish stocks that improve productivity at popular spots that remain open to fishing.
Marine Protected Areas in San Diego
In the Fish & Game Commission decision in December 2010, South La Jolla received the highest level of protection of any MPA in San Diego. It includes 4.7 miles of fully protected reserve, in addition to a larger area that allows for limited kelp harvest and recreational fishing for certain species. All of north La Jolla (from Windansea northward) remains open to all fishing.
Swamis Reef became the largest MPA in San Diego County. The new MPA protects roughly 12 square miles of vibrant rocky reef and kelp forest habitat. Shore fishing continues at Swamis, as well as spearfishing for certain species. No commercial fishing can occur within the MPA.
The newly adopted MPAs allow all non-extractive uses including boating, kayaking, diving, surfing, snorkeling, tidepooling and swimming. All coastal access remains unrestricted, and boat launches and beach access points are unaffected.
MPAs and San Diego Coastkeeper
San Diego Coastkeeper firmly believes in the importance of MPAs. We heavily participated in the MLPA process and dedicated staff to fight for conservation interests on the Regional Stakeholder Group, whose input ultimately led to the creation of MPA maps for the Fish & Game Commission to consider. Following the completion of the design phase, we continued to advocate for the strongest possible protections for San Diego’s coast. Our education and outreach drew widespread community support including the endorsement of numerous elected officials and business leaders. Over 700 MPA supporters attended a Fish and Game Commission hearing on the issue held in San Diego last October.
With the MPAs adopted and poised to take effect 2012, we will continue our education and monitoring efforts. Now we must collaborate with our partners in conservation to ensure that the new MPAs achieve their maximum benefit to both local wildlife and the San Diego community.