Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, are protected ocean areas designed to improve ocean health. Well-designed MPAs can bolster overall ecosystem health and improve the resilience of fisheries by protecting habitats, restricting certain extractive activities, and giving marine life a change to bounce back after habitat degradation and overfishing. Currently, just over 7 percent of the ocean has been given some kind of protected status, but conservative estimates that take into account the likeliness an area’s protections are actually enforced place that percent much lower.

Locally, we often refer to our MPAs as “underwater parks.” These parks are not only a safe haven for marine life, but protect California’s legacy of marine recreation and improve fishing opportunities in surrounding waters.

MPAs in San Diego

San Diego County boasts eleven unique Marine Protected Areas featuring different levels of protection. Some MPAs are designated “no-take” reserves, and others allow take of specific species or use of specific fishing methods. These MPAs range from the Batiquitos Lagoon State Marine Conservation Area in the north to the Tijuana River Mouth State Marine Conservation area in the south. San Diego’s MPAs provide important protection to wildlife along the coast of Southern California, and – because MPAs do not restrict coastal access and non-extractive uses – preserve our heritage as surfers, swimmers, SUPers, divers, kayakers, tide-poolers, and beachgoers.

You can explore California’s network of MPAs online by visiting Fish and Wildlife’s MPA page here.

Coastkeeper and MPAs

San Diego Coastkeeper firmly believes in the importance of MPAs is preserving recreation opportunities, enhancing the underwater environment, and strengthening local fisheries.

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which passed in 1999, mandated that California re-examine and reevaluate existing MPAs, with the ultimate goal of creating a scientifically sound, community-supported statewide network of MPAs designed to best protect California’s unique and vibrant coastline from exploitation.

San Diego Coastkeeper participated heavily in the Marine Life Protection Act process and dedicated several staff members to MPA advocacy. Coastkeeper representatives stood up for conservation interests on the Regional Stakeholder Group, the group that ultimately generated San Diego’s MPA maps for consideration by the Fish and Game Commission. Following the completion of the design phase, Coastkeeper continued to advocate for the strongest and smartest possible protections for San Diego’s coast. Our MPA-related education and outreach efforts garnered widespread community support, including endorsement from numerous elected officials and business leaders. In the midst of this groundswell of support for a healthier coastline, over 700 MPA supporters attended a Fish and Game Commission hearing on the issue held in San Diego in 2010.

Finally adopted in 2012, MPAs are a welcome part of San Diego’s marine conservation and recreation legacy that benefit both local wildlife and the San Diego community. Coastkeeper played a key role in the creation of these important “underwater parks,” and today, our team enjoys MPAs for all the benefits they provide: unique recreation opportunities, cultural preservation, healthier fisheries, protected underwater habitats, and more.