Marine protection (MPAs) around Monterey Bay

Did you know that along the central California coast there are four different kinds of state Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and 29 distinct places with protection? I didn’t until I attended a three-day meeting in Monterey last week. The meeting’s long title was: State of the California Central Coast: Reflecting on the first five years of MPA monitoring, management, and partnership. 

Courtesy CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Courtesy CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

The symposium was dedicated to central California MPAs from Pigeon Point to Point Conception (including Monterey Bay), covering about 207 square miles (536 sq. km) or 18% of state waters. The presentations focused on lessons learned and baseline data garnered over the past five years (there were a lot of rockfish talks). About 300 people attended. I’m not going to report on all I learned or heard at the meeting in this post (there’s a lot to say), but I wanted to share two main takeaways.

First, as part of the meeting we received a packet of resources worth sharing via links. I’ve found them to be a treasure trove for getting to know Monterey Bay (as well as the coast to the north and south). However, I learned that MPAs are complicated, from the definitions to the designations to the protection, research and monitoring. So hang in here with me and use the links to dig deeper.

A short definition of a California MPA (Marine Protected Area) is: a named discrete geographic marine or estuarine area designated by law or other action to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. (The MPA link above goes to the full definition.) The types of MPA along the central California coast are (use each link below for details):

  • State Marine Reserve (SMR): No-take area
    (“Take” has a long definition and includes fishing or collecting, as well as injuring, damaging, etc. No-take doesn’t include those with proper permits for scientific collecting or research activities)
  • State Marine Park (SMP): Allows recreational or limited take, but no commercial take
  • State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA): Allows limited recreational and/or commercial take to protect a specific resource or habitat
  • State Marine Recreational Management Area (SMRMA): This is not technically an MPA and the only one is in Morro Bay, not Monterey Bay, so I’m just mentioning it.

For maps and detailed information about each of the central California coast MPAs, visit this California Department of Fish & Wildlife link and scroll down to the list. The Monterey Bay area MPAs (from Santa Cruz to Carmel) MBay beach by Chris Parsonsare Elkhorn Slough SMR, Elkhorn Slough SMCA, Moro Cojo Slough SMR, Soquel Canyon SMCA, Portuguese Ledge SMCA, Edward F. Ricketts SMCA, Lovers Point SMR, Pacific Grove Marine Gardens SMCA, Asilomar SMR, Carmel Pinnacles SMR and Carmel Bay SMCA.

At the end of this post are links to downloadable resources from the meeting’s key organizers. (Note: Hundreds of groups and individuals have been and are key to these MPAs, and partnerships were mentioned often during the meeting. My thanks to everyone for their hard fought and won work.) Using these resources, it’s easier to dive deeper into our bay’s marvelous seen and unseen treasures, and support their protection and sustainable use.

Next, this meeting was essentially a report card on a five-year old. As we were reminded (and which got lost in the media coverage, I think), the reports were of baseline data with only a taste of preliminary results. It’s too soon to ask for results (that’s like asking about the career successes of our five-year old), because the goal has been to set the low bar, to determine where we’re standing now. Although researchers, fishers, community members, environmentalists and policy people have learned a lot since these MPAs were officially established in 2007, there’s a long way to go and we all need to understand that. (I was amazed at the limited details known about the coastal environments before the MPAs, how well everyone did establishing them with the information they had, and how much more is known in just a few years.) Now that we know (or at least have a better idea of) where we stand, over the next 5, 10, 20, 30 years we’ll be able to tell how well the MPAs have or haven’t worked as compared to the baseline. Of course, a separate burning question is, Do we have the time?

Resources: Central California MPAs

For more about definitions and designations, visit CA Fish & Wildlife Central Coast Marine Protected Areas where you can download a pdf booklet and brochure showing local MPAs.
For the baseline results (info on the research!) see: State of the Calif Central Coast Results from Baseline Monitoring of Marine Protected Areas 2007 – 2012: Report (viewable online or downloadable)
For policy, visit California Ocean Science Trust (who moderated the meeting and is mandated by Calif. statute to assist ocean/coastal policy makers with science-informed decision making). Also, one of their reporting programs is: MPA Monitoring Enterprise


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