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March 19, 2013

Marine Protected Areas

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 6:47 pm

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are “discrete geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat.” Like the definition implies, these areas are protected by special laws limiting certain types of human activity. In California, this is done through the use of three distinct types of MPAs that restrict different kinds of human activity: State Marine Reserves, State Marine Parks, and State Marine Conservation Areas.

State Marine Reserves are the least limiting of the three designations, and are generally open to the public for recreational and commercial purposes, though efforts are taken to preserve the Reserve in an “undisturbed and unpolluted state” (“Definitions”). According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Marine Reserves are usually established for a few reasons: to protect rare or threatened native plants and animals; to protect or restore marine species, habitats, and ecosystems; to protect or restore important sources of gene pool diversity such as large populations of a species; and to provide areas for marine scientific research.

The next type of area, the State Marine Park, also attempts to maintain a natural marine ecosystem, though this type of area also places limits on human activity for “commercial exploitation purposes” (“Definitions”). While these areas may be established for any of the same reasons as a State Marine Reserve, State Marine Parks may also be established for “spiritual, scientific, educational, and recreational opportunities,” as well as to protect certain geological features that are considered important (“Definitions”). These areas are marine parks in the same way that some forests are terrestrial parks; they are intended for human recreation rather than commercial exploitation.

The final type of Marine Protected Area in California is the State Marine Conservation Area. This type of area is the most restrictive of the three types: “it is unlawful to injure, damage, take or possess any specified living, geological or cultural marine resources for certain commercial, recreational, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes” (“Definitions”). These areas are also known colloquially as “no take areas.” While these areas can be established for any of the same reasons as a State Marine Reserve, they are usually established to protect particularly important living or geological resources.

Unfortunately it is often difficult to enforce strict adherence to the established rules for a few reasons. Sometimes recreational boaters are not even aware that an MPA exists in the area, or, if they do know an MPA exists, they may be unaware of the rules governing the type of MPA established. Furthermore, even if the boater is aware that an MPA exists and knows what types of regulations are in effect, effective enforcement mechanisms such as the coast guard or police boats may be out of reach. From our experience talking with the residents of our USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island we learned the “no take” area at Big Fisherman Cove gets frequent intruders in the form of recreational fisherman. Although residents attempt to warn or chase off the fishermen the island’s single police boat is often too far away to provide effective enforcement.

To date outside of  evaluating the problems associated with the  enforcement of existing MPA boundaries the primary focus of study has been on understanding the ecological impact of designating an area as a marine reserve. While the intent behind MPAs has traditionally been the conservation of a species or particular type of habitat, scientists are increasingly considering incorporating social science perspectives into both the design and implementation of marine reserves. For example, ecosystem managers are working to include stakeholders in the process of designing and placing MPAs in order to better assess the consequences of MPAs on both fishing yields and profits. By taking into account socioeconomic factors and the impact of MPAs on the local community scientists are hoping to better “account for and balance the multitude of  human uses and more effectively address the cumulative impacts affecting the overall health of an ecosystem”(Gaines et al).

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation recently (December 2012) published two new guides in the hopes of aiding intergovernmental cooperation in establishing Marine Protected Areas: “Scientific Guidelines for Designing Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate” and a “Guide for Planners and Managers to Design Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate.” The CEC recognizes that marine resources do not obey national boundaries, including this map, appropriately without borders, in its recent publication.

North American MPAs CEC

The aforementioned publications differ in their target audiences: the former is geared towards scientists collecting data for MPAs while the latter is focused more on informing public leaders of how to organize the creation of MPAs. The “Guide for Planners and Managers” suggests four main guidelines should be observed when creating MPAs, mandating the protection of “Species and Habitats with Crucial Ecosystem Roles or Those of Special Conservation Concern,”  with effort to protect the “Full Range of Biodiversity Present in the Target Biogeographic Area,” as well as protecting “Potential Carbon Sinks” and the  “Ecological Linkages and Connectivity Pathways” necessary for species to migrate from differing habitats.

One of the ways ecosystem managers have sought to reconcile conservation goals with social and economic interests is through the establishment of marine reserve networks. Marine reserve networks not only allow for habitat connectivity, but also allow for ecosystem managers to increase the benefits of a series of smaller reserves “without excluding human uses over large areas”(Gaines et al.). While the establishment of marine reserve networks has only occurred recently, the benefits of marine reserve networks established by both scientific and socioeconomic information has already been documented in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary by Hamilton et al. In this paper Hamilton et al. documents that marine reserve network has resulted in an increase in both density and biomass of the target fish species.

Another, albeit larger, example of a marine reserve network is the California State Marine Reserve established from the Marine Life Protection Act. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was a law passed by the state of California in 1999 with the expressed intent of improving both the design and management of marine protected areas in California State waters through the use of the best available science. Some of the major goals of the MLPA initiative included protecting the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, improving recreational, educational, and study opportunities, protect marine natural heritage, and ensure MPAs have clearly defined objectives. Overall the project spanned  the 1,100 miles of the California coast and focused on five regions: the North Coast, North Central Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, and San Francisco Bay.

This extensive undertaking that began in 2007  and was  completed in 2012 includes  124 MPAs and 15 complete closure areas. In the Southern California region the  MPAs  created by the MLPA project account for 354 square miles ( ~15% of total area) and include biodiversity hotspots such as the kelp beds off of La Jolla, Lover’s Cove on Catalina Island, and Naples Reef. Of the 50 marine reserves in the south coast region 37 were implemented as a result of the passage of the MLPA.


CA MPAsBy Scott Lindeman & Katie Robinson


Works Cited

CEC. 2012. Guide for Planners and Managers to Design Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate. Montreal, Canada. Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 42 pp.

“Definitions and Acronymns.” California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

Gaines, Steven D., Lester, Sarah E., Grorud-Colvert, Kirsten, Costello, Christopher, and Pollnac, Richard. “Evolving Science of marine reserves: New developments and emerging research frontiers.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  107.43 (2010).18251-18255.

Hamilton, Scott L., Caselle, Jennifer E., Malone, Dan P. and Carr, Mark H. “Incorporating biogeography into evaluations of the Channel Islands marine reserve network.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107 (2010). 18272-18277.

Regions & MPAs. California Marine Protected Areas Educational Resources.Web. Feb. 21 2013.


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