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MLPA, MPA, SMR, SMP, SMCA: Speaking ‘MPAese’

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Conservation | Education

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Today commercial and recreational overfishing, coastal development, tourism, water sports, marine transportation, and other human-mediated activities combined with natural events are impacting the health of coastal and marine ecosystems. The results—declining fish populations; degradation of coral reefs, seagrass beds, kelp forests and other vital habitats; threats to rare or endangered species; and loss of artifacts and areas that are part of our nation’s historic and cultural heritages. The impacts on our natural marine resources are felt socially and economically as well. Marine protected areas used in conjunction with other ocean and coastal management tools such as adaptive management and the precautionary principle can be an effective way to prevent, mitigate, or buffer these impacts by contributing to the overall protection of critical marine habitats and resources.

California, long a protector of its 1100 miles of coast as a result of the Coastal Act, took a lead nationally in 2004 to ensure that our ocean and its natural resources are protected for future generations. It is the only state that has a law specifying a statewide reserve network.

2004: California responds to the PEW Oceans Commission and USCOP reports: Governor Schwarzenegger, as part of the administration’s ocean and coastal protection policy, directs California’s Resources Agency to launch an effort to implement California’s Marine Life Protection Act which was enacted in 1999. This act directs the state to reexamine and redesign California’s system of marine protected areas through a comprehensive program and master plan. Its primary goals are to protect marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems and marine natural heritage, and to improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems. The Resources Agency responded by dividing California’s 1100 miles of coast into five study regions in which marine protected areas would be designated.

Before 2004: Twelve MPAs designated in the Channel Islands in state waters (three nautical miles offshore) in 2003:Ten are no-take reserves and two conservation areas. In 2007 NOAA extends the state water areas to include three nautical miles of federal waters. Monitoring of the effects of the 2003 designated MPAs will begin in 2008.

March 2007: Organization of working groups for the MLPA North Coast Study Region (Alder Creek north to the border with Oregon) begins. It is anticipated that the proposed MPAs for this area will be submitted to the Fish and Game Commission for approval in mid-2008. The regional stakeholder group is in the initial stages of submitting ideas for potential MPA networks within the NCCSR Under consideration are areas in Half Moon Bay, Point Reyes Headlands, the Farallon Islands, and Bodega Bay.

September 2007: Fish and Game Commission approves 29 new MPAs: These were designated within the MLPA Central Coast Study Region (Pigeon Point to Point Conception) with varying degrees of protection as a result of a collaborative effort of scientists, fishers, elected officials, and environmental organizations, all working for the benefit and future of our ocean and its marine life, The MPAs cover approximately 204 mi2 , or about 18%, of state waters within the central coast study region. Thirteen of the 29 are no-take state marine reserves which represent about 85 of the 204 mi2 or about 7.5% of the study region.

December 6, 2008: Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman announces that the south coast from Point Conception to the US-Mexican border will be the third MLPA study region:. Marine protected areas will be identified in the MLPA South Coast Study Region as part of the implementation of California’s Marine Life Protection Act. A timeline has not yet been developed for this study region; however, early in 2008 Secretary Chrisman will appoint a five member Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) that will work with the California Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Applications will be solicited for representation on the statewide interest group (12-15 members), regional shareholder group, and scientific advisory team The BRTF and DFG will appoint the regional stakeholder group to ensure local interests and knowledge play a role in developing MPA proposals for the region. DFG will also name a science advisory team to make use of the best readily available science. Data collection is expected to start in early 2008.

Three aquariums address MPAs with free-choice learning opportunities: With the selection of Southern California’s coast and ocean as the next study region, it is important that the public be informed of opportunities to be part of the process. The Aquarium of the Pacific, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and Ocean Institute have formed a partnership to design strategies and programs to be used to help visitors to our institutions and the general public learn about MPAs and how they can become involved in the selection process. Public input is an important aspect to successful MLPA implementation.

First step in the strategy design—definitions; What you need to know to be able to speak ‘mpaese

MLMA, Marina Life Management Act of 1998. This legislation requires a master plan that will guide the adoption and implementation of a Marine Life Protection Program. Including in the MLMA, (but not in the MLPA), are State Marine Cultural Preservation Area (SMCPA), State Marine Recreational Management Area (SMRMA), and State Water Quality Protection Area (SWQPA).

MLPA, Marine Life Protection Act. The act includes three classifications of MPAs: SMR, SMCA, and SMCRA. Categories of federally designated MPAs do not have the leading letter ‘S’.

  • MPA, Marine Protected Area. Simply defined, MPAs are named, discrete, geographic marine or estuarine areas set aside primarily to sustain and conserve marine life and habitat. Contrary to what many believe, the term MPA is not synonymous with ‘no-take’ (catch, remove, damage, disturb, or interrupt the natural health of a resource); instead, it denotes an array of levels of protection from areas that allow multiple use activities to those that restrict take and/or access. In California non-consumptive activities such as diving, surfing, swimming, and boating are allowed within all of the MPAs, so long as take restrictions are followed.

  • SMR, State Marine Reserve. No take of any living, geological, or cultural resources. Examples: Scorpion Harbor (Santa Cruz
    Island) and Point Lobos SMR

  • SMCA, State Marine Conservation Area. Prohibit specific commercial and/or recreational take of living, geological, or cultural resources on a case-by-case basis. Examples: Point Lobos SMCA where recreational take of salmon and albacore and commercial take of salmon, albacore, and spot prawns are allowed. Anacapa Island: allow recreational take of finfish and commercial and recreational take of spiny lobster allowed .

  • SMCRA, State Marine Conservation Recreation Area. Prohibit commercial take of living, geological, or cultural resources. May allow recreational fishing, hunting of waterfowl, etc. although some restrictions may apply. Examples: Part of Morro Bay

To come: Sustainable fisheries and MPAs. In the meantime, click here for more information about California’s MLPA. For detailed information about the 29 designated MPAs in the Central Coast Study Area, click here.

MLPA, MPA, SMR, SMP, SMCA: Speaking ‘MPAese’
The first MLPA study region, the Central Coast from Pigeon Point to Point Conception. Twenty-nine MPAs were designated.  | Courtesy of NOAA
MLPA, MPA, SMR, SMP, SMCA: Speaking ‘MPAese’
There are 12 MPAs within the Channel Islands, (Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel), covering 142 nmi2. Ten of the 12 are no-take reserves where no fishing or kelp harvesting is allowed. Two are conservation areas that allow limited recreational fishing and commercial lobster trapping.  | Courtesy of California Department of Fish and Game

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