Information on Marine Protected Areas

Photo credit (above): marcomazza photography

 Lead: Fischer Marcus 

This page is Dedicated to Marine Protected Areas in Southern California. Various resources are made available alongside information gained through interviewing researchers in the field. I have assembled and collected material to be posted with the hopes of educating people on what MPAs are and why we are to observe them. Throughout this project, I have asked myself the question, “what would it look like to walk alongside the earth, rather than on top of it?” I hope you enjoy it.

Since the creation of California Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 1999, The Marine Life Protection Act allowed California to designate regions of coastal areas to be protected from fishermen. At first glance, it is a frustration to fellow fisherman since one cannot fish these regions, but upon closer examination, MPAs are an important part in maintaining healthy fisheries in our backyards.

MPAs aim to help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life. Fishing can disrupt marine environments due to the overfishing of economic valued species like the California Spiny Lobster. In addition, MPAs are only created to be protected for a certain period of time with hopes of generating an improved recreational environment, and giving educational and study opportunities. The goals of MPAs can be achieved only if there is minimal human disturbance to these regions. It is our job to observe the regulations for the health of these areas.
More Information about overview of MPAs

MPAs are monitored and largely funded by the California Ocean Protection Council which is committed to making sure California “Maintains healthy, resilient, and productive ocean and coastal ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. The OPC is committed to basing its decisions and actions on the best available science, and to promoting the use of science among all entities involved in the management of ocean resources.”  On the OPC site, they host frequency teleconferences to update and inform the public with their dealings.
More Information on the OPC

Photo credit (above): marcomazza photography

The Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research (SBC LTER) is a community of researchers within UCSB that is dedicated to conduct research on MPAs in the area. Their work for the past 40 years is available to the public with the hopes of communicating the importance of their efforts. Specifically, their work looks at the data regarding the ecology of coastal ecosystems. The SBC LTER has conducted a study since 2018 that looks at factors that influence the kelp forests. Until 2024, they are committed to figuring out how to best protect these Giant Kelp forests. Their research is made available to be taught in classrooms at all levels ranging from K-8 classes to graduate level courses. They hope that the conclusions of their study is made available to students at all levels. | More Information on SBC LTER

Kelp forests are a foundational species that help provide habitats for other fish species. They are pivotal, deemed important because they protect other species, allowing biodiversity to the region. In the Goleta MPA, Giant Kelp are the dominant species which hold an abundance of fish species due to combination of cold and warm water climates. They are the focal point of many research projects, because if they are protected, so are many other fish species. | More Information on California Kelp Forests

Kelp forest photo |

In a study conducted by SBC LTER, they concluded that, “Analyses of our long term ecological data revealed that giant kelp and the majority of associated species did not decline in response to this extreme warming event and in fact remained within the range recorded in prior years (Reed et al. 2016). This study is an example of one of the many efforts the SBC LTER takes in order to understand the relationships between natural and human impacts on species like the Giant Kelp. | The Entire Project by the SBC LTER

A simple strategy MPAs use is creating “no take” areas which restrict any fish or organism to be taken from its habitat. Dr. Hunter S. Lenihan indicates that Lobsters benefit most from this as they are able to grow population relatively quickly. After 15 years, Lobster populations have noted to quadrupled in abundance according to Dr. Lenihan. He suggested that this is because the lobsters are mobile and can utilize the protection of the MPA. As a result, a spillover effect is observed where the lobster will move into non-protected areas, allowing them to be caught. This is an example of how MPAs can help cultivate a breeding site for species to reproduce without disturbance, which can lead to a much more sustainable fishery.

Photo credit (above): marcomazza photography

According to Dr. Kerry Nichols, climate change greatly impacts Marine protected areas. Specially, research is conducted to examine habitats that have been stressed due to climate change. One objective of MPAs is to place regulations to help reduce climate change’s effects. In a study connected by a group of scientists, including Dr. Nichols, they look at climate effects on MPAs water pH and how well species hold up in the acidification process. Specifically, they examine the complexity of a habitat’s resilience despite an influx in the acidification of the water. This study aims to understand how science and conservation can aid in the process of protection of the area from natural and human effects.  | More information on this study can be found here.

When looking to the future of Caifrnia’s MPAs, two things have been on the minds of researchers. First, management should be restricted to fewer agencies, with an emphasis on follow through to encourage more frequent assessment by a Blue Panel of scientists. The thought here is to have a formalized system that operates the MPAs. Too many agencies leads to lack of communication. Second, the other hope is to  establish a more frequent monitoring and assessments of MPAs. This is needed in order to produce effective and reliable research. With proper funding from OPC and other donors, MPAs will continue to serve as a vital resource to our local water.

Recognizing that MPAs help fisheries, we need to do our part and respect the reserves. This means following through to obeying these “no take” areas. To play an active role in the protection of MPAs, Call this number to report any poaching or illegal activity in our local MPAs. call 1-888-334-CalTIP (888-334-2258)

For MPA map

About the Author:
My name is Fischer Marcus. I am a student who loves fly fishing and protecting fisheries. I am a firm believer in stewarding our local waters well. While working at The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, I gained a love and appreciation for the body of water in my back backyard. Through education of protected waters, I have been able to better understand the complex beauty that is held just beneath the surface.