Just in time for the holidays: new MPAs a gift to Southern California's Seas
Posted December 17, 2010
On December 15th, California’s Fish and Game Commission adopted a network of safe havens for ocean wildlife along the coastline of southern California under the state’s visionary Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The adopted plan—the “Integrated Preferred Alternative” (IPA)—will create the nation’s first network of underwater parks adjacent to a major urban area. These new marine protected areas are designed to help restore and protect some of the most loved—and most heavily used—oceans habitats in all of California.
We need only look at the northern Channel Islands, (where marine reserves have been in place since 2003) for proof that these protected areas work. Scientists who conducted a five-year review of monitoring at the Channel islands testified at the Dec. 15th hearing that they found fish to be larger and more abundant in marine reserves than in fished areas nearby. Recent research shows those benefits are spilling over to surrounding areas. These findings echo those from marine reserves around the world. Unfounded predictions of declines in recreational fishing activity around the islands simply did not occur.
The MLPA planning effort has sparked an outpouring of public support from elected officials, local businesses, community organizations and scientists. Over 30 southern California legislators—Republicans and Democrats—have gone on record supporting a strong conservation plan, reflecting broad popular support for protected areas along the south coast. Long-time fisherman and diver Bill Weinerth has watched as sea life has grown smaller and scarcer along the south coast. “I’m convinced that if we want to pass our fishing traditions on to the next generation, we’ve got to take steps to restore our ocean to health,” he says.
This new network will link with those already established along the central coast, from Mendocino County to Santa Barbara County. The south coast decision brings California close to its historic goal of creating the first biologically-based statewide network of marine protected areas in the nation. The IPA plan reflects public input from nearly 100 open meetings and tens of thousands of public comments.
California’s magnificent underwater habitats—kelp forest nurseries, underwater canyons, corals and sponges, pinnacles and rocky reefs—are every bit as varied and dramatic as those found on land. The MLPA provides our best opportunity to preserve the beauty and bounty of southern California’s iconic ocean places. A well-designed necklace of protected ocean gems can help marine ecosystems thrive for years to come.
The IPA is a very lean network—it has gaps and will provide less protection for ocean ecosystems than a stronger conservation-oriented plan. But the IPA reflects carefully considered compromises, balancing the benefits of protection with the goal of minimizing immediate impacts on people who fish. And it includes biologically rich habitats like Naples Reef, Point Dume underwater canyon, Laguna Beach tide pools and South La Jolla kelp forests. Scientific studies find that safeguarding such “engines of productivity” will help spread the benefits of protected areas beyond their boundaries.
I am proud to say the Commissioners made history on December 15, 2010. All over the world, accessible nearshore areas are the first to be depleted. By creating a comprehensive network of safe havens along its whole coastline, California has chosen to buck that trend and invest in restoration instead. That’s good news for ocean life, and a vital legacy of hope for future generations.
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