It’s no surprise that California’s new ocean parks protect vital marine wildlife and habitat – that’s what they’re designed to do. The new system of underwater protected areas is also intended to improve recreational and study opportunities. Now an innovative volunteer partnership confirms that from Los Angeles to the Central Coast, California’s Marine Protected Areas are providing a popular playground for surfing, swimming, scuba diving and other beach activities. As Center for a Blue Economy Director Jason Scorse pointed out recently, this access to natural beauty is also one of California’s greatest economic strengths.
“Once we rounded Point Vicente, there was a surprising amount of action on the water. Within our monitoring transect we spotted passenger boats underway and several urchin fishing boats anchored outside of the MPAs, along the edge of the ever-expanding kelp paddys…”
Over a 15-month span, about 200 volunteers with the Monterey, California-based organization Otter Project compiled over 2,000 reports assessing coastal use from Año Nuevo to San Luis Obispo, County. Citizen volunteer monitors observed that the vast majority of beach goers are appreciating and preserving the biodiversity of the protected areas. The monitoring project was inspired by the implementation of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, a 1999 law calling for the redesign of the state’s marine protected areas. While nearly all the observations are made from land, some volunteers take to the sea, as well.
In June, the Fish & Game Commission adopted the last portion of the statewide network, making California the first state in the nation to have such comprehensive ocean protection. By joining together, volunteer monitors help ensure that human uses within the individual ocean parks are documented, building a multipurpose data bank to inform future management.
Related projects continue on the South Coast as well.
Heal the Bay kicked off an MPA Watch pilot program last year in Malibu, then expanded it to Palos Verdes this past spring. Similarly Santa Monica Baykeeper runs a concurrent MPA Watch program. Volunteers are trained to observe and collect unbiased data on coastal and marine resource use, then put that training to use in the field, combining a love of the beach and ocean with a desire to collect valuable scientific data. Southern California residents interested in getting involved can attend a training workshop on Tuesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. or Saturday, July 28 at 10 a.m.
Santa Barbara Coastkeeper will also hold trainings. Call (805) 563-3377 for more information.
Data from the surveys is available online in spreadsheets and maps through The Otter Project.