Each day, many of us do small things we hope will benefit the ocean. We bring our own coffee mug. We pack our groceries into cloth bags. We wash our cloth napkins in cold water and buy our detergent in bulk. We bring our own to-go containers to the sushi spot – and we always order our fish based on what’s sustainable.
But the ocean is in trouble, and needs more than individual efforts for deepened protection. In California, efforts to restore the state’s depleted fish populations resulted in the Marine Life Protection Act, which passed the legislature back in 1999.
Today, the California network – the first in our nation – finally becomes complete: The North Coast marine protected areas go into effect. From the Oregon border to the Mexican border, the fish, birds, mammals and plants that depend on the dynamic habitats of the California coast now have a series of reserves and conservation areas that will allow their populations to recover where needed and protect them from depletion in the future. Not only is this good for the sea creatures, but a thriving ocean benefits all of California, from the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on healthy fisheries to all aspects of the state’s tourism-dependent economy – people come to California to see the ocean, be awed by the magnificence of migrating whales, explore the glowing tide pools along our beaches, delight in barbecuing lingcod, fresh-caught or bought off the docks.
The Central Coast was finished first in 2007 and includes gems such as Point Arguello, home to tunas and rockfish, and critical for the recovery of southern sea otters. The North Central Coast followed in 2010, establishing greater protection for remarkable places likePoint Reyes, home to 45 percent of North American bird species. South Coast marine protected areas went into effect in 2012, creating safe places for ocean wildlife to thrive in iconic places including Big Sur and La Jolla.
The journey from inception of the Marine Life Protection Act to completion of the state network wasn’t easy, but along the way, we learned. Scientific studies highlighted the importance and success of marine protected areas around the world. Economic analysis helped broker compromise, where necessary, between commercial fishermen and ocean advocates. The state’s relationship with tribal citizens evolved dramatically – particularly in the North Coast, where ensuring historical tribal gathering could continue uninterrupted was a focus of every discussion. Joint efforts between tribal representatives, state elected officials, regional stakeholders and California’s Department of Fish & Game resulted in tribal use being incorporated into marine protected area regulations.
The North Coast is also notable for being the only region where all stakeholders – commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, birders, tribal representatives, conservationists, educators and harbor masters – agreed on a single proposal. Again, along the way, we learned.
The 19 new North Coast underwater parks span from just south of Fort Bragg up to the Oregon border and cover about 13 percent of the region. They include Pyramid Point’s rugged coastline; Point St. George Reef, home to the second largest nesting seabird colony south of Alaska, and waters at the mouth of waterways such as Ten Mile River that are critical for salmon and steelhead populations.
Efforts to solve the ocean’s problems must include the big steps as well as the small – but all matter. Today and in the future, we can celebrate the great achievement of the Marine Life Protection Act by visiting California’s beaches – picnic foods packed in reusable containers, stainless steel water bottles filling our cloth tote bag. And as we relax, we can admire the birds, seals, anemones and other sea life that make our ocean so amazing, and rejoice in the greater protection they’re now provided.