The Blog Aquatic » marine protected area News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Do You Want to Help Make History? Fri, 08 Aug 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Samantha Murray

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

History is about to be made… for the ocean!

Right now, the government is accepting public comments on a proposed plan that would create the world’s largest marine protected area!

Will you take action in support of this plan? We only have until August 15th to submit our comments.

Marine protected areas strongly improve our ocean’s health by fostering vibrant, healthy ocean habitats.

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — about halfway between Hawaii and Australia — the expanded monument would protect a treasure trove of unique and irreplaceable natural resources including:

  • Almost 250 seamounts, or undersea mountains — the majority of which are unexplored.
  • An estimated 14 million seabirds representing 19 species that use these areas as feeding and breeding grounds, including the endangered black-footed albatross and Phoenix petrel.
  • Important habitat for protected species of sea turtles and marine mammals, some of which are critically endangered, like leatherback and green sea turtles, and the sei whale and blue whale.
  • Remarkably rich coral ecosystems, with corals up to 5,000 years old.

In the United States, more than 13 percent of our land has been reserved as protected parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, but the same level of care has yet to be given to our ocean, where only about 3 percent is protected. Our leadership in California resulted in protecting 16 percent of state waters, but there is still work to be done elsewhere.

Please take action today! We need your help.

We know there is opposition to this proposed marine protected area. Special interests are poised to submit thousands of comments against this ocean treasure.

Please take action today before the comment period closes — we only have until August 15th to submit our comments.

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California Ocean Day, A Little Day with a Big Message: Take Pride in the Ocean! Fri, 21 Mar 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Greg Helms

March 24, 2014, marks the seventh annual California Ocean Day, when Californians from all corners of the state flood the capital, Sacramento, to send a unified message: take pride in our ocean! Ocean Conservancy and numerous other organizations – along with dozens of volunteers, college students and passionate citizens – will spend the day meeting with legislators to discuss key ocean-related issues. The goal is to inspire decision-makers to support policies that protect and restore California’s 1,100-mile coastline, the state’s most recognized attraction and home to its richest natural resources.
This year, California Ocean Day will focus on three main topics:

1. Implementing California’s First-of-its-Kind Marine Protected Area Network

California recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its statewide network of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs), or “underwater parks” – the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Fish, shellfish and marine wildlife thrive inside these refuges which help buffer against threats such as pollution, ocean acidification (OA) and sea level rise (SLR). MPAs also boost local tourism and recreation economies, drawing visitors from around the state and the world. You don’t have to wear fins and a mask to enjoy these coastal hot spots. For a glimpse of the activities California’s MPAs offer, check out our video “How Do You MPA?

Working to secure long-term funding for monitoring, enforcement and education will benefit Californians now and for generations to come. You can pledge your support by signing this MPA Champion petition.

2. Tackling Polluted Runoff and Plastic Pollution

Land-based contaminants and plastic debris pour more pollution into coastal waters than any other source. These pollutants negatively impact the health of humans and wildlife and threaten coastal economies and livelihoods. California spends about $420 million each year to clean up the coast.

Check out the top 10 trash items commonly found during coastal cleanup efforts.

You can pledge to fight trash by signing this petition and help combat ocean pollution by participating in a coastal cleanup event.

3. Supporting Research and Planning for Sea Level Rise and Ocean Acidification

In the coming decades, SLR and OA will bring new challenges to coastal communities and sea life. SLR will affect an estimated 480,000 Californians and create $100 billion in property damages and losses. OA, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide emissions, is changing the chemistry of the ocean by making it more acidic. This is harming the ability of some animals – like oysters, clams and mussels – to build the shells necessary for their survival. Some shellfish farmers and harvesters are already starting to see changes. Meet some of the people whose jobs, livelihoods and communities depend on this industry in California by watching this video or clicking through this image gallery.

There’s still a great deal that we need to understand and learn about OA. You can help in this effort by urging your members of Congress to allocate more money for research on OA.

The ocean gives us gifts each and every day. Its abundant resources generate $39 billion annually and more than 472,000 jobs, provide more than 35 million pounds of seafood, and offer priceless amounts of aesthetic and recreational enjoyment. California Ocean Day is a special opportunity to give back to the ocean.

While we wish that all of you could join us in Sacramento, there are ways for you to voice your support for protecting the California coast and the ocean as a whole from your home. Tweet about your favorite ocean and coastal activities using the hashtag #CAOceanPride. We’ve included a few examples below. We look forward to seeing your tweets!

Send a tweet to show your support:

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5 Reasons to Celebrate California’s MPAs Wed, 11 Dec 2013 15:31:29 +0000 Samantha Murray

They grow up so fast! I can’t believe it’s already been a year since California established the first statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). I remember when these special places were just a glimmer in our collective eye—when scientists, fishermen, agencies and conservationists were still flirting with the idea of protecting coastal waters in a string of underwater parks from Mexico to the Oregon border.

And now here we are, one year later, celebrating a first birthday on December 19 and 124 fun reasons to get outside, get in the water and raise a glass to California’s future. Looking forward and looking back, here are some of my favorite reasons to celebrate:

1. Booming business

At a time when the economy is still top of mind for most Americans, California’s MPAs actually protect the jobs of people who rely on the tourism industry. It’s no secret that California’s world-famous coast attracts millions of tourists every year, but what may be news is that California’s ocean economy totals $43 billion. From tourism and recreation to fishing, California’s beaches mean big business. So whether visitors are into tide pooling, bird-watching or kayaking, protected areas draw in new people and enhance their wildlife experience, which means money in the bank for local innkeepers, restaurants and gear shops. Check out our new video, How Do You MPA?, for more activities that get people excited about visiting protected areas.

2. Better surf sessions

MPAs protect all of California’s key habitats, from river mouths and submarine canyons to rocky reefs and kelp forests. Thick coastal kelp canopies mean twin benefits for surfers: They shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, but also protect breaks from the afternoon winds, refining the ocean surface and grooming swells to extend surfing hours. Whether you’re a big wave surfer at Mavericks or just getting your feet wet at Asilomar, there are loads of MPAs to surf in California for almost any level of experience. And the fact that these surf spots are protected means a better chance that you’ll encounter dolphins, harbor seals or sea otters during your session.

3. Wilder diving adventures

Suit up in your finest (and warmest!) neoprene and take the plunge to discover what lies beneath the waves in California’s coastal waters. As one of the oldest MPAs in the state (it was established in 1960, then expanded in 2007), Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is an iconic example of what decades of protection can mean for habitat and wildlife, where wolf eels, lingcod and exotic-looking nudibranchs and anemones set the scene for an adventurous diving experience. Here are 10 California protected areas that offer a spectacular diving and snorkeling experience.

4. More critters

Like our land-based parks (think Yosemite!), California’s marine protected areas enhance our recreational experience while also allowing us to protect the ocean wildlife along our 1,100-mile coastline. Awe-inspiring species like elephant seals, giant sea bass and Garibaldi all stand to benefit from marine protections, and early results from the Channel Islands and Central Coast show that protected areas are already doing their job for species like spiny lobster and some types of rockfish. Check out the top 10 animals you might spot in one of California’s protected areas.

5. Unprecedented public participation

More than 10 years in the making, California’s marine protected areas were designed by the people for the people. Hundreds of fishermen, tribal leaders, divers, surfers, conservationists, business owners and government officials worked to map out protections for their regions. Tens of thousands of people provided input in meetings and through written comments, making this a trailblazing public process. The torch has been passed today, as thousands of volunteer citizen scientists are now monitoring sea life and ocean uses through programs like LiMPETS, MPA Watch and Reef Check.

This continuity of public involvement is certainly something worth celebrating. After all, without all these dedicated ocean lovers, California wouldn’t have a network of protected areas in the first place. With that in mind, I encourage you to pledge your support for the ongoing protection and monitoring of the MPAs by signing this petition. Your continued support will ensure that these places are protected for many anniversaries to come.

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Noted Scientists Debate Value of Large-Scale MPAs Fri, 11 Oct 2013 16:34:11 +0000 Samantha Murray

Credit: Alec Perkins

Two ocean experts went head to head this week over the value and environmental impact of creating large no-take zones – such as Australia’s recently designated 500,000-km2 no-take area in the Coral Sea. They took part in an online debate on Tuesday Oct. 8, which was sponsored by, MPA News, and the EBM Tools Network.

In one corner was Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation biology at York University (UK), who argued that the total environmental impact of large no-take areas is positive.

In the other corner was Ray Hilborn, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, who argued that the total environmental impact of large no-take areas may be negative due to the need to make up food production in another way, either at sea or on land.

“Imagine we closed all the oceans to fishing,” opened Hilborn. “If 80 million tons of lost fish production was made up by chopping down rain forest to grow cattle, I think the global environment would be worse off.” Hilborn’s main argument throughout the debate was that making up ocean food production elsewhere would be environmentally damaging.

The problem with this rationale is that no one is proposing closing the entire ocean to fishing. Most scientists who support marine protected areas (MPAs) believe the right percentage is somewhere between 20-30% of no-take areas in our ocean.

In fact, most large MPAs are being proposed in remote places with little fishing. Roberts astutely pointed out that these MPAs actually ‘cost’ very little in terms of lost fishing yield. He went on to estimate that, for 10% cover of very large MPAs, he would expect a short-term loss of about 0.1% to 1% production. So a large MPA does not necessarily mean increased reliance on terrestrial sources of protein, such as beef.

This is why, regardless of size, when looking at MPAs we have to be careful in making assumptions about the correlation between the amount of ocean that restricts fishing and the amount of lost fishing opportunities. Location matters and so do factors like habitat type and existing uses. While some fishermen may need to hang up their gear if an important fishing spot gets closed and there are no alternatives, most fishermen tend to be opportunistic and fish in other nearby places when new protections take effect.

So why designate large MPAs if they’re not being fished anyway? Large protected areas in more remote locations ensure that the marine life inside will continue to thrive into the future, regardless of advances in fishing technology and gear. Meanwhile, scientific research from around the world has shown that marine reserves in more heavily used areas can increase the production of fish – and lead to long-term benefits both for marine wildlife and for fishermen.

A smart global MPA policy would therefore mean setting aside a mix of larger protected areas in these remote places, along with complementary smaller reserves in more heavily used locales that have enhanced recovery potential, like those in California.

Of course the protections need to be real – we can’t just create MPAs and walk away. Implementation, monitoring and enforcement are at least as important as the designation itself. That’s why California—and thousands of volunteers who are committed to the health of their local MPAs—is dedicated to the long-term implementation and monitoring of its MPAs.

For more information, check out the transcript of this debate, along with the comments and questions of the more than 700 people who participated as audience members.

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Kayaking in Humboldt Bay’s Newly Protected Area Fri, 28 Jun 2013 19:08:16 +0000 Jennifer Savage

Humboldt Bay invites exploration. From the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary on the north end to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the south, animal life abounds.

In the middle of the bay, two islands stand tall: Indian Island, the traditional center of the Wiyot people’s world, and Woodley Island, home to a marina that includes HumBoats, where kayaks and stand-up paddleboard rentals provide means to discover the bay.

In the northern end, kayakers and rowers regularly glide between oyster farmers and fishermen. Down in the southern end, more mystery exists – especially where a square off the bay’s southern peninsula was designated as a marine protected area in December 2012.

Read more at California’s Redwood Coast Blog.


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Good News: Protecting the Ocean Pays Off Tue, 23 Apr 2013 12:29:37 +0000 Paul Hobi

Bait ball around kelp in Channel Islands

Around the world, people are discovering that protection of the ocean in coastal areas makes sense both for the environment and the economy. Marine reserves, much like the network that was just completed off of the coast of California have been highly beneficial to local economies, sometimes in as little as five years.

Evidence of these positive results was recently published by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and Ocean Conservancy Board Member, Enric Sala and seven colleagues in a study entitled, “A General Business Model for Marine Reserves.” The study shows that protecting biodiversity can create economic benefits through increased tourism, enhanced fisheries value and/or maintenance of ecosystem services.

Among the numerous findings, Sala noted that “what we showed with the modeling is that a reserve’s value can be greater than its pre-reserve value in as little as five years. So reserves not only have ecological benefits in terms of protecting biodiversity, but they are also a good business.”

Such conservation – conservation that’s good for business – should be replicated elsewhere. With that in mind, Sala proposes a general framework that can be adapted to local contexts. In his interview with Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic, Sala recommends that communities considering marine reserves should:

Ask what are the costs of a reserve, which are costs of management and opportunity cost (typically, loss of fishing revenue). Then you expect to have some increased revenue in fishing in the area in a few years and increase in tourism. So you can put together a business plan with projected cash flows.

Though Sala did not use California’s marine reserves as part of his study, similar research here has shown that reserves have benefitted both fisheries and tourism throughout the California coast. For Example, the Channel Islands’ fully protected marine reserves cover 21 percent of the Islands’ waters and were established in 2003.  Researchers found the value of tourism and recreational fishing has increased each year in the Islands since the reserves were created. Meanwhile, commercial landings for some of the largest fisheries in Islands waters – squid, urchin, lobster and crab – also increased.

Further north at the marine protected areas (MPAs) on the Central Coast, researchers found that after five years, protected areas have seen an increase in both total and average individual revenue for the region’s commercial fishermen, in conjunction with an increase in economically important species like cabezon, lingcod and black rockfish. Such increases in fishing revenue following the creation of these reserves are highly encouraging whether they can be attributed to the completion of the MPAs or not.

The tourism industry on the Central coast has seen economic benefits as well. For instance, charter boat operators conducting non-fishing activities in the region report that MPAs are having a positive impact on their businesses, through increased recreational diving and research charters.

Around the world, numerous studies of marine reserves echo the results that are being seen on the Central Coast: no-take reserves benefit protected ecosystems in terms of increased species size, density and diversity.  With these results in mind, Sala is right to say that the time has come that we “move away from the view that it is either conservation or development. Actually, we show that they go hand in hand.” Instead, we should start viewing protection of ocean ecosystems as smart for both the environment and the economy.


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Hector’s Dolphins Make Unlikely Comeback Thu, 26 Apr 2012 15:03:04 +0000 Jennifer Savage

The distinctive-looking Hector's dolphins are New Zealand's only endemic cetacean. Credit: NOAA

All over the world, marine protected areas do exactly what they’re supposed to  – a superior job of keeping sea creatures safe from harm. Good news, but what’s particularly exciting is a new study showing that marine protected areas improve survival for marine mammals.

For 21 years, ecologists in New Zealand studied a marine protected area near Christchurch. The area provides shelter for one of the rarest dolphin species in the world, Hector’s dolphins. These small dolphins boast distinctive black-and-white markings and an unusually rounded dorsal fins. They’re also notable for a sadder reason – once hunted as “bait”, often tangled in gillnets, currently threatened by pollution, the Hector’s dolphin population has dwindled to a fraction of what it once was.

But like the nickname “hope spots“ suggests, optimism for the species’ survival springs anew. The study results showed that since the marine protected area was designated, a significant shift has occurred: instead of continued decline, the Hector’s dolphin population has notably increased. Study author Dr. Liz Slooten noted, “This study provides the first empirical evidence that Marine Protected Areas are effective in protecting threatened marine mammals.”

This is a bright moment for dolphins, whales and pinnipeds everywhere. In California, for example, many of our new marine protected areas assure a place of refuge for not only fish, but for whales, dolphins, sea lions and seals. Some of the recently created ocean parks encompass feeding, resting and breeding grounds with the goal of reducing competition for food, disturbance (from noise and lights of fishing boats) and reducing entanglement risks in those key areas:

1. The Farallon Islands are most notorious for the great white sharks concentrated in nearby waters – but it’s the fact that the Farallons are home to the largest marine mammal colonies in the continental United States south of Alaska that brings the great whites to the area. Despite recognition from past presidents and the United Nations, only a small portion of the islands were actually protected.  Now, over 25 percent of the coastal waters off the Farallon Islands enjoy complete protection all year round.

2. A deepwater canyon within Monterey Bay provides a feeding ground for whales. Soquel Canyon has also historically served as place spot prawn trappers would drop their traps. This combination increased the risk of whales tangling in the trap lines – a risk diminished by the establishment of a marine protected area in the region.

3. South of San Francisco, Año Nuevo draws thousands of tourists keen to see the breeding elephant seals. About 2,000 pups are born in Año Nuevo each year – a vast improvement for a species hunted to near-extinction during the 1800s. To ensure their continued recovery, a marine protected area was sited near the elephant seals’ haulout location to reduce risk of entanglement and disturbance from fishing boats.


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