The evening was picture-perfect, a California postcard. There I stood, glass of wine in hand, on a deck at the Santa Cruz Yacht harbor gazing out over a glassy Pacific Ocean.
About 40 local activists from around the Monterey Bay region, including myself, had come together to commemorate and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
For those who have lived along California’s Central Coast for many years, the genesis story of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary is familiar. It has taken on a mythological aspect over time – complete with heroes and villains, plot twists and 11th hour political wheeling and dealing.
Following a classic story arc, the history of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary starts with a terrible disaster, progresses through ups and downs, and culminates with a victorious, happy ending.
After a die-off, pink abalone populations inside of the Isla Natividad marine reserve in Mexico bounced back faster than abalone outside of the marine reserve. Credit: Channel Islands NMS
An exciting new study of pink abalone in Isla Natividad, Mexico sheds light on the ability of marine reserves to make the ocean more resilient to disasters.
Scientists from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station teamed up with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad to study a patch of ocean that was hard hit by two large die-offs related to recent hypoxic events, periods of low dissolved oxygen in the water. They compared fished areas to nearby marine reserves, with startling results: Continue reading »
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.
Today, Enric Sala, National Geographic explorer-in-residence and Ocean Conservancy board member, writes on the importance of these underwater parks to California’s ecology and economy. Writing in the National Geographic NewsWatch blog, Sala notes that protection in Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California, Mexico, resulted in increases in fish size and quantity “more than four-fold with a decade of protection.” These results bode well for California. He continues:
A June 6 decision to implement marine protected areas in northern California establishes the final piece of the state’s network of marine protected areas spanning the length of its 1,100-mile coast. This network includes ecological hot spots like the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, Monterey Bay and La Jolla reef. A pilot system of ocean protected areas established at the Channel Islands off the Santa Barbara coast in 2003 is already resulting in more and bigger lobsters and healthier kelp forests.
Over time, the rewards will continue to multiply. And not just for the fish. Marine protected areas are great for kayakers, divers, bird-watchers, surfers and for fishermen. By protecting areas that fish, sea otters, birds and other ocean wildlife need to feed and breed, sea life can recover. And because fish don’t understand boundary lines, fishermen working in nearby waters reap the benefits too. They are able to catch more and bigger fish than in areas that don’t neighbor reserves.
Let me put it into economic terms: We have historically treated the ocean like a debit account where we keep making withdrawals and never make a deposit. Marine protected areas convert key areas of the ocean into savings accounts. By safeguarding the principal, these areas provide returns for us in terms of social, economic and ecological benefits. And because bigger, older fish have more babies, providing refuge for some of these “big mommas” allows us to reap the benefits of compound interest.
I came to the central coast of California for the oceans. As a native New Englander, I moved here in the early 1990’s to study kelp forests, the undersea equivalent of tropical rainforests, and the amazing diversity of marine life that thrives within and above them. After two decades here, I’ve grown accustomed to the incredible views of nature I see every day; I can forget what it was like to experience them for the first time. This is what drew me to Otter 501, a new film narrated by Katie Pofahl – the way it captures the wonder of the California coast I first experienced almost twenty years ago.
This new film from Sea Studios is more than an introduction to the central coast; it highlights the critical role that sea otters play in California’s oceans and the universal lesson that, if properly protected, nature has a remarkable ability to repair herself. Continue reading »
The south end of the new Double Cone marine reserve on California's Lost Coast. Credit: Kip Evans
It wasn’t until about 3 a.m. that the realization finally sunk in: We’d done it. Not only had the North Coast marine protected area network been formally adopted by the Fish and Game Commission, but California would soon be home to the first comprehensive series of such protections in the nation.
I thought of the rockfish and abalone, sea lions and whales, too many seabirds to name, and how some of those creatures now have safe places to live, breed and thrive. All the hours in meeting rooms, the debates and discussions, all the thousands of emails and phone calls had actually paid off.
California made history June 6 when the Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to adopt a network of marine protected areas for northern California. I want to take this chance to thank you for taking action on this issue; without your messages to the Commission, we may never have gotten here.
The vote marks the completion of the United States’ first statewide network of underwater parks, and a huge step toward long-term environmental and economic health for the coast. As Commissioner Richard Rogers put it: “We are poised to return California’s marine resources to the sustainable abundance we all once enjoyed.” Continue reading »