The Blog Aquatic » mpa News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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California Delegation Shines Spotlight on Marine Protected Areas at International Conference Fri, 18 Oct 2013 15:00:53 +0000 Samantha Murray Aerial view of San Miguel Island of the Channel Islands, California

Photo: Jonathan Hubbell / Photo Contest 2011

This blog originally appeared on Surfrider’s Coastal Blog and was authored by:  Samantha Murray of Ocean Conservancy, Sarah Sikich of Heal the Bay and Stefanie Sekich-Quinn of Surfrider.

If you’ve been lucky enough to go for a dive, surf or kayak at the Channel Islands, it’s hard not to be captivated by the cathedral kelp forests, large fish cruising the reef and clean waves breaking under your surfboard. These islands, along with special places throughout the entire California coast, enjoy protections that allow the marine wildlife inside to thrive.

Like underwater parks, the marine protected areas (MPAs for short) here act as safe havens for marine life and giant kelp forests that call southern California’s coastline home. And the good news is that globally, MPAs are on the rise. There are over 6,000 MPAs worldwide, yet less than 2 percent of our ocean is protected.

Next week, ocean scientists, policymakers, leaders and conservation professionals will be convening in France to share ideas about how to foster MPA effectiveness around the world at the 2013 International Marine Protected Areas Congress. And California’s story will be among those in the fold.

A delegation of California ocean leaders will be speaking about California’s MPAs and showcasing the Marine Life Protection Act as a model for public engagement and science integration in MPA design, as well as soaking up global MPA stories from around the world.

We wish our suitcases were big enough to bring all of California’s MPA stewards with us! Unfortunately that’s not the case, so we look forward to bringing the Congress to you virtually. Check out this WebTV link to catch live streaming of the plenary sessions and other Congress happenings.

You can join the conversation by following us on Twitter and Instagram to read daily blogs, see photos and video, and learn about how communities are building MPAs around the world.

Next time you submerge in a California MPA to enjoy the majestic kelp forest, just think that at the same time someone else might be enjoying the corals along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, whale sharks in Mozambique or diving iguanas in the Galapagos.

By listening to stories from MPAs around the world, we hope to learn how we can be better stewards of our local underwater parks. And by sharing our California stories with a global audience, we may even teach a few lessons of our own, helping to advance the goal of enhanced MPAs worldwide.

Read more perspectives on why Surfrider thinks MPAs are not only good for ocean ecosystems, but also for recreation here and here.

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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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Protecting the Ocean: How Does Your State Measure Up? Thu, 30 May 2013 20:27:37 +0000 Jennifer Savage

Northern California’s Lost Coast boasts three no-take reserves.

How well is your state protecting the ocean? If you live in Hawaii, you’re far ahead of the rest of us. If you live in California or the U.S. Virgin Islands, at least you have something to point to. But overall, as a new scientific ranking of states’ ocean protection shows, most have not taken adequate measures to defend America’s marine life. The report was issued by two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, and is the first-ever quantitative ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters.

SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? measures how much of a state’s waters have safeguards against overfishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses. No-take marine reserves, in particular, get high marks for allowing ecosystems and related marine life to prosper. According to many marine scientists, as much as 20 percent of state waters should be set aside for the best results – currently, Hawaii is the only state in the country to have met that goal.

Marine protected areas don’t just create a safe place for fish to thrive – they ensure that coastal economies have a chance of remaining strong and serve to strengthen resiliency to sea level rise. When looking at the numbers, it’s clear that failing to protect enough ocean isn’t just a problem for states along the county’s edge. According to SeaStates, coastal counties include only 5.71 percent of the area in the lower 48 states but generate 35.54 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

That means that the 15 coastal states that lack any no-take areas could better serve their marine ecosystems and their local economies by protecting some of their waters.

“Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals, or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected. But most states in this report get a score of zero and only a handful are protecting even 1%. That’s not good enough when our oceans are facing grave threats like overfishing and pollution. America’s oceans and people deserve better,” says Dr. Sylvia Earle, president of Mission Blue. “The United States has a long way to go if we want to be a world-leader in marine conservation.”

Full report here.

Popular support for marine protected areas in California helped fully protect over eight percent of state waters. Hawaii is currently the only state to meet the scientifically recommended goal of 20 percent – most coastal states have none.


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Fishing for Data: How a Day on the Water is Aiding Scientific Success Thu, 28 Feb 2013 21:29:40 +0000 Paul Hobi

Credit — Kip Evans

When volunteer anglers aboard the Huli Cat bait a hook trying to catch a rockfish, they’re not just fishing – they’re helping researchers learn more about California’s underwater parks. Recreational fishermen, SCUBA divers, PhD scientists and graduate students are working together to study California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), and results from their studies are being presented this week in Monterey.

Five years ago, California completed its network of MPAs on California’s central coast. This anniversary is being marked with the State of the California Central Coast Symposium, which brings together scientists, resource managers, policy makers, fishermen and conservationists to learn about new findings from dozens of monitoring efforts and discuss perspectives on MPA management.

Early results suggest that the reserves are on track, allowing fish like cabezon and lingcod to grow larger and more abundant inside MPAs, with habitats that are more biologically productive. This, along with steadily increasing revenues for fishermen, is good news for the Central Coast MPAs. However, researchers stress that these first five years of study are meant to create a baseline: a barometer of ecological health against which future MPA performance can be measured. So, how exactly are these reserves being studied? It turns out that monitoring is both sophisticated and wonderfully simple.

One great example of this is Dr. Rick Starr’s California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP), which uses local charter fishing boats to monitor four MPAs. Volunteer anglers from the local fishing community team up with graduate students by fishing for rockfish while painstakingly recording the weight and species of every fish they catch and release. They’ve caught over 40,000 fish in the past five years, and have noted how great the fishing is by the relative abundance of some species inside the MPAs.

Another monitoring project is Reef Check, which teams PhD researchers up with citizen scientists who strap on SCUBA gear to survey shallow and deep rocky habitats, kelp forests, rocky shores, estuaries, beaches and other key ecosystems along the central coast. They monitor ecologically and economically important species of fishes and invertebrates, and human activities including fishing and recreational use.

One consistent theme in these studies is that citizens of the coast are vital to the success of the marine reserves. Volunteers have been involved in scores of monitoring and outreach projects. Citizen science efforts like MPA Watch have trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor beach and coastal use in and around protected areas like Natural Bridges and Año Nuevo.

Save Our Shores’ Dockwalker program is another great example of an organization working with coastal citizens to help the MPAs. The Dockwalker program shares information with boaters and fishermen about MPAs, and conducts ocean protection workshops in local schools. In turn, schools are making visits to the underwater parks part of their outdoor education program, because in addition to enabling kids to watch wildlife in nature, many now feature full-color educational interpretive displays and instructor programs.

From school children looking to learn more about marine life to fishermen looking to catch more fish, California’s new marine protected areas are an investment in the future. By studying them with the assistance of citizen volunteers, we are learning about the full range of benefits they provide to marine ecosystems, and becoming better stewards of these places in the process.

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Protecting Fish is Good for Business: How a Florida Study Bodes Well for California Mon, 11 Feb 2013 23:12:29 +0000 Samantha Murray

A school of blue tang — NOAA

According to NOAA’s new study on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, protecting fish is in everyone’s best interest.

The 151-square nautical mile reserve was established in 2001 to protect overfished species. According to Science Daily, the protections have boosted fish populations, with bigger and more abundant yellowtail, mutton snapper and black and red grouper appearing within the reserve. These results are consistent with findings marine reserves around the world, which find again and again that the size, abundance and diversity of marine life increase inside fully protected marine reserves.

The biggest news for resource managers, however, is the socioeconomic implications. The new study finds that commercial catches of reef fish in the region have increased along with the fish population increases, and that neither commercial nor recreational fishermen have experienced financial loss as a result of the reserve.

Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent, told Science Daily:

“This research shows that marine reserves and economically viable fishing industries can coexist/ The health of our economy is tied to the health of our oceans. They are not mutually exclusive.”

This is good news for California, where extensive collaboration between commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, scientists and conservationists recently resulted in the completion of a statewide network of marine protected areas, including fully protected reserves. This study provides an encouraging outlook for the ability of marine protected areas to boost fish populations, while also benefitting local fishing communities.

Later this month, a symposium in Monterey, CA will gather scientists, resource managers and stakeholders to share research and baseline monitoring results on the Central Coast marine protected areas that have been in place for five years. We are hopeful that early findings will suggest similar success for both fish and fishermen.

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