Ocean Currents » mpa http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 George Leonard: I am a Scientist http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:26:57 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13913

As the buzz around alternative facts gets louder and research budgets are slashed, the importance of highlighting the role of science in our lives and the people behind it becomes even more important. Ocean Conservancy is proud to introduce you to our best and brightest scientists through the “I am scientist” series. We hope you will be inspired by people that have an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, a sharp mind that is dogged in its pursuit of facts and a tenacity to find solutions to tackle some of the biggest ocean challenges of our time.

In this kickoff interview, we invite you to get to know George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s Chief Scientist, who spoke to Erin Spencer.

Erin: What science experiment most fascinated you as a kid?

George:  As I kid in the 70’s, I watched every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that came out. One of the most memorable experiments for me took place in the “Sleeping Sharks of Yucatan” where 6-foot-long sharks appeared to sleep in underwater caves with no apparent water flow. Scientists knew at the time that sharks generally had to swim to stay alive. Cousteau and his crew released nontoxic dye in the water near the sharks and observed that these sharks could actually pump water across their gills where no apparent current was present. I thought it was so cool that scientists could do simple experiments like this to learn something new about how the natural undersea world worked. I was hooked by bedtime! And I vowed to get my scuba license as soon as possible, one year later at the age of 13.

Erin:  Who is your scientific hero and why?

George: Nowadays my scientific heroes are marine biologists who play an active and impactful role in society to help people understand and tackle the challenges that our ocean faces.

In many respects, Dr. Jane Lubchenco (former NOAA Administrator) is solely responsible for giving academic scientists the confidence to play leadership roles outside the classroom. She realized that coastal communities and ocean-dependent industries could benefit from a closer relationship between scientists and the people whose livelihoods depend on the very ecosystems that scientists study every day. Seventeen years ago, I worked with her to launch an effort called COMPASS. It was a novel partnership between scientists, a communication agency, a book publisher, and a public aquarium to help scientists step out of what is often called the “ivory tower.” It played a critical role in making marine science more accessible and relevant to people’s lives.

Erin: When did you decide you want to be a scientist?

George: I was always interested in math and science but it took me until I was 23, two years out of college, and working at a financial company in Boston to get to that realization. One day I was at New England Aquarium, looking up at the giant ocean tank when I whispered to myself “This is what I really want to do—I want to study the ocean, how it works, and why it matters.” I went home that night and started looking up information on graduate programs. Within a year, I had moved to California and was diving in the kelp forests off Cannery Row in Monterey, learning how these incredibly beautiful ecosystems functioned and uncovering why a healthy Monterey Bay remains so important to the coastal communities of California today.

Erin: Why, personally, does science matter to you?

George: Science is personal because I see it in nearly everything.  I am writing this from the doctor’s office, where I am picking up a prescription for antibiotics that will beat back an infection which generations ago might have killed me. I drive a car smart enough to sense an impending collision and avert disaster, an engineering marvel founded on a deep appreciation of the fundamental laws of physics. I am able to buy sustainable wild-caught fish at my local fishmonger. Its availability is a direct result of resource managers adhering to a scientifically-determined estimate of how many fish are in the sea and how many can be sustainably caught. I live in a state that is prone to natural disasters, from drought and fire to flood and landslides. Over 200,000 of my fellow residents narrowly averted disaster when flood control engineers took emergency measures to reduce water levels in the Oroville dam last month. High level math and engineering was needed to keep my neighbors safe. And I am proud to say I am part of a community of thoughtful and committed scientists across the West Coast that is working to understand how our changing climate will impact our communities, from residents high in the Sierra Nevada, to farm workers in the agricultural fields of the central valley to the fishermen and coastal residents along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Many aspects of my life wouldn’t be the same without the hard, honest, committed work of scientists. For them, I am deeply grateful.

Erin: What’s the hardest thing about choosing science as a profession?

George: Choosing a career in science isn’t easy but it can deeply rewarding. You need to have a passion for learning and applying that learning from school and through research to solve problems to make the world a better place for all of us. This takes drive, diligence and perseverance. You likely won’t get rich doing it but in many ways, you will live a life of service, which is pretty noble.

Erin: How does your science help people and communities?

George: As Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, I work with a team of experts to develop new knowledge and insights on problems that matter to the oceans and to people and use this information to develop actions that improve the ocean and people at the same time. Everything we do at Ocean Conservancy is founded on a deep understanding of science and respect for the independence of the scientific process, for if we don’t understand the problem objectively, we can’t develop solutions that will work for the long haul.  One of the best examples for me is our work on the establishment of a 1,000 mile long string of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California that is the envy of the rest of the world. Science was the foundation of this work, but it was designed to improve people’s lives too, whether they were a commercial fisherman or a recreational scuba diver. Ten years in the making, California’s MPAs are now delivering: the fish and fishermen are more abundant than ever.

Erin: What is the one thing you would tell a kid interested in science as a career?

George: Ask questions: science is a journey of discovery and the only way to learn new things is to ask questions.  If you find out asking (and answering) questions related to the natural world is fun, then science just might be a career path to you.

Erin: What is your favorite science joke?

George: There isn’t just one; there are books and books of them published by the one and only Gary Larson, who wrote The Far Side for 15 years from 1980 to 1995. You can flip to any page of his books and find yourself having laughed yourself right out of your chair. I didn’t generally think science was humorous until I came across his cartoons in the mid 1980’s when I was in college. While Gary Larson hasn’t published a Far Side cartoon for over 20 years, his work still causes scientists everywhere—including me—to laugh right alongside him.

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Why More Research is Crucial for Protecting the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/12/why-more-research-is-crucial-for-protecting-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/12/why-more-research-is-crucial-for-protecting-the-arctic/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 14:45:51 +0000 Todd Stevenson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11487

The Pacific walrus inhabit many important marine areas across the Arctic and feed at relatively shallow depths on bivalves. Historically walrus have used sea ice as haulout platforms to rest near feeding grounds, but as the Arctic warms and causes sea ice to recede, they are forced to haulout on coastal habitats in unprecedented numbers that has resulted in mass mortality events and higher levels of disease exposure from overcrowding.

Last month I was fortunate to participate in the annual Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway. The Arctic Frontiers is a leading venue for showcasing relevant research on sustainable growth and environmental sustainability in the region.

The conference attracts influential policymakers and leading scholars from the region and beyond. This year, participants presented their work on a variety of subjects, including climate change, environmental stewardship, fisheries, oil and gas, indigenous people’s rights, pollution and many others.

I presented preliminary findings from research I co-led with colleagues from Circumpolar Conservation Union and Portland State University on marine protected areas (MPAs) and maritime vessel activities occurring within important marine areas in the Arctic. There have been a number of global and regional initiatives to identify important biological and ecological marine areas in the Arctic, yet we know very little about what sort of conservation and human activities occur within them.

We investigated the amount of MPA conservation and maritime vessel activities that were occurring within these areas. This is imperative because the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that represents diverse stakeholders on issues central to sustainable development and environmental protection, is increasing their involvement in developing networks of MPAs across the region.

Our preliminary results indicate that MPAs are underrepresented within many important marine areas, and some experience very high levels of maritime vessel activity. This varied based on the season and the type of vessel, such as those involved in fishing or oil/gas transport.

Despite having more than 5,000 MPAs established across the globe, we know very little about how social and ecological elements respond to them in the Arctic. The scientific understanding of MPAs has been disproportionately influenced by research conducted in tropical regions.

The Arctic can learn from science performed elsewhere, but regionally appropriate research and protocols for monitoring MPA effectiveness in the Arctic is needed. For example, many fish larvae disperse and cetaceans migrate over long distances unique to the Arctic, and it’s critical to understand how networks of MPAs can serve those species. The Arctic Council’s heightened interest in developing new MPAs will hopefully result in an investment in MPA research to understand the unique aspects of the region.

Although my Arctic Frontiers talk was one of few (if not the only) on regional MPAs, I suspect future conferences will include new discussions and research on them. MPAs may not completely stem the imminent changes predicted for the Arctic, but they may help maintain some semblance of social and ecological resilience that are regionally and globally imperative.

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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Jeopardizes the Golden Beaches of Our Golden State http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/21/santa-barbara-oil-spill-jeopardizes-the-golden-beaches-of-our-golden-state/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 14:31:14 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10245

When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes:  thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures.  The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.

Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.

All these groups recently worked together tirelessly to set up marine protected areas (MPAs) – despite sometimes intense differences – to protect special places along this coast and to sustain the health of the entire California coastline. Two of the new MPAs, enacted in 2012, are within ten miles of Tuesday’s oil spill and stand threatened by the expanding oil slick. Four MPAs are along the 30 mile coast surrounding the oil spill. Among them, Naples Reef State Marine Conservation Area is a regionally unique pinnacle reef system packed with fish, lobster, anemones, and healthy kelp forests. Next closest to the spill is the Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Area, established to protect and celebrate the coastal culture practiced by Chumash Indians for millennia. These sites are now at risk of damage from this spill.

Oil and gas development has been active along this coast for decades. About 20 oil platforms pump oil offshore and several more rigs operate along this sensitive and productive shore. Though we are told technology has improved since the massive Platform A blowout in 1969, when three million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean, we notice a steady pattern of oil spills, releases and accidents. The pipeline that ruptured Monday was installed to improve safety in replacing a large industrial oil processing facility nearby. Yet today we are seeing blackened beaches and oiled wildlife. Are we properly balancing the value of energy production with the value of clean beaches, fishing, recreation and coastal views?

We know oil and water don’t mix, so it’s crucial to carefully look at the trade-offs between offshore oil and protecting fish, fisheries and beaches. We want to keep the Golden State golden.  

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California Ocean Day, A Little Day with a Big Message: Take Pride in the Ocean! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/21/california-ocean-day-a-little-day-with-a-big-message-vote-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/21/california-ocean-day-a-little-day-with-a-big-message-vote-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7849

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 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/11/5-reasons-to-celebrate-californias-mpas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/11/5-reasons-to-celebrate-californias-mpas/#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2013 15:31:29 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7103

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 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/18/california-delegation-shines-spotlight-on-marine-protected-areas-at-international-conference/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/18/california-delegation-shines-spotlight-on-marine-protected-areas-at-international-conference/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 15:00:53 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6846 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 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/11/noted-scientists-debate-value-of-large-scale-mpas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/11/noted-scientists-debate-value-of-large-scale-mpas/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 16:34:11 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6812

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 OpenChannels.org, 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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