The Blog Aquatic » underwater parks News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Marine Protected Areas Around the Globe: Looking Back, Moving Forward and Sharing Recipes Mon, 04 Nov 2013 18:00:08 +0000 Samantha Murray bouillabaisse med roulle

Photo: cyclonebill via Flickr

I’ve recently returned from the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France. The experience of meeting so many different kinds of people, all equally passionate about the ocean, has inspired me. It’s planted a desire to follow up and exchange marine protected area stories—and recipes—from California with those from around the world.

To that end, please join me this Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 2-3 p.m. PST for a lively and fun Twitter Party, where you can share the global MPA stories you heard at IMPAC3. Missed the Congress? No problem—we’d like to hear your thoughts about MPAs, even if you weren’t there. Follow @ThePacificOcean, @OurOcean and @HealTheBay, or #MPAsWork to join the conversation (and win prizes!) this Wednesday.

Sarah Sikich (Heal the Bay) and I (Ocean Conservancy) will be leading the party, but it’s largely driven by participants. Topics will include: our evolving need to understand MPAs over the last decade, Sylvia Earle’s 50 Hope Spots, the value of urban MPAs, the issue of large MPAs and quantity versus quality, our shared MPA lessons from around the world and, of course, where we go from here.

That last issue is particularly exciting: how do we take what we’ve learned, distill it down to something instructive and move forward together? Well, just like a perfect Marseille bouillabaisse, there are a few essential ingredients that must be assembled to design and implement the best MPA in the world.

The first thing the classic Provençal dish requires is a good, local recipe. Everyone does it a little differently, and it’s important to respect local culture. This holds true for MPAs as well. Write something down—a mandate if you can get it—that lays out clear goals and objectives for your specific marine protected area.

Next, start with a long, slow simmer of local Mediterranean fish, spices and herbs. Likewise for your MPA, start with a local stakeholder simmer, though in this case it might be more like a slow stew—at least at first. Get fishermen and tribes and divers and everyone else who cares about the ocean involved early to think about setting up the new protections. Arm them with clear science guidelines to bookend the conversation and ensure the outcome follows the recipe closely enough to meet the goals of the MPA.

The perfect Marseille bouillabaisse requires fresh fish of certain types, from the firm-fleshed to the gelatinous to the shellfish. Likewise, the quality of what’s protected by your MPA, not just the square mileage, is important. Protection needs to include specific habitats—like rocky reef, bull kelp or deep submarine canyon—that will best benefit marine life.

Overall, it’s best to keep the fish stew simple. Don’t go experimenting with new flavors or convoluted ways to accommodate individual dietary restrictions. Likewise, create an MPA with simple rules. No-take areas are by far the easiest to understand and enforce. After that, tinkering with the rules can degrade the integrity of the overall outcome.

It’s important to note that the process doesn’t end when the stew is cooked! The way you serve and eat this delicacy is at least as important as the way you’ve made it. Similarly, an MPA effort mustn’t end once protections are created. Implementation is at least as important as adoption, and follow-through is of paramount importance. This includes education, to enhance MPA compliance among fishermen and local communities, and monitoring, to learn how your MPA is working. Engaging partners like citizens, tribes and fishermen in both enforcement and monitoring efforts is a great way to ensure your MPA has the stewardship necessary for the long haul.

The French dish is traditionally served with a side of croutons that are meant to be individually rubbed with fresh garlic and dipped in a mayonnaise-like rouille by the diner. If you’re new to the process, that may seem complicated, so if you see someone sitting next to you who doesn’t know how to eat it properly, help them out. Similarly, it’s crucial to help ocean users and decision-makers understand the new MPA, especially in the beginning. Signs and maps help people understand new regulations, and outreach to managers will help them integrate the new protections into future coastal and ocean management decisions so that the MPA can be enjoyed to its maximum benefit.

In the end, securing a science-based MPA with local community support and the stamina to stand the test of time follows a fairly simple recipe.  I hope these lessons, largely taken from last month’s Congress, can be applied by others.

Agree or disagree with this recipe for the best marine protected area (and bouillabaisse) in the world? Join us on Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. PST for our MPA Twitter Party to share your thoughts.

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California Underwater Parks Day is January 19th Thu, 17 Jan 2013 16:00:50 +0000 Paul Hobi

Credit: NOAA

The first month of the year is perhaps the best time to experience California’s ocean at its finest – which is why the 5th Annual Underwater Parks Day on Saturday, January 19th is a great reason to hit the coast and enjoy one of over 100 new underwater parks, which protect entire ecosystems at iconic coastal areas such as La Jolla, Point Reyes, and Point Lobos. To find an event near you, we’ve included a full schedule of events by region linked below.

It’s already been a busy month for California’s new underwater parks. Grey whales are traveling south along the coast to lagoons in Baja, California where they will give birth to calves. Some preemies and their mothers are already showing up off the coast of Los Angeles and San Diego, delighting whale watchers.

Further north, in Piedras Blancas and Año Nuevo State Park’s marine protected areas, male elephant seals are engaging in their spectacular, violent mating rituals, while females are giving birth to a new generation of pups. Friends of the Elephant Seal and Año Nuevo State Park docents offer guided tours of the action to visitors, who should use extreme caution and approach seals only with the assistance of a guide. Can’t make it to the beach to see the action? Check out a slideshow of mothers and their new pups at Año Nuevo.

Stewards of the state’s underwater parks have planned activities and celebrations throughout the California coast at state beaches, aquaria, and nature centers, which are perfect for kids and adults to enjoy a day surrounded by sea life and learn more about the benefits of protecting California’s prime ocean habitats. Before you head out, don’t forget to check out our tips for watching wildlife to make sure everyone (including the animals!) stay safe.

Southern California Events
(San Diego to Santa Barbara)
Central California Events (Morro Bay to Santa Cruz)
Northern California Events (San Francisco to Arcata).

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Celebrating a Big Week for California Coasts Fri, 21 Dec 2012 17:59:20 +0000 Sarah van Schagen Marin headlands shoreline and Golden Gate Bridge

Penny Harmeyer, Photo Contest 2011

California coasts—and all of the wildlife and people who enjoy them—are having “the best week ever.”

North Coast protected areas go into effect

Earlier this week, we celebrated the official completion of California’s statewide network of underwater parks—the first in the nation—as the North Coast marine protected areas went into effect.

As our own Jennifer Savage wrote, earlier in the week, this completed network marks the culmination of many years’ work, and protected areas will go a long way toward ensuring that ocean wildlife can thrive:

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 …

Sea otter restrictions lifted in California waters

California’s conservation victories continued this week with news that the “otter-free zone” off the coast of California is being eliminated, allowing sea otters to swim freely throughout the region.

Allowing these important predators to expand into and migrate through the nearshore environment will result in real ecosystem benefits, says Lilian Carswell of the National Fish and Wildlife Service. “It gives a richness and integrity to our natural system.”

President Obama to expand national marine sanctuaries

And finally, in a triple-win for the coastal state, President Obama announced plans to expand two of California’s national marine sanctuaries and permanently ban oil drilling along more than 50 miles of Northern California coast.

The proposed expansion will more than double the size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries, enlarging them by 2,771 square miles.

“This area is a national treasure,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, who led sanctuary expansion efforts. “It needs and it deserves permanent protection from oil and gas exploration.”

The sanctuary expansion effort is expected to take up to two years to complete.

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Sunset Magazine Calls California’s New Ocean Parks “A String of Pearls” Tue, 16 Oct 2012 18:56:47 +0000 Jennifer Savage

One of Southern California’s most renowned dive and snorkel sites, La Jolla Cove’s protected area has recently been expanded.

Globally, marine protected areas aren’t new — but they are news! And in California, the first state to adopt a network along its entire coastline, residents and visitors alike are exploring these fabulous ocean parks. Sunset magazine recently took note:

A new park system is being formed—but not where you think. It’s underwater. And in 100 years, this could be viewed the way the establishment of our national parks is seen today. In 2012, California will complete the nation’s first-ever statewide network of marine protected areas, which will preserve kelp forests, reefs, and tidepools in sanctuaries scattered down the coast like a string of pearls, maintaining them for divers and kayakers as well. Iconic spots like Cape Mendocino and the Point Reyes Headlands will get new safeguards, and docents are even being trained to give tours. Other states are catching on too—and we hope this means our entire coast will be protected in the years to come.

Download the Sunset Magazine PDF here.

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Celebrating 40 Years of Making the Ocean Matter Fri, 07 Sep 2012 16:00:59 +0000 Janis Searles Jones coral reef with 40th anniversary logo

Photo: Gloria Freund, Photo Contest 2011

Today Ocean Conservancy turns 40 years old. That’s quite the milestone when you think about how we got started. (View a slideshow of our history.)

Founded in the midst of the nascent environmental movement in 1972, Ocean Conservancy began as a small organization focused on securing grants for environmental educators. Now we are recognized as a leader in empowering citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean.

For 40 years, Ocean Conservancy has found success by relying upon science to inform our work and partnering with unexpected allies ranging from fishing communities to major businesses to a global network of volunteers. However, there is still much work to be done.

We are witnesses to a complex world, where we must engage competing ocean interests, restore important habitats and confront the reality that our ocean is changing rapidly. If we hope to protect the planet’s valuable marine resources in the decades to come, we must work together to ensure that the things we all love about the ocean – wildlife like whales, dolphins and seabirds; the beaches we roam; the waves we surf and sail; and the seafood we enjoy – are protected.

Now that Ocean Conservancy is celebrating 40 years of making the ocean matter, we are building a vision for the next four decades.

When we think about the ocean in 2050, we imagine our nation’s fisheries and coastal economies thriving and sustainable, supporting well-paying jobs, providing for recreation and supplying the world with healthy seafood.

We believe our goal of trash free seas will become a reality and that solutions-focused partnerships with industry, government, science and conservation leaders will create a culture in which trash is too valuable to toss.

Our future ocean includes a revitalized Gulf of Mexico region, restored in earnest after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and an Arctic that is vibrant because we took the time to use sound science to make smart decisions about offshore drilling and other uses. The vital coastal communities of the West Coast will be flourishing and our underwater parks off the coast of California will be robust with life after being protected for decades.

When it comes to making decisions about our shared ocean, we envision a future where stakeholders play an important role in a comprehensive planning process that helps avoid conflict and conserves precious resources. We foresee our decision-makers being influenced by unwavering public support for ocean health and making science-based conservation a priority.

We truly believe this vision for a healthy ocean in 2050 is achievable, but only with your continued support. I invite you to share with us your own vision for a more prosperous and beautiful ocean. What does your ocean look like in 40 years?

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Researchers Find Resilience Inside Marine Reserves Fri, 27 Jul 2012 18:12:57 +0000 Paul Hobi

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:

“The study revealed that after a mass mortality of marine life in the waters off Baja California, Mexico, egg production of pink abalones in the marine reserves increased 40 percent while being cut in half in fished areas…a significant amount of larvae spilled over into unprotected areas open to fishing, which helped them rebound more quickly.”

So, not only did the marine reserve help the recovery of abalone inside the reserve, it helped abalone outside the reserve as well. Marine reserves provide a refuge for species to grow larger, and more abundant.  This proved crucial to the ability of the abalone population to recover from the die-off:

“Both the large size of the protected abalones and the population density were key to resilience,” noted (Stanford Professor Fiorenza) Micheli. “Marine reserves are vital to jumpstart the recovery of species following a mass mortality.”

While scientists have recommended marine reserves to communities looking to protect future reserves of fish, their ability to help ecosystems recover from disasters has been less well understood – which makes this study truly groundbreaking.

Ocean Conservancy has successfully advocated for marine protected areas in Florida, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and California. Check out a slide show of diving opportunities inside of California’s marine protected areas.

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Rare Blue Whales Abundant Off California Coast Thu, 12 Jul 2012 21:44:37 +0000 Jennifer Savage

A blue whale spouts. Credit: NOAA

Few experiences compare to that of seeing nature’s largest creatures swimming, diving and emerging from the sea. First the tell-tale spouting, followed by discerning the massive shape below the water, perhaps a tail fluke or dorsal fin breaking the surface – if you’re particularly lucky, the whale may breach, launching into the air, allowing a full-body view, then splashing down into a crescendo of displaced water.

For those visiting or living in California, this summer offers some of the best whale watching in recent history – what some are calling a once-in-a-lifetime chance. While gray whales are regular commuters along the West Coast during their fall and spring migrations, this summer’s marvel is the high proportion of blue whales. Normally feeding too far off the coast to be seen, the blues have been drawn closer to shore due to the abundance of the shrimp-like krill they love to eat.

Some credit California’s ocean conservation leadership for this return of the blues.  The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary along California’s central coast is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  Mary Jane Schramm, author of West Coast Whale Watching, points out, “…it is no coincidence that the world’s only recovering population of blue whales feeds in the waters of California’s national marine sanctuaries.”

Few places in the world other than California currently support so many blue whales. Read more about blue whales, the threats facing them and how Ocean Conservancy is helping – and you can too.

In addition to the blues, summer is prime humpback whale sighting season ensuring thrills for whale watching enthusiasts. (In Monterey, unusual sightings also include the harmless-to-humans basking shark, plus orcas and fin whales.)

Want to see the whales for yourself? Start with these Monterey and Santa Cruz resources.

And, of course, follow proper whale watching etiquette!

  • Stay at least 300 feet away from the whales.
  • Run boats parallel to whale travel.
  • If multiple boats are out, be careful to avoid boxing the whales in.
  • Never separate a mother whale and her calf.
  • Maintain a steady speed and course; sudden changes can alarm whales.
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