Monitoring the Progress of Marine Protected Areas

Garibaldi and opaleye in southern California MPA

In 1999, the California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act mandating the redesign of California’s system of marine protected areas (MPAs). From 2004 to 2012, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) successfully implemented 119 new or redesigned MPAs, as well as five state marine recreational management areas and 15 special closures. To aid in the planning process, the state was split into five distinct regions that were each completed in turn. Because of this incremental approach, each region is now in a different phase of MPA monitoring.

Geographic Range
Date Implemented
Central Pigeon Point to Point Conception September 27, 2007
North Central Point Arena to Pigeon Point May 1, 2010
South  Point Conception to California-Mexico Border January 1, 2012
North California-Oregon Border to Point Arena December 19, 2012
San Francisco Bay Waters within the bay, bounded by the Golden Gate  Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge TBD

Regional baseline MPA monitoring and subsequent review of the associated baseline data are undertaken within the first five years after MPA implementation. Researchers and citizen science organizations carry out this initial monitoring, which can focus on a specific aspect of a region ranging from species populations, to particular habitats, to statewide MPA networkhuman usage. Monitoring results provide a regional “snapshot“ of local ecological and socioeconomic conditions, which can be used to evaluate how well the network is functioning. It can also provide a measure of the initial state, as well as early indications of whether conditions have changed during the baseline monitoring period, both inside and outside of the MPAs.

The central California MPAs celebrated their five-year implementation anniversary in 2012. In early 2013, a three-day public symposium, “The State of the California Central Coast: Reflecting on the First Five Years of MPA Monitoring, Management, and Partnerships,” showcased the baseline results of central California MPA monitoring. A report that summarized the baseline results was concurrently produced and released to the public. Then in October 2013, CDFW released a memorandum, “Monitoring Results and Management Review for Central Coast Marine Protected Areas,” which included information not only from the baseline monitoring program, but also wildlife enforcement and outreach programs. Using this information, CDFW determined that no regulatory changes were needed at the time. Planning for cost-effective, long-term monitoring is currently in progress, with establishment of long-term monitoring  scheduled to begin in 2015.

The five-year anniversary of north central California MPAs occurs in 2015; the approach used to share central California baseline results will also be used to share north central California baseline results. As with the central California MPAs, the north central California planning phase for cost-effective, long-term monitoring will begin shortly thereafter.

The two remaining coastal regions in southern and northern California were implemented in January 2012 and December 2012, respectively. With the earlier MPA implementation in southern California, baseline monitoring concluded in the summer of 2014, and the final technical reports documenting the baseline results will become available in 2015.

fish and anemones
Kelp greenling and anemones off the northern California coast, captured on remotely operated vehicle videotape

Baseline monitoring in northern California began in 2014. In addition to the standard metrics being monitored and recorded, northern California’s baseline program will be the first in the state to also incorporate traditional tribal ecological knowledge. This knowledge will help to increase our understanding of both the historical and current ocean conditions in the region. The technical reports sharing the northern California baseline findings will be available in 2017.

The San Francisco Bay is the fifth and final region covered under the Marine Life Protection Act, however there is no established timeline yet for this region. MPA planning at San Francisco Bay will not be considered until restoration efforts are completed to improve ecosystems and water supply reliability in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta/Bay Area. MPAs are meant to complement historical restoration efforts, so updating or implementing new MPAs in the San Francisco Bay will not move forward until the current restoration work concludes.

Despite this delay, the entire coastal portion of the MPA network was completed in December 2012. California celebrated the two-year anniversary of the coastal statewide MPA network on December 19, 2014. As MPA monitoring continues, CDFW will use the data to inform adaptive management decisions for years to come. For more information, please visit CDFW’s MPA Research and Monitoring Activity webpage.

post by Amanda Van Diggelen, CDFW Environmental Scientist ♦ CDFW photo of garibaldi and opaleye by A. Van Diggelen; CDFW map, CDFW file photo (kelp greenling)