Maps — Essential Tools for Understanding the Boundaries of California’s Marine Protected Areas

CDFW maps, guidebooks, brochures, and web applicationsWith the creation or revision of over 100 marine protected areas (MPAs) in California since 2007, determining where MPA boundaries begin or end can be a challenge for the casual, infrequent angler and the seasoned mariner alike. Fortunately, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) produces a multitude of products to help everyone find their way while enjoying the State’s bounty of natural marine resources.

Regulations outline the borders of MPAs using a list of geographic coordinates written in latitude and longitude, each pair defining a point on Earth. An MPA’s boundary is described by drawing lines sequentially, following each of the points (latitude-longitude pairs) listed. While this method of listing points in order is an efficient way of describing a boundary in law and in text, it is nearly impossible to use the points to find an MPA in the real world without any additional visual aids to reference. With this in mind, CDFW publishes many free resources to help people understand where MPA boundaries begin and end.

The most basic, and often the most useful type of map media, is print. CDFW produces several printed maps that illustrate MPA boundaries, including 8½ x 11-inch maps of each MPA, as well as regional brochures and guidebooks. The maps and guidebooks are available at CDFW offices, through selected distribution locations, and on the CDFW website for home printing. These print resources provide a general overview of a particular geography and indicate where MPAs are located relative to known landmarks. Geographic coordinates are labeled to show where the positions listed in regulations are placed relative to the map geography.

In addition to printed maps, brochures, and guidebooks, there are interactive online maps that allow close inspection of MPA boundaries. MarineBIOS is a website application that allows users to explore marine and coastal mapping information, with a focus on MPAs. The map includes many relevant, information-rich features, such as: regulatory boundaries (local, state, and federal), points of interest (harbors, dive sites, coastal access sites), habitats (seafloor types, kelp canopies, eelgrass distribution), and biological observations (MPA monitoring data). It is an excellent tool for in-depth review of MPA boundaries in conjunction with many relevant mapping features that are regularly used in MPA monitoring and decision making, management, and enforcement. MarineBIOS includes useful functions which can, among other things:

  • Bookmark map content and views to share with others
  • Search locations by key word, address, or coordinates
  • Query detailed attributes of features
  • Print custom maps
  • Upload and map user waypoints
  • Measure distances and areas
  • Import mapping data from other data sources

While MarineBIOS is very useful, it is designed to run on a desktop or laptop computer and doesn’t work well on a mobile device. To address the need for access to digital maps while outdoors on the coast, CDFW provides the MPA Mobile website. This site is optimized to run on mobile devices (network required) and is an excellent reference to have while visiting an MPA. Well organized and concise menus help to find MPA regulations quickly on small screens. The map is interactive, allowing users to navigate to a location of interest, but most useful is the ability to use the device’s GPS to track the user’s current location in relationship to an MPA.

For experienced Geographic Information System (GIS) users who make their own maps, CDFW offers downloadable data from the Marine Region GIS website. On the site, MPA information is provided in a variety of formats. CDFW encourages third-party publishers to use these data, and regularly consults with commercial map producers to make this information accessible on other platforms. If users have a modern GPS with a basemap from a major manufacturer, it is likely that the MPA boundaries are already on it. If a GPS does not have MPA information, compatible updates for most models are available from several vendors.

Marine protected areas are located within traveling distance of all California ports. CDFW wants everyone to know where these important protected areas are located so they can responsibly enjoy participation in the State’s great fisheries, and have peace of mind knowing that MPAs are helping to conserve those great fisheries well into the future.

For more information about California’s MPAs, please visit the CDFW California Marine Protected Area website.

post by Paulo Serpa, CDFW Research Analyst II    image of CDFW MPA maps and guides by P. Serpa

2 thoughts on “Maps — Essential Tools for Understanding the Boundaries of California’s Marine Protected Areas

Comments are closed.