Baseline Monitoring of Northern California’s Marine Protected Areas: A Status Report

Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area
Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area

A regional network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was implemented on California’s north coast in December 2012, following a science-based and stakeholder driven process that began in 2009. The north coast MPA region extends from the California-Oregon border south to Alder Creek (Mendocino County), and is part of California’s statewide network of MPAs designed to meet the goals of the Marine Life Protection Act.  This northern portion of California’s statewide MPA network includes 6 state marine reserves, 13 state marine conservation areas, 1 state marine recreational management area, and 7 special closures.

Soon after northern California MPAs went into effect, the North Coast MPA Baseline Program was launched to create a benchmark for ecological and socioeconomic conditions in the region.  Together, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Ocean Science Trust, California Ocean Protection Council, and California Sea Grant led a rigorous peer review process through which 11 projects were selected to monitor seabirds, commercially and recreationally important species, and habitats including kelp forests, subtidal rock and soft bottom habitats at various depths, rocky shores, and beaches. Projects are also documenting human uses and socioeconomic dimensions of MPAs, and examining patterns of ocean currents across the region.  The North Coast MPA Baseline Program is also the first regional baseline monitoring program in California to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge, which will be shared as part of understanding the historical and current ocean conditions in the region.

Estuarine survey under way
An estuarine survey in South Humboldt Bay State Marine Recreational Management Area led by a collaborative team of researchers from Humboldt State University, H.T. Harvey & Associates, and the Wiyot Tribe.

Each regional MPA baseline program is administered over approximately a five year period, generating data and results that are shared broadly and will inform a management review of the first five years of MPA implementation. North Coast MPA Baseline Program projects have already collected one to two years of data, with annual progress reports available on the California Sea Grant website. Collectively, these projects represent an unparalleled level of marine research in the region; scientific data is being gathered at some locations for the first time.

Regional MPA baseline programs have been completed, or are nearing completion, in the other areas of the state. Baseline monitoring results are available on the OceanSpaces website. For further information, visit the North Coast MPA Baseline Program, North Central Coast MPA Baseline Program, Central Coast MPA Baseline Program, and South Coast MPA Baseline Program web pages.

For more information regarding California’s statewide network of MPAs, please visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Post by Adam Frimodig, CDFW Marine Environmental Scientist ♦ CDFW photo of Reading Rock SMCA by S. Wertz ♦ photo of South Humboldt Bay SMRMA estuarine survey by F. Shaughnessy