Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve

Off the coast of the densely populated Los Angeles metropolitan area resides one of California’s great wildlife treasures: the Northern Channel Islands.  Often considered the “Galapagos of North America” this small archipelago hosts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

fish and kelp
Cathedral Cove, Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve  
photo by A. Van Diggelen

Due to their unique ecological conditions, the Channel Islands were designated a National Monument in 1938, a National Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and a National Marine Sanctuary and National Park in 1980. In 2003, the Channel Islands received further protection when the California Fish and Game Commission approved state marine protected areas (MPAs) there.  By 2007, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had extended the state MPA boundaries into federal waters. The California Fish and Game Commission folded the state Channel Islands MPAs into the larger statewide network of MPAs in 2012.

Anacapa Is.
Anacapa Island and nearby marine protected areas

One of the islands, Anacapa, lies twelve miles southwest of Port Hueneme, and hosts one of the 50 Southern California MPAs: Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve (SMR).  Akin to all SMRs in the statewide network, no marine resources may be taken from Anacapa Island SMR.  With over 10 years of protection within the boundaries of the reserve, marine life flourishes.  Giant kelp forests set the stage for an incredible display of marine life.  Shoals of fish cover the reef, spiny lobster are found in rocky crevices, seals and sea lions hunt for their next meal, and bat rays fly over the sandy bottom. When the 50 Southern California MPAs were implemented in 2012, 10 projects were funded to conduct baseline monitoring of the region.  One of the projects was conducted by the citizen-science group Reef Check California.  Reef Check, and more broadly, citizen science, allows members of the general public to volunteer in collecting scientific data to help inform management decisions. Reef Check specializes in training recreational scuba divers in scientific diving techniques for the purpose of collecting quantitative observational data about the kelp and animals living below the ocean surface on California’s rocky reefs.

A Reef Check diver swims a transect line to document marine life within Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve   
photo by A. Van Diggelen

Since 2006, citizen scientists with Reef Check have been conducting research on California’s rocky reefs, and Anacapa Island SMR.  Raw data of all Reef Check sites, as well as a quick overview detailing how community composition has changed over time, is readily available online.  This long-term data, coupled with MPA baseline data, is useful when managing agencies are tasked with determining the performance of an MPA. With over a decade of marine protection, Anacapa Island is a spectacular destination for any marine enthusiast.  This small island hosts not only a SMR, but also a state marine conservation area and a special closure, each with its own unique protections.  The offshore location is easily accessible by boat, and can be enjoyed by diving, swimming, fishing (where allowed), or kayaking year round.  The Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages you to go explore Anacapa SMR or any other MPA throughout California.

Anacapa Island State Marine Reserve is one of the 124 MPAs in California’s statewide MPA Network. Please visit CDFW’s MPA website for more information, and sign up to receive updates about the MPA Management Program.

MPA logo

post  by Amanda Van Diggelen, CDFW Environmental Scientist


Learn more about MPAs by diving into the Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!