Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area

The beauty and charm of the area north of Point Arena is not lost on those who explore the remote wilderness. Rugged coastlines plunge into the sea, fog rolls in from the ocean and quiets the surrounding hillsides, and hiking trails beckon those wanting to explore some of California’s most pristine nature. The area lays claim to a quieter, slower-paced lifestyle, compared to the industrialized areas farther south.

Point St. George Reef SMCA map by CDFW Marine Region GIS Lab
Point St. George Reef Offshore SMCA     map by CDFW Marine Region GIS Lab

In recognition of the different social and economic priorities throughout California, the state was split into five planning regions when it came time to redesign its marine protected areas (MPAs). Within each of these regions, cross-interest regional stakeholder groups were assembled and each group held its own MPA public planning process to design its respective network.

In 2012, following a publicly driven planning process, the number and expanse of MPAs increased within the north coast region. MPAs are now interspersed along the length of the region from the California-Oregon border south to Point Arena, near Alder Creek (Mendocino County). The number of MPAs increased from five (originally protecting less than 1 percent of the regional state waters) to 20 (now protecting approximately 13 percent of the north coast waters), along with seven special closures.

Salmon troller
Salmon troller    CDFW photo by J. Phillips

Those unfamiliar with the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative may wonder why some MPAs were placed where they are. For instance, Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) resides just over six miles offshore and is only accessible by boat.  Placement was determined by the regional stakeholder group, which was tasked with following scientific design criteria that would help to design a functional network. Placing Point St. George Reef Offshore SMCA in its current location ensured protection of highly valuable and rare deep water, soft bottom habitat (more than 100 meters deep), as well as shallower hard and soft bottom habitats. Though the SMCA’s placement well offshore may seem strange or arbitrary at first glance, it was intentional and purposeful.

Dungeness crab    CDFW photo by C. Juhasz

Determining an MPA’s designation was just as important as determining where it would be located. Since this MPA was placed in an area utilized by tribes and two highly lucrative fisheries, Dungeness crab and salmon, Point St. George Reef was designated as an SMCA, which afforded it a moderate level of protection. The MPA design allows Dungeness crab and salmon fishing activities because of the importance of the fisheries to the local economy, while protecting the area from other types of take and disturbance. This designation minimized the impact of the MPA on the local economy and traditional tribal uses, while still adding significant protection.

Whether through commercial or recreational activities, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife invites you to explore Point St. George Reef Offshore SMCA. Hop aboard a local fishing charter for crab or salmon fishing, or visit the local fish markets to pick up commercially caught seafood. To enjoy Point St. George Reef Offshore SMCA even further, watch this video to dive 200 feet below the surface and see this underwater world through the lens of a remotely operated vehicle!

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


Post and video editing by Amanda Van Diggelen, CDFW Environmental Scientist ♦ Video footage provided by CDFW and MARE ♦