Celebrating 50 Years of Protection at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

Visitors engrossed in the tidepools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
CDFW photo by C. Shen

The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located along the California coast just north of Half Moon Bay in Moss Beach, is a place that has inspired people since the first Native Americans inhabited the area thousands of years ago. Its unique geography, spectacular views atop coastal bluffs, colorful tidepools, and diverse plant and animal life have made it a popular coastal destination for naturalists, collectors, and tourists to explore.

The reserve’s growing popularity eventually led to habitat degradation. In the mid-1960s, local resident Cecelia Goldthorpe championed efforts to protect the natural beauty surrounding her home by enlisting the help of long-time San Mateo County Supervisor James V. Fitzgerald. After years of lobbying, a marine reserve named for the supervisor was established in 1969.

map of reserve
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve overlaps Montara State Marine Reserve and Pillar Point State Marine Conservation Area
CDFW map by Marine Region GIS Lab

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve’s inception. A pioneering achievement in coastal protection, the reserve paved the way for future protective measures. Today, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is managed by  San Mateo County Parks, and is featured within the larger Montara State Marine Reserve and Pillar Point State Marine Conservation Area, which both extend three nautical miles offshore, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses a much larger area off of the central California coast. This triple-layered convergence of local, state, and federal protection demonstrates just how treasured the area is. A non-profit organization of local volunteers, Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, shares their enthusiasm for this spot by educating visitors and offering guided tidepool tours. The successful management of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is due to the coordination and collaboration between organizations and agencies that reinforce one another’s goals.

volunteers at event
Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve show their support at the Gathering of the Stewards celebration
CDFW photo by C. Shen

San Mateo County Parks and Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve planned three events this year to commemorate the reserve’s long history. The first event in March, Fifty Years of Stewardship, was celebrated by engaging visitors at educational booths stationed throughout the reserve. In May, the Gathering of Stewards event brought people together to recognize the importance of collaborative partnerships and community building in cultivating a shared vision for coastal stewardship. Over a dozen organizations that played unique roles in supporting the reserve participated in the May event, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The last event, in September, honored the first stewards of the area, the Chiguan tribe of the Ohlone People, whose culture evolved with the coastal environment there for thousands of years before the reserve even existed. Throughout this year’s celebrations, the Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve reminded participants that “this will be a year not only to look back, but to look forward to continuing to protect and preserve this wonderful place for future generations to enjoy…”

To learn more about San Mateo County’s Fitzgerald Marine Reserve or to plan a visit, be sure to check out the San Mateo County Parks and Friends of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve websites!


Read archived MPA News and newsletter articles for more stories and information about California’s marine protected areas!  

post by Chenchen Shen, CDFW Environmental Scientist