A Model of Collaboration: The Orange County Marine Protected Area Council

MPA sign
MPA sign created by OCMPAC
photo by A. Van Diggelen

With so much to experience within the five counties that hug the Southern California coastline—Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego—it’s no surprise that almost half the state’s population, around 18 million people, can be found living along this famously sun-filled stretch of coast. Despite the large volume of people, California implemented 50 marine protected areas (MPAs) off these coastal counties in 2012.

While Southern California’s current set of MPAs is less than 10 years old, the region is no stranger to marine protection. From 1968 to 1982, California adopted 12 MPAs off Orange County. These smaller, now historical MPAs paved the way for a new arrangement of seven larger MPAs (with new designations) to be implemented in 2012:

Historical MPA Year Adopted
Current MPA
Bolsa Chica State Marine Park (SMP) 1973 Bolsa Chica Basin SMCA
Upper Newport Basin SMP 1975 Upper Newport Basin SMCA
Robert E. Badham State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) 1968 Crystal Cove SMCA
Irvine Coast SMCA 1971 Crystal Cove SMCA
Crystal Cove SMCA 1982 Crystal Cove SMCA
Heisler Park State Marine Reserve (SMR) 1973 Laguna Beach SMR
Laguna Beach SMCA 1968 Laguna Beach SMCA
South Laguna Beach SMCA 1968 Laguna Beach SMCA
Niguel SMCA 1971 Dana Point SMCA
Dana Point SMCA 1969 Dana Point SMCA
Doheny Beach SMCA 1969 N/A
Doheny SMCA 1970 N/A

In keeping with its history of supporting marine protection, Orange County’s redesigned coastal MPAs protect around 14 miles of coastline—the longest continuous stretch of protected seashore in Southern California!

brochure cover
Brochure produced by OCMPAC

In order to provide continued protection within those now historical MPAs, a partnership of city and county officials, institutional representatives, environmental consultants, academic faculty, and nonprofit organization members formed what is known as the Orange County Marine Protected Area Council (OCMPAC) in 1999. Commonly referred to as the “Oh-See-Em-Pack”, the 21-year old organization still provides locals with a means to share issues, concerns, and ideas regarding the current state-managed MPAs from the bottom up. A recent study looking at partner organization contributions to resource management highlighted OCMPAC’s education programs, outreach resources like this tidepool brochure, research and monitoring efforts, development and identification of areas where signs could be installed, enforcement workshops, and teacher trainings.

One of the single biggest benefits OCMPAC has created is acting as a model for the development of 13 similar, locally led MPA groups in coastal counties. These groups are individually known as collaboratives, and collectively make up the MPA Collaborative Network. Calla Allison, now the director of the MPA Collaborative Network, was at one time the staff director of OCMPAC. Using her experience working with OCMPAC, she became focused on expanding the OCMPAC model statewide, and the Collaborative Network was born.

“Without the incredible work of OCMPAC and its members, we would not have the MPA Collaborative Network today,” says Allison. “They set the standard and showed the rest of the state that it was possible to bring diverse organizations and people together for a bottom-up, locally driven approach to MPA management.”

With two decades of experience now behind them and more projects on the horizon, OCMPAC members continue to strive to be a model for local MPA involvement. Currently co-chaired by Ray Heimstra from Orange County Coastkeeper and Lana Nguyen from California State Parks’ Orange Coast District, OCMPAC is looking to improve how the public learns about MPAs.

According to Heimstra, “OCMPAC is expanding communication efforts in 2020 by bringing on our first paid staff member, plus we are starting a project to assess the effectiveness of existing MPA signs and translating them into multiple languages.” This outreach effort will help to spread the word about California’s MPA network, as well as to help the public recognize when they are visiting one of Orange County’s local MPAs.OCMPAC logo

The larger statewide MPA Collaborative Network consists of 14 local collaboratives loosely organized by coastal county. Everyone is welcome to join an MPA Collaborative, attend meetings, and help with projects. MPA Collaboratives are always looking to expand their membership and increase stakeholder representation. If you’d like to get involved, please find an MPA Collaborative near you and contact the co-chairs to join the mailing list and ask about their next meeting.

MPA Collaborative Network logoThis article is part of a series featuring California MPA Collaboratives. The first two articles, produced in PDF format, are found here.


post by Amanda Van Diggelen, CDFW Environmental Scientist

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