Diverse marine habitats are a hallmark of California’s central coast region, from sandy beaches and dune landscapes, to expansive estuaries and dense kelp forests. Many are safeguarded by state marine protected areas (MPAs), which aim to protect the abundance of marine life, the habitats on which they depend, and the integrity of marine ecosystems. California is home to a statewide network of 124 ecologically-connected MPAs, managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). CDFW works with many partners, including a grassroots organization called the MPA Collaborative Network to effectively manage this expansive Network. The Collaborative Network engages diverse stakeholders and empowers coastal communities to advance ocean stewardship on a local level.
The San Luis Obispo County MPA Collaborative (Collaborative) stewards eight MPAs from Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve at the northern end of the county down to Point Buchon State Marine Conservation Area just south of the small coast side town of Morro Bay. The Collaborative is co-led by Cara O’Brien (California State Parks), Gordan Hensley (San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper), Haylee Bautista (yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe), and Rachel Pass (Morro Bay National Estuary Program). Other Collaborative members include local fishermen, academic researchers, citizen scientists, and local non-profits.
The Collaborative interacts with county residents through programs such as SeaLife Stewards that paddle the waters of the Morro Bay MPAs on kayaks to teach visitors about the unique estuary ecosystem. And, although it is unlawful to approach a sea otter in its natural habitat, you can get up close and personal with a human in an otter disguise at many of the local community events. Sea Otter Savvy and State Parks partner to teach community members about this furry marine mammal and their importance as a hungry predator in coastal habitats.
“The most exciting thing right now for the San Luis Obispo Collaborative and our partners,” says co-chair Cara O’Brien, “is that State Parks MPA Interpreter Robin Hazard is presenting PORTS home learning programs for students unable to attend school right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place orders.” The PORTS program, which stands for Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students, is a state-sponsored program that offers interactive, live video conferencing and tours of California’s State Parks to classrooms around the state. Participating K-12 students can tune in from their homes to Hazard’s MPA-themed lessons once a week on what PORTS calls “MPA Mondays.” Through social media campaigns and virtual learning, Collaboratives continue to carry out their mission and connect their local communities with the ocean even during this unprecedented time.
The San Luis Obispo Collaborative is also excited to announce the release of a Spanish version of their popular “Discover MPAs” activity guidebook. Both the Spanish and English guidebooks are available on the Collaborative’s website. Follow Alby the abalone to complete the activity book and take the quiz to get your MPA Stewardship certificate. Other Collaborative outreach materials include videos co-produced with Visitor TV that highlight MPAs at Point Buchon, Morro Bay, Cambria, and Piedras Blancas. Videos air throughout the Visitor TV network at local hotels multiple times a day.
Anyone 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 reach out to the co-chairs to join the mailing list and ask about their next meeting.
Post by CDFW Environmental Scientist, Sara Worden