Although San Francisco is a major city and a global center for technological innovation, it is also known for having easy access to nature and strong environmental leadership. You can get lost in Golden Gate Park, go surfing at Ocean Beach, or go sailing in San Francisco Bay. A short drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County offers city dwellers an ideal weekend getaway with options to hike among majestic redwood trees, roam through open coastal headlands, or walk along secluded beaches. These spaces for nature can co-exist with an urban population only through strong support for land and water conservation and stewardship, including marine environments.
San Francisco and Marin Counties host both state marine protected areas (MPAs) and federal marine sanctuaries. There are nine state MPAs, and five special closures surrounding offshore rocks, managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. These smaller state MPAs are encompassed by the larger Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many of these state MPAs also lie along Point Reyes National Seashore, managed by the National Park Service. These overlapping and adjacent jurisdictions make coordination and collaboration an important part of marine spatial management. Besides the agencies directly managing these protected areas, there are other government agencies, environmental non-profits, education programs, and research institutes interested in sharing and receiving information about California’s MPAs.
The Golden Gate MPA Collaborative serves as a forum for engagement for all interested stakeholders in the state MPAs located in San Francisco and Marin counties. Members discuss relevant topics and events and work on projects that aim to enhance both public awareness of MPAs and compliance with MPA regulations. The Collaborative is led by co-chairs David McGuire of Shark Stewards, Morgan Patton of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, and Paul Hobi of the Seabird Protection Network.
“The Golden Gate MPA Collaborative is working to reach fishermen and the public on the importance of MPAs, especially our remote and offshore areas,” says co-chair McGuire. “These are critical habitat for seabirds, marine mammals, and other wildlife and deserve our stewardship.”
With that goal, Collaborative members have created and distributed a waterproof brochure featuring MPAs and special closures in San Francisco and Marin counties. This brochure was created specifically with the needs of the local fishing and boating community in mind, with GPS coordinates on MPA boundaries and special closures. While state managed MPAs regulate fishing, they do not prohibit public access. However, special closures do prohibit access. They were designed to protect important seabird nesting sites and marine mammal haul-outs on offshore rocks. Since the noise, movement, and presence of boats can disturb these sensitive animals, special closures act as a buffer zone. While not officially designated as MPAs, special closures are nonetheless important to the integrity of California’s MPA network.
To expand MPA outreach in a targeted way, the Golden Gate MPA Collaborative developed an MPA Ambassadors program that educates local nature guides about MPAs. This program was originally intended for boat captains and docents who serve visitors to Point Reyes National Seashore and the Farallon Islands, where almost all local MPAs are located. In an effort to reach wider audiences, the Collaborative created an online MPA Ambassador training course. This short online program is free for anyone to complete and educates participants on California’s statewide MPA network, rather than focusing on only San Francisco and Marin county MPAs. The Golden Gate Collaborative plans to further develop this online resource.
Co-chair McGuire is proud that the Golden Gate MPA Collaborative is “applying technology to [their] outreach and education, not only through [their] online MPA Ambassador training, but also in the field with the Trident ROV [remotely operated vehicle], observing species and habitats in hard to reach areas.” Thanks to National Geographic and SoFar Ocean’s Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) Initiative, the Golden Gate MPA Collaborative has the opportunity to use mini-ROVs to capture and share amazing footage of member organizations engaging with their local MPAs. Shark Stewards, a non-profit organization dedicated to shark conservation, filmed great white sharks in the Southeast Farallon Island State Marine Reserve. In Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area, staff from the Point Reyes National Seashore and Point Reyes National Seashore Association were lucky to observe a congregation of leopard sharks while they were monitoring eelgrass meadows. These videos offer viewers a small taste of the treasures that lie hidden just below an MPA’s surface.
The Golden Gate MPA Collaborative is part of a larger statewide MPA Collaborative Network, with 14 local collaboratives loosely organized by coastal county. 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 Chenchen Shen, CDFW Environmental Scientist
This article is part of a series featuring California MPA Collaboratives. Read archived MPA News articles and the series Exploring California’s MPAs for more stories and information about California’s marine protected areas!