Tying Traditional Knowledge to Ocean Stewardship: The Del Norte Marine Protected Area Collaborative

California is home to a statewide network of 124 ecologically connected marine protected areas (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 help inform management of this expansive network of MPAs. The MPA Collaborative Network, which is made up of locally focused, coastal county collaboratives, engages diverse stakeholders and empowers communities to advance ocean stewardship on a local level.

Del Norte County is the northernmost coastal county in California. It is home to two MPAs, Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area and Point St. George Reef Offshore State Marine Conservation Area, as well as three special closures at Southwest Seal Rock, Castle Rock, and False Klamath Rock. Although not officially MPAs, special closures are areas that prohibit access or restrict boating activities in waters next to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites. The Del Norte MPA Collaborative acts as a conduit between their community and MPA managers for MPA information and education.

The collaborative is guided by concerned citizens, local agencies, and California Native American tribes. Del Norte County MPAs were designed specifically to allow for continued tribal cultural uses and gathering. Tribal members from the Yurok Nation, on the southern border of Del Norte County, and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation in the north, contribute their traditional knowledge of ocean resources and stewardship, strengthening the community-based approach of the collaborative.

educational tools
Educational tools focused on tribal traditions and traditional knowledge as developed by the Del Norte MPA Collaborative
photo courtesy of Del Norte MPA Collaborative

Since its formation, education has been a cornerstone of their activities. Together with two other north coast collaboratives (Humboldt and Mendocino), the Del Norte MPA Collaborative worked with tribes, agencies and local education experts to create curriculum and teacher resources called MPA Toolkits. These toolkits are full of interactive ocean-related materials including information about tide pools, kelp forests, tribal traditional knowledge, and ocean stewardship, tied into the broader context of MPA and local ocean resource management. Collaborative members from the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation have created a web page with 35 short videos that teach native names of sea creatures spoken by Tolowa native speakers.

In addition, the collaborative helped to create four videos to raise awareness about MPAs and tribal stewardship on the north coast, in collaboration with Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, Humboldt State University filmmaker David Sheerer, CDFW, the Humboldt MPA Collaborative, and the Mendocino MPA Collaborative:

“The MPA Collaboratives are an important facet in MPA outreach and education,” said Rosa Laucci, previous co-chair (2013-2019) and current member of the Del Norte MPA Collaborative. “As original stewards of the coast, including tribal perspectives in MPA signage, education, and usage is imperative to create complete and appropriate content regarding these areas. It is my hope that all Collaboratives have reached out to indigenous communities, welcomed members into their meetings, and valued the important perspectives that only they can provide.”

The Del Norte MPA Collaborative is also working with the Yurok Tribe and MPA Watch to gather human use activity for the MPAs and special closures in Del Norte County. Known as Eagle Eyes of False Klamath Cove, this energetic group of dedicated tribal members and concerned citizens has collected more than 1,600 survey submissions for MPA Watch since its formation in 2017. Most of their efforts are focused on False Klamath Rock Special Closure, found in an area commonly referred to as False Klamath Cove. It is also the location of an ancient Yurok village named ‘O Men’. The special closure area around the rock protects roosting seabirds and the nesting sites of at least eight seabird species.

Education efforts extend to local and out-of-state anglers by providing information at both the Crescent City, California and Brookings, Oregon harbors about the MPA fishing regulations in the waters off Del Norte County. The focus of that effort is on Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area, which is situated right at the California-Oregon border. Oregon-based anglers from the port of Brookings, which is only five miles north of the California border, sometimes venture into California waters to fish. The information provided by the Del Norte MPA Collaborative helps to ensure anglers are aware of California MPA boundaries and regulations. The nearest Oregon MPA to California is Redfish Rocks, near the town of Port Orford about 50 miles up the coast.

The work of the Del Norte MPA Collaborative helps to ensure outreach and education is provided to commercial and recreational anglers, beachgoers, and schoolchildren. If you’d like to get involved, please find one of California’s 14 MPA Collaboratives near you and reach out to the co-chairs to join the mailing list and ask about their next meeting.  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.

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 Michael Prall, CDFW Environmental Scientist, and Elizabeth Pope, CDFW Environmental Scientist