Mendocino County is well known for its stunning coast and towering redwoods. These natural features are protected by an abundance of marine protected areas (MPAs) and state parks throughout the county. MPAs and state parks are often found side by side here, with nine of the 14 state-managed MPAs lying adjacent to a state park. About 25 percent of California’s MPA-state park pairs are located in Mendocino County.
Although the county is sparsely populated, residents feel a deep sense of pride in where they live. This helps to fuel local engagement in environmental stewardship. While the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is the lead managing agency for the state’s MPA Network, the insight and involvement of locals who live, work, and play beside the MPAs is essential.
County residents who want to learn more about and contribute to MPA management are encouraged to join the Mendocino MPA Collaborative. Collaborative members represent diverse groups, including local and state government agencies, tribal governments, the fishing community, citizen science organizations, and environmental non-profits. The Collaborative is currently co-chaired by Tristin McHugh, Reef Check California’s North Coast Regional Manager, and Anna Neumann, a commercial fisher on the F/V Princess. McHugh stresses that “the public’s participation in the MPA Collaborative is key to safeguarding Mendocino’s marine biodiversity and exquisite coastline. Who other than locals, who frequent these spaces and understand the challenges they face, own the responsibility of developing innovative and contextually appropriate solutions to protect them?”
The Collaborative meets a few times a year to discuss successes and any issues regarding local MPAs. With a focus on outreach and education, members work to develop projects and programs to fill local MPA management needs. The Collaborative has partnered with coastal businesses, State Parks, and teachers in Mendocino County to help spread the message about MPAs. For example, members have created a brochure with a map displaying the MPAs along Mendocino’s coastline to distribute to coastal businesses, which can help to educate visitors.
Many Mendocino County visitors go to state parks. Unlike MPAs, state parks are very visible and have their own facilities and interpretive staff dedicated to visitor outreach. Mendocino MPA Collaborative members have developed and delivered MPA trainings for State Parks staff, who are always friendly and eager to share their knowledge with the public.
The largest project the Mendocino MPA Collaborative has undertaken is the creation of MPA teacher toolkits, in collaboration with the Del Norte and Humboldt MPA collaboratives. These toolkits were designed for elementary school instruction, and include curricula aligned with Next Generation Science Standards for K-2nd grade and 3rd-5th grade. The MPA curricula and materials for activities were packaged into “teacher trunks” available for loan to educators across the three counties. The curricula are also freely available online for anyone to download and use, whether in a formal classroom setting, at a workshop or event, or for homeschooling.
Most recently the Mendocino MPA Collaborative hosted a virtual compliance forum to identify both problem areas and solutions regarding observance of MPA boundaries and regulations. The Collaborative has funding to carry out projects that address the specific concerns voiced by local stakeholders at the compliance forum. This initiative has been launched not only in Mendocino County, but also in coastal counties statewide through the MPA Collaborative Network.
The Mendocino 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, sign up for the mailing list through the website, and stay tuned for their next meeting!
post by Chenchen Shen, CDFW Environmental Scientist