Christmas came early in California with Wednesday's decision by the Fish and Game Commission approving a strong network of marine protected areas (MPAs) off the southern California coast.
Creating protected areas that preserve critical pieces of coastal ecosystems, as well as reservoirs to replenish depleted ocean waters, has been a priority for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The science worldwide demonstrates the impact MPAs can have. Now three of the five regions of California's coast have strong, science-based networks of reserves. A fourth region (the coast north of San Francisco, to the Oregon border) is on track to complete the process in 2011. Decisions about creating protected areas within San Francisco Bay are still some years down the road.
The southern California process was particularly challenging, given the size of the population and the numbers of people who had a stake in the outcome: conservation organizations, sport and commercial fishermen, kayakers, scuba divers to name a few. We're grateful that thousands of people spoke out in favor of protecting this living legacy for future generations.
In the end, the commission created 36 new protected areas encompassing approximately 187 square miles (8 percent) of state waters in the region. Roughly 116 square miles (4.9 percent) were placed in no-take state marine reserves and no-take state marine conservation areas. The rest were designated as state marine conservation areas with varying levels of protection.
Commissioner Michael Sutton, who heads our Center for the Future of the Oceans and who voted in favor of the proposal, called the decision "good news for everyone who cares about the future of our fisheries and the future of our marine ecosystems."
Photos: Kelp forest copyright Monterey Bay Aquarium/Charles Seaborn; sea bass and sardines, and garibaldi, copyright Monterey Bay Aquarium