Our ocean is essential to life on Earth. Together with our coasts, it plays a critical role in maintaining a strong economy and high quality of life for all Americans. The ocean provides much of the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat. Economically, the ocean is a major force in the U.S., including many recreation and tourism opportunities, sources of energy, and as a vital means of transportation, trade and security.
Our ocean is also at a critical point. As Sylvia Earle, ocean explorer and conservationist, has said “The speed of our ability to take from the ocean has not been matched by the ocean’s ability to replenish what we extract.” Currently three quarters of the world’s marine fisheries are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted; and nearly 90 percent of our wetlands, which are critical nursery grounds for marine life, serve as natural storm barriers, and filter ground water, have vanished due to coastal development. *
Thankfully, there are solutions available. Actions are currently being taken at both the national and regional level to reform ocean policy and management. Marine protected areas (MPAs) have emerged as an essential tool in the protection of the world's ocean from the threats of overfishing, pollution, climate change, and destruction of native habitat.
California's Sea Change: A Network of Hope Spots featuring Sylvia Earle
Current research is finding that marine life is more abundant and larger inside marine protected areas than outside. A global study of over 150 marine reserves by PISCO found that the biomass of plants and animals inside reserves increased 446%. Recently, researchers from Scripps Institute of Oceanography studied the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park (CBNP) and saw a 463% increase in total fish biomass a decade after establishment, the largest measured increase in an MPA to date! This translates to a fish biomass that is 5.4 times greater within CBNP than in other open access areas.
Here in California and around the world, special ocean areas are being designated to conserve our vulnerable ocean ecosystems and threatened marine life. California took a regional approach to the design and implementation of MPAs along its 1,100 mile coastline, and divided the state into five regions: the north coast, north central coast, central coast, south coast and San Francisco Bay. The state completed the coastal network of MPAs in 2012, creating over 120 underwater refuges along California’s coast, extending from Oregon to Mexico.
Twenty MPAs and 7 special closure areas were designated in the north coast in 2012, from the California/Oregon border in the north to Alder Creek near Point Arena in the south. photo copyright Michelle Rhea
Twenty-five MPAs and 6 special closure areas were designated in the north central coast in 2010, between Alder Creek near Point Arena in the north and Pigeon Point in the south. photo copyright C. Roy Yokingco
Fifty MPAs and 2 special closure areas were designated in the south coast in 2012, between Point Conception in the north and the Mexican border in the south, including offshore islands. photo copyright Mine Beyaz
The San Francisco Bay Study Region (waters within San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge northeast to the Carquinez Bridge) is the fifth and final study region for consideration under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). photo copyright John Hampton
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