Over the next year, Southern California residents will be actively involved in protecting some of the most diverse and spectacular undersea habitats in the world, through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). In 1999, California adopted the MLPA as the first state law in the nation requiring a comprehensive, science-based network of marine protected areas (MPAs). The MLPA is being implemented in phases by geographic region, and the planning of Southern California MPAs is currently underway.

Stretching from Point Conception to the Mexican border, the south coast study region is certainly an iconic landscape and home to an amazing array of marine life and unique underwater habitats. But the idyllic surface of our coastal waters masks growing problems.

Over time, we have seen our marine environment steadily decline as a result of unwise coastal development, urban runoff, and overuse.  These pressures have reduced the bounty of Southern California’s waters to a fraction of what our grandfathers knew.

Marine protected areas are areas of coastal ocean set aside to protect all or parts of its habitat and wildlife by preventing extractive uses while allowing for research and recreation. Like “underwater parks,” they allow ocean ecosystems to recover and thrive; ensuring future generations will be able to enjoy the natural heritage of California’s coastal waters.

The proposed areas will be based on the best available science, focused on ecosystem-based management, and designed with direct influence from divers, fishermen, conservationists and citizens. MPAs will also be reviewed by scientists and economic experts to ensure that they protect key habitats and ocean life while leaving the most of the coast open to existing uses. Adopted MPAs will be managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Much like the historic and successful effort to bring MPAs to the Channel Islands a few years ago (and extended into federal waters last year), MPAs will be established through a thorough public process. And like the Channel Islands effort, involvement and activism by those who know and love the southern California coast will be essential to a successful outcome! In fact, there is an upcoming public meeting of the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group (the group of more than 60 diverse Southern California area-stakeholders responsible for designing MPA proposals) on Jan. 13 at 9:30 a.m. and Jan. 14 at 8:00 a.m. at the Holiday Inn — On the Bay, in San Diego. This may be one of the last regulatory meeting held in San Diego, so you may want to consider spending at least your lunch break attending the public comment session. … unless you don’t mind a trip or two up to Los Angeles in the coming months.

Of course, there are many more ways to become involved in this process, and I’m looking forward to discussing details and answering questions with all who are interested! And since it is common this day and age to refer a weblink, more information can be found on the official MLPA website, though be warned, there is likely more here than you ever wanted to know about the organization.


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