California creates a globally significant network of marine protected areas


California recently completed an historic overhaul of how it manages its coastal waters by revising and expanding its system of marine protected areas (MPAs). This system of MPAs is the largest scientifically based network in the U.S. and second largest in the world. How California accomplished this consequential achievement is the subject of a March special issue of the journal Ocean and Coastal Management released last month. Articles analyze the challenges, achievements and lessons learned in the public MPA planning processes.

Under a mandate from the state’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), California’s network of MPAs designated by the California Fish and Game Commission have greatly increased the proportion of state waters protected. The resulting network designates approximately 9.4 percent of state waters as “no-take” MPAs, and about 16 percent of state waters are now under some form of protection, which is a dramatic increase in coverage. Informed by science and crafted with significant stakeholder involvement, California’s new network of 124 designated areas (including 119 MPAs and five recreational management areas, all managed within the network)  replaced 63 existing MPAs that were mostly small (covering just 2.7 percent of state waters, with less than ¼ percent in no-take MPAs) and considered ineffective. The area covered by the MPAs represents approximately 60 percent of all no-take MPAs within the waters of the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Planning for this network of MPAs yields important lessons for other planning efforts globally.

The special issue of Ocean and Coastal Management includes nine articles by key participants from the MLPA Initiative, an innovative public-private partnership between the California Natural Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Initiative was tasked with helping the state redesign its MPAs in conjunction with stakeholders, scientists, experts, resource managers, policy-makers and the public. The articles have now been made available for free download at the journal website.

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