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February 13, 2012

Introducing (and celebrating) California’s Newest State Parks

By Diane Castañeda

Article on The Majority Report.

Beach life is central to the southern California culture. But for many people, it stops at the waters edge. We might peer into tide pools or get our feet wet, but most people rarely experience all of the marine life that is hidden beneath the waves. That's why a visit to the aquarium is always such a treat. Aquariums provide a window into the unique and wonderful world of our oceans.

January 21st was a special day for celebrating southern California's ocean environment as we participated in the Fourth Annual Underwater Parks Day. This event was created to teach south coast residents about California's otherstate parks: the ones off our shores and in the ocean. We've had marine protected areas at the Channel Islands for a decade. They have helped to restore the kelp forests near Anacapa Island thus creating a refuge for sea life as well as a wonderland for divers, kayakers and wildlife viewing.

This year, we're building on that success with the introduction of a new network of Marine Protected Areas (underwater parks) that stretch from Point Conception to the Mexican border. This southern portion of the statewide network under the Marine Life Protection Act will create a series of parks that dot our coast like a string of pearls, protecting special places like Bodega Bay, Point Lobos, and La Jolla.  

Southern California's new Marine Protected Areas went into effect on January 1st, and Underwater Parks Day was a chance for local residents to learn about the protected stretched of ocean, and how the new designation will benefit fish, plants, marine mammals, birds, and people.

I spent the day at San Diego's Birch Aquarium, talking with kids and parents about the new protected areas at Swamis Reef, Scripps Pier, south La Jolla, Pt. Loma, and the Tijuana River Mouth. All of these underwater parks are located near public beaches as well as land-based parks, so they're easy to visit, and great places to see wildlife or just enjoy the beach.

A couple of weeks later, WiLDCOAST teamed up with the Tijuana River Estuary to host a Meet Your Underwater Parkevent at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center. More than 60 people attended, including students from Southwest High School, divers from "Power Scuba," as well as residents from Tijuana, Mexico.   

The featured speaker was Dr. Octavio Aburto from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He talked about the groundbreaking successes documented at Mexico's Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park in Baja California Sur. The best part was getting a better understanding about the kinds of changes we can expect to see in the MPAs off California's coast in the coming years. Attendees found the talk not only informative but inspirational and at the end of the presentation they came up to me and asked, "What can we do to make California's protected areas a success too?" I am still receiving emails about people wanting to volunteer in monitoring projects or to thanks me for all the great information they received.

After the talk, attendees took a walk through the Tijuana Estuary to learn more about its ecology and the connection to the newly established Tijuana River Mouth State Marine Conservation Area in Imperial Beach. The Tijuana Estuary is a great place to learn about the connection between land and sea. You don't have to dive or snorkel to experience an underwater park. There's a lot to see from the shore!

And for those that want to do more than just visit our new underwater parks, there are many volunteer opportunities ranging from citizen science projects to beach clean up events. To learn more, visit your local aquarium or contact an ocean conservation group like WiLDCOAST.

Pictures from "Meet your new underwater parks" event.


Fourth Annual Underwater Parks Day at the Birch Aquarium