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October 24, 2012

Safeguarding the Future of the California Coast

Conservation Director Ben McCue for The California Majority Report
Diane Castaneda Conservation Coordinator for WiLDCOAST; Paola Avila, Communications Director, Office of Assemblymember Ben Hueso; Ben McCue, Conservation Director for WiLDCOAST; Assemblymember Ben Hueso, 79th District

By Ben McCue, Conservation Director

For original article click here.

Decades of strong fishing pressure, pollution and incompatible coastal development have degraded many of California’s robust coastal ecosystems. Southern California’s network of 50 marine protected areas (MPAs) or underwater parks was established in 2012. Spanning from Point Conception to the Mexico border, they include marine reserves, conservation areas, marine parks, and recreationalmanagement and special closure areas. While the specific designations and regulations of these underwater parks can be complex, their purpose is not; they provide important species and habitat protection for 15% of Southern California coast waters.

Recently, WiLDCOAST staff took California State Assemblymember Ben Hueso, an avid kayaker, on a tour through the waters of one of California’s most iconic marine protected areas: Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. Although the recently designated Tijuana River Mouth State Marine Conservation Area is just offshore from Assemblymember Hueso’s South San Diego district, WiLDCOAST thought it was important for him to see a well-established MPA to understand how MPAs can serve as important economic and ecological assets to local communities. The Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve was first established by the City of San Diego in 1970 as the La Jolla Underwater Park. It became one of the state’s first no-take marine reserves. That protection has paid off, and today its home to a diverse, productive marine ecosystem, including to seasonal aggregations of leopard sharks that number in the thousands.

The opportunity to see up-close California’s diverse marine life, including brown pelicans, cormorants, horn sharks, garibaldi and sea lions, draws tens of thousands of tourists to Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve each year. Those visitors bring millions of dollars to local businesses – like the seven kayak tour companies that have set up shop within walking distance of the reserve. Clearly, California’s MPAs can create jobs and revenue for local communities.

Our experiences working throughout the Baja California peninsula show us that marine reserves are most successful when they have strong community support. In turn, a successful marine reserve can help generate economic revenue to support the community. In Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, the local community strictly enforces the no-take marine reserve. Dr. Octavio Aburto from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Enric Sala from National Geographic, were amazed to find a 460% increase infish biomass just 10 years after the reserve was established. Today the restored coastal ecosystem in Cabo Pulmo generates revenue in the form of eco-tourist dollars for local residents.

For California’s MPA network to be successful we need to learn from the model of Cabo Pulmo and make community stewardship a key component of their management. This will not only result in healthier coastal ecosystems but in strong local businesses, like those in La Jolla. It is important that local residents get to know and enjoy their MPAs. They can also serve as citizen data collectors through the MPA Watch programs run by WiLDCOAST, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and other organizations. With the support of local communities, organizations, and legislators like Representative Hueso, California’s MPAs have the potential to restore our much degraded and overfished coastal ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

Ben McCue is Conservation Director for WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife.