Photo credit: California Sea Grant
California’s collection of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs), which spans the state’s 1,100-mile coastline, is unique in its size, scale, biogeographic and cultural setting, and status as an ecologically connected network. As the MPA network approaches its ten-year anniversary and accompanying first decadal management review in December 2022, Californians want to know: are our MPAs working? In other words, to what extent is the MPA network making progress toward the goals listed in its founding legislation— protecting the state’s natural marine biodiversity, rebuilding depleted populations, and improving ocean health, especially in the face of a changing climate?
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In collaboration with Coastal Quest, OPC is pleased to announce funding awards to 10 organizations throughout the state of California for the MPA Outreach and Education Small Grants Program, totaling $745,135. This funding supports outreach and education projects to help increase compliance with MPA regulations throughout the state and below Big Sur. The MPA Outreach and Education Small Grants Program is funded by OPC’s once-through cooling (OTC) mitigation fund and designed to ultimately increase marine life associated with MPAs within the geographic region of the OTC facilities.
Additionally, three organizations have received funding from The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Marisla Foundation for outreach and education projects aimed at increasing compliance with MPA regulations in areas outside of the geographic region of OTC facilities and with a focus on serving disadvantaged communities. These project awards total $144,000.
A full list of the organizations that received awards can be found on the Coastal Quest website.
Ocean Protection Council representatives will meet with co-chairs and members of the San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Catalina Island, and Santa Barbara Channel Marine Protected Area Collaboratives, on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, from 10:00 pm to 5:00 pm, at the Cabrillo Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M White Drive, San Pedro, California, to discuss common themes, identify needs, and make plans for the coming year. Council action will not occur at this forum. A copy of the agenda is available here … read more
The North Coast Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Baseline Program Request for Proposals is now available on the California Sea Grant website. The North Coast MPA Baseline Program is a collaborative effort among the California Ocean Protection Council, the MPA Monitoring Enterprise, a program of the California Ocean Science Trust (OST), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and California Sea Grant. Members of the North Coast community, including North Coast tribes, elected officials, scientists, ocean users, and interested members of the public, informed the development of this RFP. As in the other three regions (i.e., North Central Coast, Central Coast, South Coast), the OPC has authorized $4 million to support the North Coast MPA Baseline Program. … read more
California’s 2006 Budget Act appropriated $8 million to the California Ocean Protection Council for the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). The Budget Act called for these funds to be expended “pursuant to a work plan developed jointly by the OPC and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).” An additional $2 million was appropriated to DFG to fulfill these same goals. To maximize the effectiveness of these associated appropriations, OPC and DFG created a joint work plan that set forth priorities for the complete $10 million.
The OPC-DFG Joint Work Plan was aimed at collecting, analyzing, and applying data essential to the implementation of the MLPA and the MLMA. Work plan projects focused on three activities: (1) improving methods and collection of fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data; (2) monitoring to inform the management of marine protected areas (MPAs); and (3) equipment improvements to ensure capacity to collect and manage data. Data and results collected as part of this effort will support MPA monitoring and evaluation, which is being led by the MPA Monitoring Enterprise in collaboration with DFG.
Work Plan Projects
- Baseline monitoring of California’s Central Coast marine protected areas (MPAs) – $2,275,000 was provided for socioeconomic and ecological baseline data collection of the MLPA Central Coast Study Region necessary for future evaluations of ecosystem and socioeconomic changes inside and outside of this region’s MPAs. Six research projects were funded to implement a program of baseline data collection following a competitive process led by OPC, DFG, and California Sea Grant. A final report is available here.
- Seafloor and marine habitat maps for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region – The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation granted $2,510,000 (of which $1,200,000 was funded by OPC and $1,000,000 from DFG, and the remainder from additional partners) to California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Fugro Pelagos for fieldwork, and CSUMB, Moss Landing Marine Lab and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for data interpretation and data products. Together, these efforts resulted in accurate benthic habitat maps that were critical to the selection, design, and analysis of the newly designated marine protected areas in the central coast and north central coast regions as part of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The success of this pilot effort led to the full implementation of the California Seafloor Mapping Program.
- SCUBA surveys of the Channel Islands Marine Reserves – $371,187 was awarded to University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) PISCO and $210, 668 was awarded to the National Park Service Kelp Forest Monitoring (KFM) program conducted collaborative fish and benthic surveys in 2007 and 2008. These surveys used methods consistent with PISCO and KFM long-term monitoring of these reserves, and recorded density and size structure of fishes, invertebrates, and algae inside and outside of numerous reserves. The data were incorporated into the existing datasets and made available through the PISCO data catalogue to support future MPA management and fisheries stock assessments.
- Trap Surveys of the Channel Islands Marine Reserves – $407,000 was awarded to UCSB to conduct lobster and finfish surveys in 2007, 2008, and 2009 as part of a collaborative effort between UCSB and local fishermen. These data recorded overall size and abundance of lobsters and finfish inside and outside of MPAs to help inform MPA management and potentially lobster stock assessments. The project was also part of the Collaborative Lobster and Fishery Research Project. The final report from this project is available here.
- Deep Water Ocean Surveys – $660,000 was awarded to Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) to conduct deep-water ocean surveys at various monitoring sites within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in collaboration with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSFMC) and DFG. More information on the surveys can be found here.
- Nearshore Ichthyoplankton Data Baseline – $500,000 was awarded to UC San Diego to synthesize data on California Current and nearshore ichthyoplankton populations based on historic and recent data from California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) and other ichthyoplankton monitoring programs, including expanded coastal sampling as part of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS). The research provides a valuable baseline picture of ichythoplankton populations, and for informing stock assessments for species such as the California lobster. UCSD is also producing a web-accessible database, to inform future studies of changes in fish populations.
- Socio-economic information for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region – $200,000 was awarded to Ecotrust to collect baseline socioeconomic data collection for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region. Ecotrust developed and deployed an interactive computer tool to collect georeferenced information from the fishing community about the extent and relative importance of commercial and recreational fisheries in the North Central Coast Study Region. The data were used during the MLPA process to inform stakeholder discussions of MPA sites. Ecotrust also analyzed the fishery data in combination with additional DFG data to estimate maximum potential impacts of proposed MPA networks developed in the MLPA Initiative process.
- Improving management of California coastal fisheries –Many of California’s nearshore fisheries are data-poor, making it difficult to conduct stock assessments or develop management strategies for these populations. To help address this situation, Quantitative Resources Assessment, LLC (QRA) was awarded $150,000 to conduct an evaluation of alternative management strategies that can be applied to data-poor California fisheries. QRA has provided an introductory description of a management strategy approach and applied it to specific case studies (a final report is available here). As part of this project, QRA developed a stock assessment for California halibut, which was ranked as the highest priority finfish species for fishery management plan (FMP) development (stock assessment report is available here).
- Upgrades to DFG equipment, vessels, and fishery data management systems – The work plan also provided the following grant awards to upgrade DFG data management and equipment systems: $325,000 for upgrades to DFG remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), research vessels, and other DFG marine equipment; $302,571 to conduct an assessment of the informational and data needs of DFG to support the work of managing the state’s marine resources; $445,000 to PSMFC to develop a comprehensive and integrated electronic data collection and reporting system for commercial and recreational fishery-dependent data and an additional $630,000 to test new survey methods for reducing uncertainty in recreational fishing data when sampling private and rental boats that return to private-access sites as part of the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) .
In 1998, California passed the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), which calls for an ecosystem approach to achieving sustainable fisheries and identifies the acquisition of essential fishery information (EFI) as a critical component in management decisions. EFI includes, among other things, fish population status and trends, impacts of fishing, ecological relationships, habitat information, and other environmental information. In 1999, the State went further, passing the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which mandated a redesign of the state’s system of MPAs “to increase its coherence and its effectiveness at protecting the state’s marine life, habitat, and ecosystems.”
The Channel Islands MPAs became the first of the new MPA networks to be implemented. Established in 2003, the network includes eleven State Marine Reserves (SMRs) where no take of living, geological or cultural resources is allowed and two State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs) where limited commercial and/or recreational take is allowed.
Working together, the California Department of Fish and Game and Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) developed an ROV program designed to collect data in the deepwater (20 to 100 meter) habitats in the newly established Channel Islands MPAs—habitats beyond the reach of most SCUBA divers. The overarching goal of the program was to provide fishery-independent data required by the MLMA and MLPA—data to provide information on relative abundance, species interactions and associations, habitat preference, fishing effects on habitat, distribution, size composition of stocks, and human interactions with the marine environment. When tracked over time, this kind of information may provide managers with an indication of whether stocks are increasing or decreasing, and whether current management measures are achieving their intended conservation objectives. These data are also are needed to improve understanding of marine ecosystems and to enable adaptive management.
Key Findings and Successes A full report on the ROV program results to date is contained in “ROV-based Deep Water Monitoring of the Northern Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas Annual Report – 2009,” Marine Region Administrative Report No. 10-02, which will be posted on the California Department of Fish and Game web page: http://www.dfg.ca.gov.
The ROV data show that fish densities inside the MPAs have been consistently higher than densities in sites with similar habitats outside the MPAs. These differences were also detected by SCUBA based surveys in the shallow water areas adjacent to ROV study sites. While the causes for these differences are unknown, the fact that two independent methods showed similar results validates the use of ROV-based surveys for fishery-independent data collection.
The data have shown only slight changes in density within the MPAs since 2005. Given that most species of rockfish need very specific ocean conditions for successful reproduction, population changes are not expected to occur at a steady pace, but rather as large recruitment events that occur every five to ten years. Accordingly, it is not surprising that we have not yet seen large changes in MPA fish populations. In 2009, however, the team observed huge clouds of young of the year rockfish. Scientists working with MARE do not yet know if this is a huge recruitment class, or simply that the research cruise was conducted a month earlier than normal.
The time series data collected over the last five years has provided a cost effective baseline assessment of finfish and invertebrate abundance inside the MPAs and in unprotected comparison areas. Further, no animals were harmed by this video sampling.
Detailed analysis of data collected during this baseline sampling period is ongoing. The wealth of information contained within the archival video record collected will provide marine scientists the opportunity to expand our understanding of these highly productive marine ecosystems.
Underwater video clips of species in the Channel Islands MPAs