MPA Monitoring Series: Ask the Researcher

Bring your questions! Join us as we unpack the results of the latest state-funded MPA long-term monitoring projects through an 8-part virtual summer webinar series. Researchers from 24 universities, agencies and institutions across California worked closely with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) to monitor key habitats both inside and outside of MPAs, including kelp forests, rocky reefs, rocky shores, estuaries, and sandy beaches. Additionally, one project provided a socioeconomic evaluation for commercial and Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) fisheries. These monitoring projects were aligned with MPA Management Program goals and the monitoring framework established in the MPA Monitoring Action Plan. Results from these monitoring projects, along with information from other sources, will inform California’s MPA Decadal Management Review (DMR) report to the California Fish and Game Commission in February 2023.  For those looking to dig deeper into MPA monitoring data, including both baseline and long-term monitoring data, please visit the State’s new California MPA data portal. Snapshot reports outlining key findings from each project are available now in both English and Spanish (linked below). … read more

United Nations Adopts Historic Resolution to End Plastic Pollution

Today, after a week of debate, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) in Nairobi unanimously approved a resolution to end plastic pollution, setting the stage to create a legally binding treaty by 2024 to prevent and reduce global plastic pollution.

Microplastics image courtesy NOAA

Plastic production has risen exponentially in the last decades with 11 million metric tons estimated to end up in the world’s ocean each year.

The landmark agreement commits to addressing the full lifecycle of plastics and calls for enhanced international collaboration to advance solutions and circular economy approaches – to reduce the impact of plastic pollution from its source to the sea.

The resolution aligns with the Statewide Microplastic Strategy adopted by the Ocean Protection Council on February 23, 2022, recognizing: … read more

MPA Statewide Leadership Team Releases Work Plan, Key Tool in MPA Management Program

By Elyse Goin, Sea Grant Fellow

Proving that many heads are better than one, The Marine Protected Area Statewide Leadership Team (Leadership Team) released its 2021-2025 Work Plan and it is a must read for anyone interested in California’s network of marine protected areas.

Leadership Team Overview

The Marine Protect Area Statewide Leadership Team is an advisory team that collaborates on interests pertaining to California’s Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network, which was completed in 2012 through the Marine Life Protection Act. Established in 2014, the MPA Statewide consists of representatives from state and federal agencies, California Native American Tribes and non-governmental partners. The Leadership Team enables communication across our large state in which different regions have varying priorities, ecosystems, deep-time histories and immediate threats. 

Work Plan Contents

The Work Plan was implemented using guidance from The California Collaborative Approach: Marine Protected Areas Partnership Plan and the MLPA Master Plan to outline successful actions and outcomes in alignment with the MPA Management Program. Drawing from these Plans and stakeholder input, the Leadership Team outlined goals pertaining to four key areas of focus. Those areas include:

  1. Outreach and Education,
  2. Research and Monitoring,
  3. Enforcement and Compliance and
  4. Policy and Permitting.

As one reads the Work Plan, they will see overarching goals, strategic priorities, key actions and outcomes attached to each of the four focal areas. It is important to note that the contents of this Work Plan are specific to MPA management throughout fiscal years 21/22- 24/25 and stand alone to the contents of the Decadal Management Review forthcoming in February 2023. The Work Plan does not predict any recommendations or outcomes of the Decadal Management Review.  … read more

Landmark Statewide Microplastics Strategy Recommends Early Actions and Research Priorities to Reduce Microplastic Pollution

In response to increasing concern about pervasive and persistent pollution caused by microplastics, California has prepared a first-of-its-kind Statewide Microplastics Strategy that recommends early actions and research priorities to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment. The Strategy follows the direction of Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino), which was signed into law in 2018 and is scheduled for adoption by the Ocean Protection Council at its Wednesday, Feb. 23 meeting. 

University of Toronto / Tsui, N.

Essential to California’s Microplastic Strategy is the recognition that decisive, precautionary action to reduce microplastic pollution must be taken now, such as taking comprehensive action to reduce single-use plastics and other top sources of marine litter, while scientific knowledge and understanding of microplastics sources, impacts, and successful reduction measures continue to grow. Plastics are ubiquitous in both our daily lives and in the environment. Worldwide, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and without any intervention, this amount is anticipated to triple by 2040. Over time, plastics break down in aquatic environments into pieces of ever-decreasing size, with those less than 5 mm in size known as microplastics.  

Microplastics are easily ingested by marine life, causing harm such as tissue inflammation, impaired growth, developmental anomalies, and reproductive difficulties. Microplastics have also been found in human stool, lung, and placenta samples, indicating the potential for human health impacts, and within soils and plants.

Research in California has identified tire and road wear, synthetic textiles, cigarette filters and single-use plastic foodware as among the top identified sources of microplastics in California bay and ocean waters, sediment, and fish tissue.

The Statewide Microplastics Strategy sets a multi-year roadmap for California to take a national and global leadership role in managing microplastics pollution. The Strategy outlines a two-track approach to comprehensively manage microplastic pollution: the first track lists immediate, no regrets actions and multi-benefit solutions to reduce and manage microplastic pollution, and the second track outlines a comprehensive research strategy to enhance the scientific understanding of microplastics in California and inform future action.  

Photo courtesy National Science Foundation/SCR #193528

Solutions 

  • Pollution Prevention: Eliminate plastic waste at the source (products or materials from which microplastics originate). 
  • Pathway Interventions: Intervene within specific pathways (ex: stormwater runoff, wastewater, aerial deposition) that mobilize microplastics into California waters. 
  • Outreach & Education: Engage and inform the public and industries of microplastic sources, impacts, and solutions. 

Science to Inform Future Action 

  • Monitoring: Understand and identify trends of microplastic pollution statewide. 
  • Risk Thresholds & Assessment: Improve understanding of impacts to aquatic life and human health. 
  • Sources & Pathways Prioritization: Identify & prioritize future management solutions based on local data. 
  • Evaluating New Solutions: Develop and implement future solutions.  

The public is invited to participate in the Feb. 23 meeting. Agenda and instructions on joining can be found here.

Marine Protected Area Long-Term Monitoring Reports Released

Hot off the presses! Results from the Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network long-term monitoring programs are now available online in seven technical reports. These projects represent collaboration between California researchers, the Ocean Protection Council (OPC), California Sea Grant, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Reef Check divers swim along a transect. Photo credit: Helen Brierley.

California’s MPA Network is a global example of a stakeholder-driven process to connect 124 protected areas. After a decade since Network implementation, the State is in the process of evaluating the MPA Network and progress towards meeting the goals of the Marine Life Protection Act. To prepare for this first-ever decadal management review of the MPA Management Program, OPC has invested significantly in both baseline and long-term monitoring projects to track changes in California’sMPA Network over time. These monitoring projects are only one component of the management review; CDFW will look to several other sources to inform the review report, including long-standing MPA partners and California Native American Tribes. The Decadal Management Review report will be released publicly in January 2023 and presented to the Fish and Game Commission in February 2023.

To stay informed about the decadal management review of California’s MPA Network, please visit CDFW’s Decadal Management Review webpage. If you have questions or would like to submit a comment about the Review, please contact the MPA Management Program.

Shorebirds and kelp wrack on a winter morning at Campus Point SMCA. Results of baseline beach surveys showed a clear connection between kelp wrack and the abundance and diversity of shorebirds— one potential example of a beneficial spillover effect resulting from California’s MPA system. Photo credit: David Hubbard.

OPC’s Year in Review: Meeting Challenges, Advancing Equity, Protecting Our Ocean

“As we look to 2022, our goal at the agency is to… continue California’s global leadership, combating climate change, transitioning our economy, and protecting our people and nature in the meantime. I believe strongly that people are resilient and that nature is resilient. We can adapt and weather these changes we are experiencing right now, and we at the Natural Resources Agency and across state government are focused on strengthening the resilience of our communities, our residents, and of our natural places to these changes we are experiencing. I’m optimistic that we will work harder than ever before and make unprecedented process toward building this resilience.” – from California Natural Resources Secretary and Ocean Protection Council Chair Wade Crowfoot’s end of the year video message

As 2021 brought global challenges to the forefront, the state of California responded with bold, decisive actions to protect our coast and ocean. OPC staff led multiple projects designed to restore wetlands, improve water quality, prevent plastic pollution, respond to environmental justice inequities, promote sustainable fisheries, protect marine wildlife and build resilience to climate change.

Despite the many looming threats, we continue to find hope in the form of scientific solutions to the planet’s biggest problems and in the promising work done by our grantees on the front lines. Join us in celebrating specific achievements from the past year below: … read more

Draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy is Available for Public Comment

OPC is pleased to release the draft Statewide Microplastics Strategy, which outlines a statewide research strategy and recommended early actions to reduce microplastic pollution in California’s marine environment, consistent with Senate Bill 1263 (Portantino, 2018).

We welcome feedback on this draft Strategy.

Public comment should be submitted to OPCmicroplastics@resources.ca.gov by 5:00 pm on January 21, 2022.

 A revised draft, based on public comment, is anticipated to be released in February 2022 for consideration by the Ocean Protection Council at its February 23, 2022 meeting. Questions can be directed to OPC’s Water Quality Program Manager, Kaitlyn Kalua at Kaitlyn.Kalua@resources.ca.gov.

Environmental Justice Communities to Receive $7.5M for Coastal Water Quality Projects

At its December 7 meeting, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) for the first time approved funding exclusively for coastal water quality projects that directly benefit Environmental Justice (EJ) Communities. A total of $7.5M in Proposition 1 funds will be disbursed to six projects that support multi-benefit ecosystem and watershed protection or restoration, habitat enhancement, resilience to climate change and community engagement. 

While OPC regularly funds important ocean- and coast-related projects throughout the state, this is the Council’s first time soliciting projects that provide direct benefits to state-defined disadvantaged and severely disadvantaged communities, California Native American tribes, and communities that score above 80 percent on CalEnviroScreen results.

Secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency and OPC Chair Wade Crowfoot commended the state’s investment in the proposed community-driven projects, saying, “This effort is a really powerful model for how the state can prioritize funding that more effectively advances both natural resources protection and environmental justice.” 

OPC Wetlands Program Manager Maria Rodriguez agreed. “This is OPC’s first step in accomplishing a dedicated pathway for funding EJ communities and projects that put community benefits at the forefront and emphasize social and economic benefits,” she said. “These are elements that OPC is working to incorporate into other funding opportunities to ensure community benefits are meaningful, direct and can be delivered through projects or programs OPC is leading.”

Funded projects span California’s coastline

… read more

New Report: Understanding the Flow of Microplastics from our Cities to the Ocean

Despite increased awareness, plastic pollution continues to infiltrate our oceans and beaches, littering the seafloor, ocean surface, beaches and shorelines. It also takes a toll on our economy: California communities spend more than $428 million annually to clean up and control plastic pollution. Because plastic never truly degrades, only breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, clean up and control is extraordinarily difficult.

The good news is California has been a leader in slowing down plastic at the source by banning single-use plastic bags and the use of microplastics in face scrubs and toothpaste. Microplastics, those under five millimeters in size, are found even in places considered “pristine,” as well as in drinking water and food, including shellfish, salt, beer, and honey.

Understanding how microplastics end up where they do is critical to eliminating them from the environment. Toward that goal, OPC funded a study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), A Synthesis of Microplastic Sources and Pathways to Urban Runoff.

Building on SFEI’s major finding that storm-driven runoff from cities is a major pathway for microplastics to enter California’s waterways, this new report pulls together available information on pollution sources, including textiles, cigarette filters, other fibers, single-use plastic foodware and vehicle tires. It illustrates how plastic products break down into microplastic particles as they move through the environment, traveling through the air, depositing on the urban landscape, and washing into streams, rivers, and coastal locations during storm events.

SFEI’s findings, alongside the Microplastic Pollution in California: A Precautionary Framework and Scientific Guidance to Assess and Address the Risk to the Marine Environment released in May 2021, provide the foundation for the forthcoming Statewide Microplastics Strategy being developed by OPC pursuant to SB 1263 (Portantino, 2018), which will be considered for adoption by the Council at its Feb 2022 meeting.

Together, these reports have informed a two-prong approach to addressing microplastic pollution: ‘no-regrets’ actions that can be employed now to prevent the proliferation of microplastic pollution, and identifying California-specific research needs to inform future action.

California Biodiversity Day 2021 – Get Involved!

As a state, California boasts both the highest number of species total and the highest number of species that occur nowhere else. Our state’s animal and plant life is so varied that we’ve been named as one of 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots by Conservation International. For California Biodiversity Day on Tuesday, Sept. 7, we’re turning our attention to what climate change means for ocean wildlife – and what we’re doing to protect the habitat those creatures rely on. (See the full line-up of California Biodiversity Day events here.)

Plenty of iconic ocean creatures can be seen from California’s shores including harbor seals, sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and whales. Our tide pools feature anemones, urchins, nudibranchs, limpets, mussels, crabs and many more animals uniquely suited to living in these constantly changing homes. Cormorants, osprey, sandpipers, godwits and pelicans are only some of the hundreds of species of coastal birds diving, soaring and nesting along our beaches. Dozens of types of flowers and other plants dot long stretches of undeveloped coastline. This all combines to create a fascinating and beautiful 1,100 miles along the Pacific Ocean. … read more