May - June 2010
Sierra Club Yodeler
Vol. 73 No. 3
On May 1 a network of 24 undersea state parks - the first of its kind in the country - will hit the water between Half Moon Bay and Point Arena. Officially known as marine protected areas, the submarine sanctuaries will safeguard roughly 20% of state waters in the region, protecting some of the area's most vital and vulnerable ocean habitats.
This science-based, statewide network of protected areas was established to repair damage to the marine environment caused by decades of over-use and neglect. Pollution, coastal development, overfishing, and other human impacts have devastated California's ocean ecosystem - regional fish landings, for example, have decreased by 70% over the past 15 years.
Studies of similar reserves at the Channel Islands and the Great Barrier Reef show that they not only increase overall fish populations, but also result in fish that are larger and more robust.
Marine protected areas are the underwater equivalent of the natural places that John Muir fought to protect over 100 years ago. These "Yosemites of the sea" will serve as natural sanctuaries where marine life can recover and thrive, and will be preserved for future generations of underwater explorers, students, and researchers. Marine protected areas "will preserve rocky reefs, pinnacles, underwater canyons, kelp forests, and a whole variety of habitat and habitat niches for certain species," said Karen Garrison, co-director of the Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
They were also just as hard-fought as their land-based predecessors.
The state law laying the foundation for marine protected areas was passed over a decade ago, but initial attempts to implement the law failed, due in large part to misinformation about what marine protected areas are and whether they work. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), therefore, led efforts to educate people about how marine protected areas actually benefit fisheries by allowing fish populations to rebuild. The groups advocated for a network of reserves that included the strongest conservation features.
Those efforts paid off last fall, when the Fish and Game Commission approved a regional network of marine protected areas that will protect some of California's most precious underwater habitats.
Public support is still necessary, however, to ensure that monitoring and enforcement of the network are funded. Take a moment to call or write your local state senator or assemblyperson and express your support for California's marine protected areas.
Also, the planning process is under way for a network of reserves for the coast of Northern California, from Point Arena to the border, and participation by conservationists is critical. Information about workshops and public meetings is available at the Department of Fish and Game's web site.