Learn about MPAs

MPA-map-from-brochure-wlogoIn 2012, California became an international leader in ocean protection by completing the US’ first statewide network of underwater parks that are designed to ensure healthy, vibrant ocean life for generations to come.  They create safe havens for marine wildlife to reproduce, grow and replenish adjacent areas, leading to stronger and more resilient marine ecosystems overall.

The marine protected areas (MPAs) were created to fulfill California’s landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), and were designed through a public policy process that included many stakeholders – fishermen, scientists, tribes, business owners and environmentalists.


What are MPAs?

Just as parks on land protect special lands and wildlife from overdevelopment, these underwater parks preserve California’s stunning marine ecosystems for future generations to observe and enjoy.  These areas have been called “hope spots” because they are our best hope in restoring the beauty and bounty of ocean life threatened by overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.  Scientific studies have shown that MPAs help restore depleted fish and wildlife populations. Check out the 10 year summary of how our local MPAs are working.

Key facts (source: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation)

  1. MPAs are an effective tool: MPAs have been used around the world with demonstrated successes in habitats spanning the globe.
  2. MPAs are working in California: MPAs show positive trends of recovery in habitats across the world, and signs from California are promising.
  3. Recovery takes time: Since many species take years to mature, recovery will take time and benefits should only increase over time.
  4. Monitoring continues: Scientists (including Channelkeeper) continue to study the MPAs along the California coast, demonstrating the positive benefits of protection for our future.

There are 19 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the Santa Barbara Channel (5 along the coast and 14 surrounding the Channel Islands). Each MPA was designated to set aside a particularly special area of the marine environment to create a robust network of protection covering over 350 square miles. Within the Channel there are several different types of Marine Protected Areas:

  1. Marine Reserves – Prohibits damage or take of all marine resources (living, geologic, or cultural) including recreational and commercial take.
  2. State Marine Conservation Areas – May allow some recreational and/or commercial take of marine resources (restrictions vary)
  3. No-take State Marine Conservation Areas – Generally prohibits the take of living, geological, and cultural marine resources, but allows potentially affected and ongoing permitted activities such as dredging and maintenance to continue
  4. Special closures – An area designated by the Fish and Wildlife Commission that prohibits access or restricts boating activities in waters adjacent to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites (restrictions vary)

Use our Explore Your MPA page to find information on recreational opportunities, characteristics, regulations, and public access for some of the more accessible MPAs.

South Coast MPA Google Tour

MPA Google TourThe California Marine Sanctuary Foundation has developed a Google Earth Tour of our local MPAs. This tour explores the 50 MPAs and two special closures along California’s south coast with breathtaking pictures and videos and links to nearby activities to enjoy these special ocean areas. Click on an MPA to bring up more information including a link to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website where boundaries and regulations can be viewed.

Our Role

Since the beginning of the Southern California MLPA initiative in 2008, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper was deeply involved in the process of crafting proposals for a Southern California MPA network.  The final array of underwater parks is a compromise solution that we’re proud to have participated in reaching.

Channelkeeper advocated strongly for the protection of Naples Reef. This small offshore pinnacle reef provides impressively complex habitat and has some of the most diverse and productive sea life in all of Southern California. This reserve will help marine life rebound to historic levels at the reef, providing incredible recreational opportunities while also replenishing fish populations in surrounding areas.

Today, Channelkeeper is focused on monitoring these special areas through our MPA Watch program, as well as engaging the community to raise awareness and promote stewardship of our MPAs through partnerships with local businesses and educational tours on our boat. Channelkeeper also participates as an active member of the Santa Barbara Channel MPA Collaborative, a combined effort of government agencies, nonprofits, and fishing representatives, to conduct localized implementation of marine conservation efforts in MPAs through regional communication and cooperation.