California's Marine Life Protection Act in Action: A Sheltered Sea


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In 1999, California passed the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) which directed the state to create and manage the state's first network of marine protected areas (MPA) along the coastline. The move was seen as a necessary countermeasure to widespread coastal loss and degradation, which had already resulted in over 90 percent of the state's wetlands being lost and in large fisheries population declines, among other harmful consequences.
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The Baum Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, has chronicled some of the travails and initial progress achieved by the MLPA over the last few years in a new documentary, entitled "A Sheltered Sea." The organization interviewed a number of participants, including commercial fishermen, scientists, activists and policymakers, to provide some background on the issue and explain some of the initiative's achievements. It also recounts the legislation's early milestones and casts some light on the decision-making progress.

At the time the MLPA was ratified, a novel conservation strategy, ecosystem-based management (EBM), was coming into vogue. Past measures had failed to resolve the state's chronic problems, because they had often assumed a myopic, single-species approach. Moreover, legislators and scientists had sometimes worked at odds trying to fulfill their respective objectives, undermining each other's efforts and pursuing inefficient strategies. EBM promised to provide a more coherent, systematic approach to coastal and marine management that would bring all stakeholders to the table and achieve a consensus-driven agenda.

After some initial troubles that saw the legislation founder in its early years, the California Department of Fish and Game, tasked with implementing it, brought in more stakeholders and funding in 2004 to start the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The initiative was meant to help carve up the coast into sequential regions and develop a set of MPAs for the Central Coast region. Following three years of careful deliberation and public outreach, the CDFG and its colleagues approved a plan to create 29 MPAs covering roughly 204 square miles of state waters, including 85 designated as no-take marine reserves.

They have since moved on to evaluate a similar plan for the North-Central Coast region and are targeting their current efforts to the South Coast region -- information about which (public meetings, issues to be addressed, etc) can be found on the MLPA's website.

For anyone interested in coastal conservation -- and, more broadly, the benefits of ecosystem-based management -- this documentary is well worth the watch.

California's coastline
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Tags: California | Conservation

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