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California | Environment & Forest Defense

Southern California's new ocean parks open January 1
by CalOceans
Thursday Dec 15th, 2011 3:57 PM
On January 1, 2012, California will take a huge step forward in ocean protection with the establishment of a series of underwater parks, or "marine protected areas," created through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) to preserve some of the state's most iconic coastal areas for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

California is the most visited state in the country, with natural wonders like Yosemite, Big Sur and Pismo Beach drawing tourists from all over. On January 1, the state of California will unveil its latest attraction: a network of underwater parks dotting southern California’s coast like a string of pearls.

The latest in a statewide chain of marine protected areas created through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), the new parks will provide new opportunities for world-class wildlife viewing at some of the region’s most popular tourist destinations, including La Jolla, Laguna, Malibu, and Catalina Island.

These parks will help ensure the beaches, tidepools, surf breaks and offshore islands southern California is known for—along with the kelp beds, rocky reefs, and submarine canyons few visitors experience—will remain wild and beautiful. With southern California’s coastal tourism-based economy employing close to 300,000 people and contributing $12 billion to state’s GDP, ocean protection is good for the economy and environment.

As fish thrive in protected areas, so too do the marine mammals and sea birds that feed on them. Underwater parks support the whole web of life, allowing visitors to glimpse a truly healthy, abundant coastal ecosystem. Marine protected areas are doing for California’s ocean what Yosemite did for the Sierra—protecting our natural heritage and allowing people to appreciate the wonder and beauty found right here in our own state.

These protections come at a critical time: southern California fishing catch value has dropped 40 percent since 1990, and number of two key sportfish, kelp bass and barred sand bass, have declined 90% in the same period. The new parks preserve fish breeding and feeding grounds, so they will help to replenish fisheries while also providing opportunities for fun and learning. Most are located alongside public beaches and land-based parks, where interpretive programs and signs will provide a window into the underwater world.

The new southern California underwater parks join a growing statewide system that includes Point Lobos, Ano Nuevo, the Farallon Islands, and Point Reyes. You can access maps at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/maps.asp. Some of the highlights of the new south network are:

1. Catalina Island (26 miles off the coast of Los Angeles)
Catalina’s magnificent ocean life draws 800,000 visitors each year, many of whom come to fish, dive, snorkel, kayak, or enjoy the beaches. New protections for this popular recreation destination will keep the local wildlife and economy thriving.

2. Point Dume (Santa Monica Bay)
Nearby state parks and county beaches provide ample public access to Point Dume’s abundant sea life. However, the area’s popularity with local anglers has caused worrisome declines at well-known fishing spots like Big Kelp Reef and the Paradise Cove Pier. The new underwater park at Point Dume will protect the undersea canyon that acts as a fish nursery, helping to repopulate the rest of Santa Monica Bay. It will also ensure that tidepoolers, kayakers, divers and other visitors can continue to enjoy a thriving marine environment, spotting the halibut, black sea bass, and migrating grey whales the area is known for.

3. Laguna (Orange County)
The community of Laguna Beach is passionate about their coast, and they worked to secure permanent protection for this jewel of Orange County, creating a “marine reserve” that extends the length of the city’s coastline. There will also be new offshore protections for the waters of Crystal Cove and Dana Point. The new parks connect with existing land-based protections, creating pockets of nature along this densely populated part of southern California’s coast.

4. South La Jolla (San Diego)
Each year, more than two million visitors come to La Jolla Shores to swim, dive, snorkel, or walk the beach. The area’s famous kelp forest has been compared to the Amazon rainforest for its diversity of life. Southern La Jolla is the biological heart of this area, and on January 1 will become an underwater park, protecting the natural resources that make La Jolla one of southern California’s most iconic coastal attractions.

For more information on marine protected areas, please visit http://www.caloceans.org.