August 30, 2008

Marine Protected Areas Are Essential to California

By Bob Breen

THE CALIFORNIA COAST has been called one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world. Our coast needs the protection that meets standards set by most marine scientists that fully protects recreational and educational opportunities, as well as enhances depleted fisheries.

Marine Protected Areas, areas of the ocean that allow marine animals and plants to flourish undisturbed, will allow our oceans to absorb the shocks of change. And make no mistake; we are living in a time of change.

Climate change has already arrived on the California coast. During my 40 years as a student and ranger-naturalist at Moss Beach, I saw changes to plant and animal life firsthand.

Warm water species of sea anemone, worms, and barnacles have moved in, and the leafy cold-water seaweed has been replaced by algal turf reminiscent of Southern California.

Other researchers have found similar results with fish, abalone and snail populations.

California needs a network of Marine Protected Areas. MPAs are an adaptive ocean management strategy that considers the entire ocean ecosystem and maintains it in a healthy, productive and resilient condition. MPAs are good for fish, but they are also good for people. They provide a place for visitors to study, kayak, dive and surf. Like undersea parks, MPAs allow plants and animals to flourish with minimal disturbance, and allow people to experience nature close at hand.

In 1969, a small marine protected area was established at Moss Beach. Even then it was controversial, but the results surprised people. Moss Beach soon became a tourist attraction, one of the most popular destination in the bay area for school field trips, families and visitors from across the country and around the world.

Rather than taking something away from the community it has helped the local economy. Numerous marine researchers have written that MPAs can increase the quality of life and the importance of non- extractive activities such as education, photography, diving, ecotourism and cultural activities.

The state of California made a commitment to ocean protection with the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999. The MLPA Initiative for the North Central Coast has been an exhaustive process and we're only part way there. Since May 2007, local conservationists, business owners, government officials and hundreds of other interested residents have spent countless hours poring over maps, charts and tables to work out a network of MPAs for the North Central Coast.

Starting in September, the California Fish and Game Commission will begin taking public comments on the four MPA proposals that resulted from those months of meetings. They will look especially closely at one proposal, the Integrated Preferred Alternative (IPA), which is a compromise plan recommended by the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force.

The IPA follows scientific guidelines for a holistic, risk averse, marine resources management plan. If enacted by the Fish and Game Commission, the IPA will allow our oceans to recover and pay dividends. Dividends in the form of "spillover" of increased fish populations from protected to fished areas.

By this time next year, the North Central Coast will be dotted with MPAs interconnected by ocean currents. These MPAs will result in a more resilient, biodiverse ocean that will be better equipped for the uncertainties of climate change. They will ensure that future generations can enjoy the abundant coastal resources that we once knew at the California coast. The oceans belong to them and to all Californians. We need the plan that uses MPAs to manage our ocean resources.

As an ocean user, a long-term manager of an MPA, and a member of the North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group, I ask that the Fish and Game Commission adopt the Integrated Preferred Alternative proposal, and I ask the community to embrace it as well. It is our legacy and our gift to future generations, who will be able to experience and fish in a healthy ocean thanks to our foresight.

Breen has 35 years experience as a ranger-naturalist at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and has 13 years experience teaching marine biology at Half Moon Bay High School. He is a resident of Montara.

Originally published by Bob Breen, Guest commentary.

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