California Creates Nation’s First Statewide Underwater Park System

State approval of north coast community plan completes eight year planning effort

Press Release: California Creates Nation’s First Statewide Underwater Park System State approval of north coast community plan completes eight year planning effort.

Media Contact:
Katie Cline, Communications Manager
Telephone: (202) 351-0482

June 6, 2012

Eureka, CA - California made history today when the Fish and Game Commission voted to adopt a network of Marine Protected Areas for northern California. The vote marks the completion of the United States’ first statewide network of underwater parks, protecting California’s special coastal places and sea life, from rockfish and razor clams to Steller sea lions and shorebirds.

While today’s meeting was held in Eureka, the news was heralded all over the state, where similar community-led marine protected area planning efforts have taken place region by region over the past eight years.

“As a Californian and a mom, I am glad to know my children—and their children—will be able to enjoy the beauty and bounty of our spectacular coast,” said Kaitilin Gaffney, Pacific Program Director of Ocean Conservancy. “And as a surfer and kayaker, I can't wait to get out and enjoy the new ocean parks that span our state.” 

"These new marine protections are money in the bank for California's tourism industry and restaurant owners like me,” said Cindy Walter, owner of Passionfish Restaurant in Pacific Grove. “We depend on healthy fish populations and beautiful coasts for our guests, and this vote gives fish and marine wildlife a chance to feed, breed and thrive."

The protected areas were created through the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999. Over the last eight years, conservationists, business owners, scientists, tribes, fishermen, recreational ocean users and government officials met up and down the coast to collaboratively design the network. It is one of the largest, most public natural resource management initiatives ever undertaken.

Underwater parks in northern and central California include:

  • Point Reyes, whose coast is home to humpback and gray whales, seals, sea lions and elephant seals.
  • Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in San Mateo County. Its rocky seashore hosts a living community of marine life that offers visitor and naturalists alike an up close look at intertidal seaweed, crabs, sponges, seastars, mollusks and fish.
  • The bluffs and beaches of Ano Nuevo, where protection means the chance to restore dwindling rockfish populations.
  • Point Lobos, protecting underwater habitats for diving while allowing salmon fishing and improving scientific research.

Since the areas were designated, many Central Coast schoolkids, teachers and ocean lovers have taken part in hands-on learning to understand life beneath the waves. Citizen science efforts like MPA Watch, coordinated by the Otter Project, have also trained hundreds of volunteers and docents to monitor beach and coastal use in and around the protected areas. The information is used to inform enforcement and management agencies. 

More info and photos for download are at

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