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Why MPAs Matter: Marine Protected Areas Ensure Healthy Fisheries and Tourism for Future Generations

Along any coastline in the world, you will find local economies that depend on a healthy ocean habitat. Many of these coastlines are suffering.  Overfishing, pollution, and climate change threaten habitats in every country, every coastline, and every island. Coastal communities draw life from the sea, and when fisheries collapse, people are hurt from nutritional losses and economic hardships.

In order to protect the rich natural resources along the California coast, a movement was initiated to designate special areas as no-take or limited-take marine reserves. Marine Protected Areas have brought a new hope for the future. These MPAs were created one year ago and show great potential to conserve and restore our beautiful coastline, ensuring that our local communities benefit from tourism, and from copious amounts of sustainable seafood.

Marine Protected Areas
A scene off the coast of Salt Point in a no-take marine reserve.
Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Happy Birthday to MPAs

December 19th marked an important birthday – the first anniversary of the completion of California’s statewide network of Marine Protected Areas.  These offshore hotspots of marine biodiversity can be thought of as a network of underwater “parks.”  Much the same as our national parks – such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Muir Woods – they work to protect the natural environment and draw in tourists.  They have a system of protections that aim to conserve habitats, fish, as well as other wildlife, plants, and cultural resources.

California has made history – our Marine Protected Areas comprise the largest scientifically-based network in the United States, and the second largest in the world. The state also designated protections on the North Coast that respect the right of indigenous people  to continue practicing  tribal ceremonies and harvesting.

There are 124 MPAs spread throughout the Golden State, stretching from the northernmost point of Del Norte County all the way down to the southern reaches of San Diego.  They were created after the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999 – they now protect 16% of California’s waters, compared to only 1% before the MLPA. Safe havens for wildlife and habitat, they also host millions of tourists every year for beach and water activities.  If you have ever gone fishing, kayaking, surfing, SCUBA diving, or hiking along the California coastline, it is very likely you have experienced one of these marine parks.

“Completing the nation’s first statewide open coast system of Marine Protected Areas strengthens California’s ongoing commitment to conserve marine life for future generations,” said Charlton H. Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This statewide system will also benefit fish and fishermen in California for generations to come. And, the science shows that by protecting sensitive ocean and coastal habitats, marine life flourishes and in turn, creates a healthier system overall.”

Open for recreational use, MPAs are protected from some or all fishing so that ecosystems and organisms can thrive and rebound. The concept behind this is simple – when hunting pressure is removed, fish and other wildlife have a chance to grow in total population numbers and individuals can increase in size.  They begin to spread out in search of new habitat, moving beyond the boundaries of the protected areas.  This creates a continuous flow of sea life that can be taken for commercial and recreational fisheries, and that can be aesthetically appreciated by kayakers, surfers, divers, and beachgoers.

 

Good for the economy

The beauty of the California coast is unmatched. Abundant kelp forests are home to bountiful populations of fish and colorful invertebrates. Seals and sea lions can be seen frolicking in the waves or hauled out with their babies on beaches all across the state. Whale-watching tours reveal the curiosity of friendly humpbacks and the sheer size of blue whales, the largest animal on the planet.

The Farallon Islands, a mere 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, are the largest seabird colony in the contiguous United States, and are migratory grounds for one the healthiest populations of Great White Sharks in the world.

Countless crowds come to the shores of the Golden State looking for these things. People travel from far and wide to lie on our beaches, feel the sun on their skin, and view the marvelous wildlife. They flood our coastlines, bringing a tide of good cheer to restaurants, hotels, and gift shops that benefit from their stay. Coastal cities thrive on tourism, and MPAs ensure that California’s shores will be stunning for generations to come.

Marine Protected Area Success Stories

Some areas have struggled with implementing, maintaining, and regulating MPAs.  Other areas, from coral reefs to kelp forests, have shown great success. MPA management is still new, but our understanding of how the ocean recovers and rebounds is growing rapidly. In all cases, recovery takes time. Years, even decades are needed before an ecosystem can recover. The longer an area is protected, the greater the benefits of the protection.

Success stories of MPAs from around the world:

  • Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve in Belize has found that after 5 years of protection, the population of reef sharks inside the protected area is four times the number found in nearby unprotected waters.

  • New studies show that MPAs protect the food source of the endangered African Penguin.

  • A global study has shown that coral reef MPAs can actually increase coral cover on reefs and prevent further habitat loss.

  • Threatened green sea turtles were found to benefit from nesting in protected areas, whereas in unprotected waters they often suffer from coastal development, pollution, plastic debris and being caught as bycatch.

  • A study from the Channel Islands in California, where MPAs have been in place for 10 years, showed larger and more abundant spiny lobsters within protected areas compared to nearby fished areas. Scientists also tagged the lobsters and found that they did move outside the reserve into areas open to fishing, a potential benefit to local fisheries.

These are only just a few examples – success stories on MPAs are exhaustive. We have evidence that marine reserves can protect species that we source as seafood. They provide a safe haven and a protected food supply for endangered species. They can benefit the overall health of the oceans, creating a foundation for an enduring relationship between humans and the sea.

Beauty and bounty

We rely on our oceans not only to provide us with the rich benefits of seafood. We also need them to stay beautiful and be healthy and to provide their bounty for our children’s children. At Pucci Foods, we care about sustainable practices in our industry’s global community. Join us in supporting the protection of the marine environment and ensuring sustainability for generations to come.

 

 

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