History of Orange County MPAs
Marine Life Refuge Development (1968 – 1999)
The official preservation of intertidal areas in Orange County began in the late 1960s in an era of sudden ecological awareness. Concern arose after the shoreline had already been depleted for decades by pollution, overfishing, collecting, and scavenging. California during that time was in an epoch of rapid evolution of ocean science and engineering and there was a sudden realization that every foot of coastline offered an invaluable toehold to the vast resources of the ocean. The periodic State Development Plan called for an unprecedented inventory of coastal lands and detailed mapping of the shoreline. After the initial mapping phase was complete, the first step toward management was to protect the life still existing between the tides.
Orange County tidepools had long drawn teachers, students and scientists from all over the United States to study and research the rich ecosystem. The legislative bill to establish the first Orange County State Marine Life Refuges (SMLs) in Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar was successfully introduced and passed by Assemblyman Robert Badham in 1968. The assemblyman followed this victory with an additional bill in 1969 that provided two more SMLs, Dana Point and Doheny. Two more SMLs were added in 1971, Niguel and Irvine Coast, extending the protected areas of Orange County to include most of the counties coast.
By 1971, there were 7 SMLs established along the Orange County coastline. Within this almost contiguous designated area from Doheny to Newport Beach, removal or destruction of marine life was punishable by law. Even empty shells and rocks were protected in their natural resting places, as well as non-commercial species of mussels, clams, snails, sea stars, urchins, crabs and octopuses.
The species protected within Orange County SMLs have been updated on a periodic basis by the California Department of Fish and Game. In 1994, new areas were added, the Refuge laws were updated, the maximum penalty for violation was increased, and the regulations were more clearly defined.
Marine Life Protection Act (1999 – present)
A California state law passed in 1999 that requires the state to develop a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along the California coast to increase the effectiveness of protecting marine species. California was divided into 5 regions and in 2004, the scientific based process of designating these MPAs by stakeholder driven groups began in the Central Coast region.
MPAs were initialed developed as extensions of terrestrial protected areas, such as the California state park’s system of under water parks. In the past decade MPAs have been recognized as their own independent biosphere, providing an emphasis of protecting ecosystems as a whole. In the face of declining fish and shellfish stocks worldwide it has become apparent that managing resources on an individual species level is no longer reasonable or effective. Ecosystem based management recognizes that ecosystems as a whole needs to be protected as a single natural resource in the effort to maintain biodiversity. Other benefits of MPAs include the protection of critical habitat, the protection of cultural or archeological resources, maintenance of genetic biodiversity, research areas and location for educational activities.
Although fishery enhancement is not a major objective of all MPAs the available evidence and theoretical considerations strongly suggest that fishery enhancement is a nice side effect of reserves. Recent studies have provided evidence that marine reserves really do allow fish to grow larger and become more abundant and far more reproductively active in places where they are not being killed. It stands to reason that large fish within reserves will eventually swim out of the boundaries of MPAs and larger fish spawn exponentially more eggs than smaller fish. The ecosystem effect of fisheries collapse can be seen in the kelp forest and intertidal areas of the southern California coast. A shift in ecosystem dynamics has been well documented with the loss of keystone predators through out the ages. The most compelling examples include the loss of sea cows during the indigenous era, the loss of sea otters during fur trading, the recent collapse of the red sea urchin fishery, and the reduction in size (physical and population) of the various commercially viable species including but not limited to rockfish species, sheephead, calico bass, yellowtail, and the California spiny lobster.
In 2008, the process of establishing a network of MPAs in Southern California began. Stakeholders from multiple interest groups started a series of meetings to discuss the science-based recommendations of where the most effective MPAs should be placed. Fishing and environmental interests were major considerations throughout the process and on January 1st, 2012, the network of MPAs in Southern California was implemented as law.