About California's MPAs

underwater wildlife illustration showing many species

About California's Network of MPAs

Just as our nation’s parks and wilderness areas protect special places on land, California’s MPAs protect a wide array of ocean and estuarine habitats and species. From rocky intertidal zones to tranquil estuaries, and from lush kelp forests to deep underwater canyons, California’s MPAs are places where human disturbance is limited. 

Generations ago, visionary leaders recognized the importance of protecting landscapes like Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada. Their work built a conservation movement that helped protect millions of acres across the globe. That ethic continues today through the creation of MPAs, including the California MPA Network. 

By setting aside areas of our marine environment where consumptive activities are limited or excluded altogether, Californians are helping protect the ocean’s bounty and beauty for future generations.

Making History

In 1999, the California Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). This landmark law required the design of a network of MPAs based on local knowledge and the best available science. The MPA Network was planned regionally over a period of 13 years, and included input from conservationists, fishermen, Tribes, agency representatives, scientists, and others. In 2012, California finalized the nation’s first statewide, science-based network of marine protected areas. It is the largest ecologically connected MPA network in the world.

How MPAs Work

California’s MPAs limit fishing and/or other human impacts, which may increase the size, abundance, and diversity of species that spend all or portions of their lives within them. The California MPA Network includes MPAs with different levels of protection; some MPAs prohibit the disturbance of any marine resource while others allow the take of particular species. Unlike the MPAs that existed prior to the MLPA, today’s MPAs work as part of a larger whole. By including the full range of marine habitats found in California waters, and placing MPAs in strategic proximity to each other, the California MPA Network can help preserve the connections and flow of life between marine ecosystems.

California's MPA Designations

The California MPA Network includes different types of MPAs as well as other designations. Each area is unique in its purpose and allowed uses.

State Marine Reserve (SMR): An MPA where no take, damage, injury, or possession of any living, geologic, or cultural marine resource is allowed.

No-Take State Marine Conservation Area (NoTake SMCA): An MPA where no take of any living, geologic, or cultural resource is allowed, EXCEPT for take incidental to specified activities permitted by other agencies (e.g. infrastructure maintenance, sand renourishment).

State Marine Park (SMP): An MPA that allows some recreational take but does not allow commercial take.

State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA): An MPA where some recreational and/or commercial take of marine resources may be allowed (restrictions vary)

State Marine Recreational Management Area (SMRMA): A marine managed area where some take of marine resources may be allowed and legal waterfowl hunting is allowed (restrictions vary).

Special Closure: Prohibits or restricts access in waters adjacent to seabird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites.

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