MPA History

California's coast and ocean are among our most treasured resources. The productivity, wildness, and beauty found here is central to California's identity, heritage, and economy. The State has taken a proactive approach in the management and conservation of California’s coastal and marine resources for long-term sustainability by passing a number of ecosystem protection laws, programs, and plans since the 1990s.

Marine Life Protection Act: California's MPA Founding Legislation

The Marine Life Management Act (MLMA, 1998), initiated a shift in marine resource management philosophy from single species management to an ecosystem-based approach. The State recognized that the Marine Life Management Act alone would not accomplish broad ecosystem protection, and soon thereafter passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA, 1999) to complement the Marine Life Management Act and use marine protected areas (MPAs) as an ecosystem-based resource management tool. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to redesign California’s pre-existing system of MPAs to increase its coherence and effectiveness in protecting the State’s marine life, habitats, and ecosystems.

The State soon also passed the Marine Managed Areas Improvement Act (MMAIA, 2000) to simplify its classification system for marine managed areas (MMAs) – of which MPAs are a subset. In addition, the California Ocean Resources Stewardship Act (CORSA, 2000) and California Ocean Protection Act (COPA, 2004) were passed to create a framework for guiding a partnership-based approach to manage California’s coastal and marine resources.

MPA Planning Process (the "MLPA Initiative")

The MLPA directed the State to redesign its pre-existing system of MPAs to function as a network in order to increase its coherence and effectiveness at protecting marine life, habitats, and ecosystems. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife served as the lead agency to implement new and revised MPAs which were designed to function as a more ecologically connected statewide network. 

From 2004 to 2012, the MLPA Initiative (a public-private partnership between CDFW, the California Natural Resources Agency, and Resources Legacy Fund) led four regional science guided and stakeholder driven MPA design and siting processes. 

Specific design guidelines and documentation for each regional planning process are accessible through links below.

North Coast MPA Planning Process

North Coast MPA Planning Porcess

The North Coast region of California is considered the California/Oregon Border to Alder Creek near Point Arena.

MPAs in this region were established on December 19, 2012.

North Central Coast MPA Planning Process

North Central Coast MPA Planning Porcess

The North Central Coast region of California is considered to be from Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point

Central Coast MPA Planning Process

South Coast MPA Planning Process

San Francisco Bay MPA Planning Process

San Francisco Bay MPA Planning Process

The San Francisco Bay region of California is considered to be the waters within San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge northeast to the Carquinez Bridge

The San Francisco Bay Study Region is the fifth and final study region for consideration under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

Channels Islands MPA Planning Process

Map of Channel Islands MPAs

The Office of Administrative Law approved the Channel Islands MPA regulatory action and filed it with the Secretary of State on March 10, 2003. The regulations took effect on April 9, 2003.

In 1998 the Channel Islands Marine Resources Restoration Committee, a group of concerned citizens, requested the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas around the northern Channel Islands. This request preceded the Marine Life Protection Act by nearly one year. As a result of the request, the Commission directed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Sanctuary) to jointly support a process to discuss MPAs in the Channel Islands area. After more than 2 years of meetings involving a broad based constituent group, CDFW and Sanctuary drafted a recommendation for Channel Islands MPAs. This recommendation became part of a range of alternatives. For more information on the constituent based process visit the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Following each iterative regional MPA planning process and separate regulatory process, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted new and revised MPAs which were implemented in the Central Coast in September 2007, the North Central Coast in May 2010, the South Coast in January 2012, and the North Coast in December 2012. A detailed report on the results of this nine-year process is found in the Overview of Alternative Marine Protected Area Proposals (PDF)

California is now home to the largest scientifically based and stakeholder driven MPA network in the United States, including 124 MPAs and 15 special closures covering approximately 16% of the State’s 5,285 square miles of jurisdictional ocean waters (from the mainland and islands shore to three nautical miles offshore).

Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov  |  (831) 649-2870
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