Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve/State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take)

clear waters with dark rocks just below the surface, brown kelp patties dot the horizon, small pockets of vegetation mark the cliffsides that meet a small spit of beach

Overview

Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) (No-Take) are located 15 miles southeast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, between Crystal Cove and the city of Dana Point. Laguna Beach SMR protects more than six square miles of rocky and sandy habitats, including diverse rocky intertidal and shallow kelp reefs out to depths of more than 1,200 feet. This marine protected area (MPA) extends along more than four miles of shoreline from Abalone Point, Laguna’s northernmost city limit, south to Goff Island. Laguna Beach SMCA (No-Take) protects more than three square miles of world class rocky and sandy habitats, including diverse rocky intertidal, and shallow kelp reefs out to depths of more than 1,400 feet.

Laguna Beach SMCA (No-Take) extends south from Goff Island to Table Rock. Beachgoers, surfers, tidepoolers, wildlife lovers, scuba and free divers, kayakers, and paddle boarders play in and around the MPA’s many reefs, tidepools, sandy shores, kelp forests, and protected coves. An excursion into the clear waters will often yield sightings of leopard sharks, garibaldi, and California halibut. In the surfgrass, young rockfish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates abound. Marine mammals, including sea lions, harbor seals, and migrating whales can often be seen foraging for food or migrating along the coast. 

Regulations

Laguna Beach SMR

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(134)(opens in new tab)

Laguna Beach SMCA (No-Take)

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource. Take incidental to certain permitted activities may be allowed. Other restrictions may apply. See CCR T14 §632(b) (link below) for details.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(135)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

Laguna Beach SMR

MPA size: 6.72 square miles

Shoreline span: 4.4 miles

Depth range: 0 to 1,231 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 6.28 square miles
  • Rock: 0.90 square miles

Laguna Beach SMCA (No-Take)

MPA size: 3.09 square miles

Shoreline span: 1.2 miles

Depth range: 0 to 1,408 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 3.09 square miles
  • Rock: 0.09 square miles

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

Southern California Marine Protected Area Highlights


California's MPA Network

About Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve/State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take)

Natural History

a snorkeler takes a photo above a leopard shark, fine sand displays small peaks and valleys, growths of surfgrass and brown algae create small sections of shadows, the leopard shark has dark grey brown bands and dots along its back, base coloring is a light grey
Leopard shark amongst surfgrass in Laguna Beach SMR. photo © lbskaist, CC BY-NC 2.0

Each year, more than 200,000 cubic meters of sand are moved by waves and longshore currents, causing an ever-changing, dramatic beach landscape along this stretch of coastline. The coves, natural arches, and rocky outcroppings scattered throughout the Laguna Beach MPAs are a testament to the area’s dynamic geology. Most of the shoreline and underwater areas within these MPAs are sandy seafloor and often covered in meadows of surfgrass. Surfgrass grows in large clumps, offering shelter to a variety of nudibranchs (sea slugs), crabs, and shrimp, as well as senorita, wrasses and many species of juvenile fish.

Among the rocky reefs and coves, towering giant kelp forests host species such as California spiny lobster, turban snails, rock scallops, blacksmith, leopard sharks, horn sharks, California sheephead, and cabezon. At low tide, the ocean recedes to reveal tidepools filled with creatures such as Kellet’s whelks, top snails, limpets, anemones, and small fishes. Deeper offshore, crabs, anemones, and worms bury themselves in the sand, flatfish camouflage themselves among the soft sediment, and bat rays glide above the seafloor.

Cultural History

a curved light tan sandy beach meets a gentle ocean, a few dozen beachgoers dot the sandy shore, houses stretch up from the beach all the way up a rolling hillside along the horizon
Crescent Bay at Laguna Beach SMRphoto © K. Lund, CC BY-NC 2.0

For centuries, Native American Tribes in California have relied on marine and coastal resources. Many Native American Tribes in California continue to regularly harvest marine resources within their ancestral territories and maintain relationships with the coast for ongoing customary uses. The land that is now Laguna Beach was historically occupied by the Tongva and Acjachemen peoples. They were skilled in hunting and fishing, and extremely knowledgeable in using the abundant and productive marine resources for food, tools, and art. These Tribes developed several specialized crafts and tools, including nets, fishhooks, and tule canoes. The canoes enabled travel offshore and access to deeper water marine resources such as fish from the kelp forests.

European expeditions in the area first occurred in 1542, although large scale settlement did not begin until the mid-1700s during the era of the San Gabriel and San Juan Capistrano missions. The area of Laguna Beach slowly started to develop into the community it is today when brothers William and Lorenzo Brooks set up a homestead in nearby Bluebird Canyon. The beauty and seclusion drew artists, mystics, and wanderers, and a counterculture community sprouted up in the 1960s that included adventurer, Richard Halliburton, and psychologist and writer, Timothy Leary. The entire coastline and offshore areas of Laguna Beach were designated state MPAs in 2012. In 2017, Laguna Beach and its greenbelt were named a Historic American Landscape, one of 700 sites nationwide to be recognized as such.

Recreation

blue ocean water peeks through long green brown blades of giant kelp, a central stem branches off with rounded gas bladders extend into the long grooved blades of kelp
Giant kelp in Laguna Beach SMR. photo © Stefanie, CC BY-NC 2.0

Warm, clear waters in summer, great weather, and a variety of available ocean recreation activities, as well as the area’s natural biodiversity, make the Laguna Beach MPAs popular recreational and tourist destinations. The coastline along the SMR is dotted with many beaches including Shaw’s Cove Beach, Boat Canyon Beach, Diver’s Cove Beach, Heisler Park, Main Beach, Bluebird Beach, and Woods Cove Beach. These beaches have small coves interspersed, creating occasional secluded spots. Typically, though, these beaches are packed with beachgoers during the warm summer months. Surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, and freediving are all popular activities in the area.

However, recreational and commercial take of marine resources is not allowed in either MPA. Located adjacent to the city of Laguna Beach, there are many nearby places to eat, stay, and shop. For those looking to launch a boat, the nearest harbors are Newport Harbor to the north and Dana Point to the south.

Coordinates

Laguna Beach SMR

This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

33° 33.224′ N. lat. 117° 49.184′ W. long.;
33° 33.211′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.;
33° 30.713′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.; and
33° 30.713′ N. lat. 117° 45.264′ W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(134)

Laguna Beach SMCA (No-Take)

This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:

33° 30.713′ N. lat. 117° 45.264′ W. long.;
33° 30.713′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.;
33° 30.050′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.; and
33° 30.050′ N. lat. 117° 44.762′ W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(135)

Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve

Map

Map of Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet

Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take)

Map

Map of Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area (No-Take) - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet