MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area

MacKerricher SMCA

Overview

MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) extends north along almost four miles of coastline starting near renowned Glass Beach at the northern end of Fort Bragg. It covers more than two square miles of ocean habitat with a maximum depth of around 120 feet. Sandy beaches, rocky intertidal areas, high bluffs, small pocket coves between headland points, creek outlets, rocky reefs, and soft seafloor environments dot the coastline here. Tidepools teem with algae, invertebrates, and small fish, while shorebirds can be seen probing the sand for their next meal or diving for smelt and surfperch. 

Offshore, rocky reefs provide kelp attachment sites where the algae can grow to form underwater forests. Rockfish, greenlings, and cabezon move around in the kelp, and invertebrates like white-plumed anemones and gorgonians find refuge on the seafloor. Interspersed amongst the reef, swaths of soft, sandy seafloor support beds of sand dollars, swaying sea pens, and perfectly camouflaged flatfish.

Regulations

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, EXCEPT:
Commercial and recreational take in accordance with current regulations is allowed. Commercial take of bull kelp and giant kelp is prohibited.
California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(22)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(22)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

MPA size: 2.48 square miles

Shoreline span: 4.1 miles

Depth range: 0 to 119 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Rock: 3.46 square miles
  • Sand/mud: 1.07 square miles

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About MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area

Natural History

rock crab and sea urchins
Rock crab and red sea urchins at MacKerricher SMCA. photo © K. Joe

This long stretch of coast boasts sandy beaches, intertidal and offshore rocks, steep bluffs, creek outlets, and pocket coves between headlands. The tidepools are rich with seaweeds, including dwarf rockweed, Turkish towel, feather boa kelp, and bladder wrack. Living amongst the algae are invertebrates such as mussels, barnacles, limpets, and anemones. The careful observer may see small fish dart around in the tidepools, shore crabs tucked under ledges, and cryptic octopi.

Black oystercatchers pick prey items from the seaweed and cormorants sun themselves on nearby rocks before diving back into the water in search of fish. Washed up kelp, known as wrack, decomposes on the beach and provides food for many animals. Worms, clams, and sand crabs burrow into the sand, while shorebirds, like sandpipers and whimbrels, probe the sand for their meals.

Offshore, soft seafloor habitat supports Dungeness crab, sand dollars, sea pens, and flatfish. Interspersed rocky reef areas provide solid footholds for bull kelp and other algae to attach and create underwater forests. Groundfish such as rockfish, lingcod, and cabezon are common here, mobile invertebrates like sea cucumbers, urchins, and box crabs navigate amongst the rocky outcroppings, and sedentary invertebrates like gorgonians and white-plumed anemones sway alongside the kelp in the current.

Cultural History

trestle bridge over Pudding Creek
Trestle bridge, now a pedestrian walkway, over Pudding Creek. photo © CX15, CC BY-NC-ND 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. Today, Coast Pomo and Coast Yuki peoples continue to gather foods and other resources in the practice of their Tribal traditions in and around MacKerricher SMCA beaches.

The Mendocino Indian Reservation, established in 1856, was officially decommissioned in 1865. Reservation land was then made available for purchase to former reservation employees and settlers for farming, logging, milling, and other extractive activities. This included a 1,000-acre plot of land purchased by Duncan MacKerricher and his wife, Jesse, at Laguna Point. Their heirs sold this land to State Parks in 1949. Before State Parks acquired the land, the coastline now encompassed by MacKerricher State Park was used by timber companies as a thoroughfare to haul lumber to the mill in Fort Bragg. The Ten Mile branch of the railroad was completed in 1916 with five trestle bridges between the mill site and Ten Mile River. The first trestle bridge, the one across Pudding Creek, almost 530 feet in length and 45 feet high, remains one of the most scenic relics of the former railroad and is now a multi-use recreational trail.

Recreation

Tidepoolers at Glass Beach
Tidepoolers at Glass Beach, MacKerricher SMCA. photo © P. Thoeny, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

MacKerricher SMCA is one of the most accessible MPAs in Mendocino County. MacKerricher State Park Road, the old timber haul road used in the late 1800s, runs almost the entire length of the coast bordering the SMCA, from Glass Beach in the south to Cleone in the north. This multi-use road is paved and available for walking, bicycling, horseback riding, and is wheelchair friendly.

In addition to foot paths along the bluffs, there are beach access points at Glass Beach, Pudding Creek, Virgin Creek, Laguna Point, and MacKerricher State Park. At multiple points, visitors have ample opportunity to watch for marine mammals and seabirds. Laguna Point boasts a popular,  easy-access boardwalk. Scuba and free diving in the SMCA offers a close-up look at the abundant marine life. Onshore, visitors can explore tidepool areas at Glass Beach and Laguna Point to find anemones, octopi, nudibranchs (sea slugs), sea stars, crabs, small fish, and other marine life revealed by the retreating tide. Beach wheelchairs can also be reserved through the neighboring MacKerricher State Park.

MacKerricher SMCA is a great place to go fishing, and bull kelp and giant kelp may also be collected recreationally. Anglers can fish for redtail surfperch from shore, drop a trap or hoop net in the water to catch Dungeness crab, or dive beneath the surface to go spearfishing for lingcod.

Coordinates

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

39° 30.100 ′ N. lat. 123° 47.327 ′ W. long.;
39° 30.100 ′ N. lat. 123° 49.000 ′ W. long.;
39° 27.120 ′ N. lat. 123° 49.000 ′ W. long.; and
39° 27.120 ′ N. lat. 123° 48.830 ′ W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(22)

Map

Map of MacKerricher State Marine Conservation Area - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet