Reading Rock State Marine Reserve/State Marine Conservation Area

a grey choppy ocean extends out to the shoreline, the shore is barely discernable due to marine fog, rolling darks hills are visible far off in the distance with rounded gray clouds around the peaks, center frame a large 200 foot rock juts out form the ocean

Overview

Located offshore near the town of Orick, about 40 miles north of Eureka, Reading Rock State Marine Reserve (SMR) and the adjacent Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) are Humboldt County’s northernmost marine protected areas (MPAs). The MPAs are named after Reading Rock, a sea stack that rises from the seafloor and stands a fraction of a mile north of the MPAs. Reading Rock SMR protects more than nine square miles of sandy seafloor habitat out to depths of more than 250 feet. Composed predominately of soft, sandy seafloor, species like flatfish, smelt, sea whips, sea pens, and white-plumed anemones are common, while the interspersed hard bottom provides habitat for a variety of rockfish, lingcod, sea cucumbers, sea stars, octopus, and sponges. 

Reading Rock SMCA protects nearly 12 square miles of habitat including sandy seafloor and rocky shore environments to depths of more than 160 feet. The SMCA is also home to species found near shore including surfperch and sand crabs, as well as many birds, like western sandpipers, whimbrels, and sanderlings that dine on the critters found in the sand. The SMR prohibits any type of take but visitors may see fishing boats in the SMCA, which allows for the take of salmon, surf smelt, and Dungeness crab, both commercially and recreationally.

Regulations

Reading Rock 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)(7)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(7)(opens in new tab)

Reading Rock SMCA

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

Recreational take of salmon by trolling, surf smelt by dip net or Hawaiian-type throw net, and Dungeness crab by trap, hoop net or hand is allowed. Commercial take of salmon with troll fishing gear, surf smelt by dip net, and Dungeness crab by trap is allowed. Includes take exemptions for the following tribes:

  • Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria
  • Resighini Rancheria
  • Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation
California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(6)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(6)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

Reading Rock SMR

MPA size: 9.60 square miles

Depth range: 145 to 253 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Rock: 0.24 square miles
  • Sand/mud: 9.35 square miles

Reading Rock SMCA

MPA size: 11.96 square miles

Shoreline span: 2.9 miles

Depth range: 0 to 166 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Rock: 1.11 square miles
  • Sand/mud: 11.48 square miles

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

Reading Rock State Marine Reserve


California's MPA Network

About Reading Rock State Marine Reserve/State Marine Conservation Area

Natural History

wearing hardhats and personal floatation devices, 3 people swing a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) off the side of a boat, grey ocean water extends out to the horizon with a large squared rock jutting out from the water off in the distance
ROV survey team near Reading Rock SMR. CDFW photo by A. Frimodig

This is a section of coast where mountains meet the sea, piles of driftwood wash ashore, and the Redwood Creek river mouth empties into the Pacific Ocean. Visiting on a clear day offers the possibility of viewing Reading Rock offshore, just north of the MPA boundaries. As a prominent sea stack in the area, Reading Rock resembles a small island on the horizon.  

Remotely operated vehicle expeditions found that the rocky reefs surrounding Reading Rock are home to vibrantly colored sea stars, club-tipped anemones, and giant acorn barnacles. White-plumed anemones inhabit the tallest of the submerged rocky features, while lingcod, quillback rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and copper rockfish lurk within the rocky rubble. 

Seabirds such as the common murre, Brandt's cormorant, western gull, and pigeon guillemot use the rock for roosting and nesting in the spring and are sensitive to human intrusion. Meanwhile, marine mammals such as Steller sea lions and harbor seals utilize the rock as a resting place, and sharks, skates, and rays swim in the waters below.  

Venturing away from the rocky reef, the substrate gives way to boulders, then cobble, and finally soft sandy seafloor habitats, which make up the vast majority of habitat within the SMR and SMCA. 

Cultural History

steep green hillsides topped with coastal redwood trees, meet grey sandy beaches that pour into swaying green waters, a few pinnacles of rock just out along the coastline
Looking north into Reading Rock SMCA. photo © M. James, MPA Collaborative Network

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 Yurok are adept at many trades like fishing and canoe making. Dugout canoes allowed ocean and river travel for hunting game and salmon fishing. The ocean gave pee-ee (mussels) and chey-gel' (seaweed) which hold significance to the Yurok as essential for health, wealth, and tradition. Through a factual record of historical take within the Reading Rock SMCA, the Yurok Tribe of the Yurok Reservation are exempt from the SMCA regulations. 

European settlers quickly moved into northern California in the latter half of the 19th century due to the discovery of gold. Many settled in Orick, about two miles inland of the MPA, and approximately 300-400 people still live there. As the hunt for gold lost momentum, attention shifted to logging in the 1890s. Extensive logging led to the loss of thousands of acres of old-growth redwoods by the early 1900s. Thousands of acres were acquired by the state in the 1920s to save the remaining redwoods, which eventually became part of the Redwood National and State Parks that border the MPAs today. 

Recreation

resting on green muddy rocks with spots of orange red coral on the sea floor, a copper rockfish sits, this fish has a pink white base color with a rustic copper coloration along its sides and face
Copper rockfish in Reading Rock SMR. CDFW/MARE photo

Within Reading Rock SMCA, limited commercial and recreational fishing opportunities exist, including take of salmon, surf smelt, and Dungeness crab. Shore-based visitors to the SMCA can also point their binoculars towards the sea stacks in the water to observe seabirds roosting high above the waves. Murres, guillemots, cormorants, gulls, and auklets are all common along this stretch of coast.  

Visitors need a boat to access the offshore location of Reading Rock SMR. While no marine resources may be taken from the SMR, scuba and free divers may want to try their hand at diving Reading Rock. Reading Rock provides divers an opportunity to see the types of marine life that live within the Reading Rock MPAs without having to descend deeper than 100 feet. Fed by nutrient-rich currents, the undersea walls and ledges abound with marine life such as anemones, octopus, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, cabezon, and kelp greenling. Sea lions are often seen around the rock and regularly approach divers, who should be aware that sea lion presence may attract large sharks as well. 

Coordinates

Reading Rock SMR

This area is bounded by straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed except where noted:

41° 20.100' N. lat. 124° 10.000' W. long.;
41° 20.100' N. lat. 124° 14.655' W. long.; thence southward along the three nautical mile offshore boundary to
41° 17.600' N. lat. 124° 11.963' W. long.;
41° 17.600' N. lat. 124° 10.000' W. long.; and
41° 20.100' N. lat. 124° 10.000' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(7)

Reading Rock SMCA

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

41° 20.100' N. lat. 124° 04.911' W. long.;
41° 20.100' N. lat. 124° 10.000' W. long.;
41° 17.600' N. lat. 124° 10.000' W. long.; and
41° 17.600' N. lat. 124° 05.399' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(6)

Reading Rock State Marine Reserve

Map

Map of Reading Rock State Marine Reserve - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet

Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area

Map

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

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet