Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, and San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area

A view of Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve

Overview

Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve (SMR) and San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA)are adjacent marine protected areas (MPAs) located in San Diego County, just offshore of the University of California, San Diego. 

Matlahuayl SMR covers just over one square mile from shore to depths greater than 330 feet, protecting a mix of sandy beaches, rocky intertidal areas, surfgrass beds, rocky reefs, sea caves, and submarine canyon habitat. San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA covers just under 1½ square miles from shore to depths greater than 360 feet, protecting a mix of rocky shoreline, sandy beaches, rocky reefs, and submarine canyon habitat. Both MPAs support unique and diverse marine communities.

These MPAs are located near La Jolla Submarine Canyon and Scripps Submarine Canyon, which provide cold, nutrient rich water to the MPAs. The area is a hotbed of biodiversity and a shelter for numerous species including leopard sharks, blue-banded gobies, garibaldi, nudibranchs, California spiny lobsters, sea lions, kelp bass, dolphins, and migrating whales. San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA encompasses an area protected since 1929, previously known as the San Diego Marine Life Refuge. Today, this MPA is a key part of California’s MPA Network.

Regulations

Matlahuayl 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)(142)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(142)(opens in new tab)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(142)(opens in new tab)

San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA

It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, EXCEPT:
Recreational take of coastal pelagic species except market squid (northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, and jack mackerel), by hook-and-line only is allowed.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(141)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(141)(opens in new tab)California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(141)(opens in new tab)

Quick Facts

Matlahuayl SMR

MPA size: 1.04 square miles

Shoreline span: 1.7 miles

Depth range: 0 to 331 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 0.96 square miles
  • Rock: 0.20 square miles

San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA

MPA size: 1.46 square miles

Shoreline span: 1.1 miles

Depth range: 0 to 366 feet

Habitat composition:

  • Sand/mud: 2.16 square miles
  • Rock: 0.01 square miles

Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

Southern California Marine Protected Area Highlights


California's MPA Network

About Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, and San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area

Natural History

Pair of Leopard Sharks
A pair of leopard sharks in Matlahuayl SMR. photo © Kristen, CC BY-NC 2.0

La Jolla’s Matlahuayl SMR and San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA incorporate three major ecosystem types that are linked by their geological history. The area around San Diego once received much more rain than it does now, and large rivers and lagoons were common in ancient times. It is the combination of these ancient lagoons, rivers, and tectonic activity that created the coves, sea cliffs, and canyons now present. With the large influx of sand from the erosion of coastal bluffs, most of the area is sandy seafloor with some rocky reef and deep canyon areas breaking up the shifting sands. 

Birds can be seen along the shoreline, including sandpipers, egrets, whimbrels, and brown pelicans. The tidepools teem with periwinkle snails, striped shore crabs, acorn barnacles, chitons, and limpets. Offshore, the rocky reefs and kelp forests support large populations of lingcod, white seabass, and leopard sharks. These sharks, which are generally harmless to humans and can grow up to six feet in length, gather in massive numbers each summer and fall in La Jolla Cove, within the SMR, and are an attraction for visitors who snorkel in the shallow water. Sanddabs, halibut, bat rays, round stingrays, shovelnose guitarfish, thornback rays, and baitfish can be found patrolling the sandy seafloor and large beds of surfgrass that hide crustaceans and invertebrates. 

Offshore, two massive underwater canyons, La Jolla Submarine Canyon and Scripps Submarine Canyon, channel colder, nutrient rich water to the surface, driving the abundance and richness of marine life found here. The steep walls, strong currents, and murky depths of these canyons host a unique deepwater ecosystem. Canyon walls host invertebrates such as soft corals, nudibranchs (sea slugs), swell sharks, different species of rockfish, and moray eels. Pelagic visitors like jellyfish are often visible floating above the canyon walls.

Cultural History

Birds roosting within La Jolla Cove
Birds roosting near La Jolla Cove in Matlahuayl SMR. photo © Damian Morys, CC BY 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. Kumeyaay and Luiseño people have lived around the La Jolla area for thousands of years, leaving important archeological sites in modern day La Jolla and San Diego. Matlahuayl comes from the native term “land of many holes or caves”. The tidepools of La Jolla are teeming with edible animals and plants, and the Kumeyaay harvested these resources for both food and jewelry. 

European exploration in Southern California began in 1602 when the Sebastian Vizcaino party was sent by Spain to map the California coast. However, settlement did not begin until 1769 with the Portola Expedition and the beginning of the Mission Era. After the United States acquired California, the area around La Jolla was opened to homesteading and a small community began to form. 

San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA is named after Ellen Browning Scripps, a wealthy journalist and investor who moved to La Jolla in 1898. Adjacent to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this newer SMCA expands upon California’s oldest MPA. Established in 1929, the first MPA originally protected the submerged and intertidal area near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography by prohibiting removal of all plants and animals, except for scientific research. In 1957, this nearshore area was set aside as part of the San Diego Marine Life Refuge and was later expanded into the San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA in 2012.

Recreation

Surfer entering water within Matlahuyal SMR
A surfer entering the water in Matlahuayl SMR. photo © photos by Clark, CC BY-NC 2.0

Visitors to these MPAs can enjoy a variety of recreational activities in, on, and near the water. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and boating are popular in the calm waters. Incredible scuba diving opportunities can be accessed from shore. The submarine canyons of La Jolla and Scripps Canyons are spectacular dive sites, with steep walls that plummet from 70 to 900 feet deep. Many consider the dives here among the best in Southern California. 

When swells pick up, surfers head out to several surf spots along the coast, with the most notable being Black’s Beach, located just north of San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA and down the bluffs from the University of California, San Diego. Recreational fishing for pelagic species (excluding market squid) is permitted by hook-and-line within this SMCA. No take of any kind is permitted within Matlahuayl SMR.

Coordinates

Matlahuayl SMR

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

32° 51.964' N. lat. 117° 15.252' W. long.; 
32° 51.964' N. lat. 117° 16.400' W. long.; and
32° 51.067' N. lat. 117° 16.400' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(142)

San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA

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

32° 53.000' N. lat. 117° 15.166' W. long.;
32° 53.000' N. lat. 117° 16.400' W. long.;
32° 51.964' N. lat. 117° 16.400' W. long.; and
32° 51.964' N. lat. 117° 15.252' W. long.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 632(b)(141)

Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve

Map

Map of Matlahuyal State Marine Reserve - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet

San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area

Map

Map of San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area - link opens in new window

Facts, Map & Regulations

MPA fact sheet