California's Underwater Parks
In December 2012, California became an international leader in ocean protection by completing the United States’ first statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). Like the nation’s parks, forests and wilderness areas protect wildlife and habitats on land, MPAs protect and restore unique areas of the ocean. California’s MPAs come in many “flavors”; the size and level of protection, including fishing restrictions, can vary from one area to the next. Also called underwater parks or “Yosemites of the Sea”, they’re designed to protect plants and animals within an entire ecosystem, rather than protecting just a single species and ensure healthy, vibrant ocean life for generations to come.
California’s MPAs safeguard critical ocean habitat, allowing sensitive marine communities such as rocky reefs and seagrass beds to thrive and recover. They also protect biodiversity hotspots and important foraging grounds that support numerous species of fish and invertebrates, as well as seabirds and marine mammals. This in turn benefits a wide range of species including plants like bull kelp, invertebrates like sea stars, and marine mammals such as seals and otters. As safe havens, underwater parks offer a home and refuge for Big, Old, Fertile, Female (BOFF) fish to recover, grow and replenish our ocean. They're ocean "nurseries"!
The central coast region of California was the first of the four coastal regions to establish a network of MPAs. Underwater parks in the central coast protect areas like the iconic Point Lobos, winding waterways of Elkhorn Slough, the tidepools of Natural Bridges, the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas and many more important marine environments! Altogether, 29 MPAs were designated from Pigeon Point in the north to Point Conception in the south. These MPAs represent approximately 204 square miles (18%) of state waters within the region with approximately 85 square miles (7.5%) designated as "no take" state marine reserves. These MPAs went into effect in 2007.
Explore California's Underwater Parks without getting your feet wet through new online tours!
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Big Creek State Marine Reserve & Big Creek State Marine Conservation Area
The Big Sur coast is world renowned for its spectacular views and rugged topography. Offshore, the submerged geography is equally dramatic. In the waters off the Big Creek coast are a unique series of narrow and steep finger canyons that serrate the continental shelf. The canyons provide habitat to a variety of deepwater rockfishes such as cabezon and bocaccio.
Big Creek SMR is located below steep cliffs, between Lime Creek and Vicente Creek. Big Creek, arguably the most beautiful creek on the central coast, is part of a University of California Natural Reserve and is not open to the public, but it flows out into the ocean in the middle of the SMR. Just south of Big Creek Bridge there is ample room to pull off the highway and look down at this almost inaccessible reserve. Fishing is not permitted.
Big Creek SMCA is situated offshore from Big Creek SMR, between Lime Creek and Vicente Creek. This MPA allows the recreational and commercial take of salmon and albacore and the commercial take of spot prawns.