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, fat, female fish to recover, grow and replenish our ocean. MPAs are a “network of underwater 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.
Check out Central Coast MPA Tour. And while you're at it, check out North Coast MPA Tour. Based on Google Earth and requires 3D plug in for your browser; follow instructions.
Soquel Canyon and Portuguese Ledge State Marine Conservation Areas
The Monterey Submarine Canyon is a unique and biologically productive habitat. Plunging to depths greater than the Grand Canyon, the Monterey Submarine Canyon and Soquel Canyon funnel cold, nutrient-rich waters into the Monterey Bay.
Soquel Canyon SMCA captures an entire side branch of the Monterey Submarine Canyon - from relatively shallow waters at the canyon’s head to very deep waters. The area is an important seabird foraging ground and whale feeding area. Along with Portuguese Ledge, this MPA is in the middle of Monterey Bay and can only properly be seen by boat.
Portuguese Ledge SMCA protects important refuge habitat for several overfished deepwater rockfish species. Stand on the Santa Cruz Harbor Lighthouse Jetty and look towards the highest peak on the Monterey Peninsula, offshore you may even see a passing whale hunting along the underwater canyon walls.
Both of these MPAs allow for the recreational and commercial take of pelagic finfish only.
Explore California's Underwater Parks without getting your feet wet through new online tours!
Based on Google Earth and requires 3D plug in for your browser; follow instructions.