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.
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.
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Point Sur State Marine Reserve (SMR) & Point Sur State Marine Conservations Area SMCA
Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, Point Sur is a unique geological feature that creates a spectacular opportunity for marine and terrestrial wildlife to thrive. This spectacular site contains a wide diversity of habitats that support a range of fish, seabird, invertebrate and marine mammal species.
Point Sur SMR runs from Point Sur to Cooper Point at the southern end of Andrew Molera State Park. Take a tour of the Point Sur Lighthouse for a close look at this rugged coast. Further south, walk a mile to the mouth of the Big Sur River at Molera State Park and walk out onto the point for one of the classic coastal views. Between Point Sur and Molera this SMR fronts the El Sur Ranch and is closed to the public. No fishing or harvest is permitted.
Point Sur SMCA is offshore from Point Sur SMR and is unreachable without a boat. This MPA only permits recreational and commercial take of salmon and albacore.
Remote from ports and urban development, the Point Sur MPAs protect one of the few remaining areas in central California that support large, healthy fish populations and pristine habitat.
Explore California's Underwater Parks without getting your feet wet through new online tours!
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