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 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 (BOFFFF) to recover, grow and replenish our ocean.
MPAs are a "network of underwater nurseries"!
The north central coast region was the second of the regions to establish a network of MPAs. This region of our coast protects some of the most biodiverse marine environments of California in areas such as the Point Reyes Peninsula, Bodega Bay headlands, and the tidepools of Montara and Gerstle Cove. Within the region 25 MPAs and 6 special closure areas were designated from Alder Creek near Point Arena in the north to Pigeon Point in the south. These MPAs represent approximately 153 square miles (20.1%) of state waters in the north central coast region with approximately 86 square miles (11%) designated as "no take" state marine reserves. These MPAs went into effect in 2010.
The Point Arena area MPAs are rich in marine resources. Over 250 species of invertebrates as well as numerous fish, seabirds, and marine mammals call this area their home. MPAs here support thriving species, while also helping to restore endangered and threatened marine life.
Point Arena State Marine Reserve and Point Arena State Marine Conservation Area sit adjacent to the Point Arena Lighthouse on land. The SMR, which is closest to shore, is reached by Lighthouse Road while the SMCA sits further offshore. Kelp forests and rocky reefs shelter red abalone at Arena Rock and underwater caves host highly diverse fish populations including rockfish and lingcod.
Sea Lion Cove SMCA hugs the coast just below Point Arena SMR. An unusually scenic spot, Sea Lion Cove is an abalone nursery that also hosts many other invertebrate communities.
Saunders Reef SMCA is a complex and highly productive rocky reef and kelp habitat including one of the most extensive stands of bull kelp in the north central coast.
Explore California's Underwater Parks without getting your feet wet through new online tours!
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