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 Russian River State Marine Recreational Management Area (SMRMA) is the incredibly scenic mouth of the Russian River between the beach and bridge at Highway 1. The Russian River is an important nursery for crab and salmon and has diverse estuarine habitats such as eelgrass beds and mudflats.
The Russian River State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) extends offshore from the mouth of the Russian River. This SMCA spans from the point of North Beach, past numerous rocks and sea stacks, Seal Point at the mouth of the Russian River, and down Goat Rock Beach to Goat Rock at the south end.
Sonoma Coast State Beach extends 13 miles from the Russian River to Bodega Bay. There are more than a dozen access points to the State Beach along Highway 1, and the Sonoma Coast Trail connects many of the secret beaches hidden by rocky coves and tall bluffs.