A Well-Earned MPA Victory!

After years of debate, Point Dume has been designated as a Marine Protected Area by the state of California.

After two years of marathon stakeholder negotiation sessions, endless contentious public hearings and reams of studies and environmental documents, the California Department of Fish and Game today finally established a network of Marine Protected Areas in Southern California, passing a slightly revised version of the Integrated Preferred Alternative by a 3-2 vote.

The final vote reflects tough compromise. The maps protect some key places from extractive uses, like Point Dume, Naples and La Jolla, but fail to meet scientific guidelines in some locations. (For example, the fishermen won the battle for Rocky Point, and the MPA at Farnsworth Banks is little more than a paper park). The  commission also made a few small changes at Swami’s and La Jolla in San Diego County.

The final hearing and vote took place in Santa Barbara, a fitting location given that the northern Channel Islands became  California’s first designated marine protected areas years ago.

Unlike past hearings, the conservationists outnumbered the sport and commercial fishing community by a 3-1 margin. Almost every major coastal environmental group in Southern California attended.  Also, a number of academics from USC and UCSB provided support.  In a moment of levity, world-famous marine conservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau was introduced as John Michael Cousteau.  To Jean-Michel’s credit, he didn’t miss a beat in his eloquent testimony.

The Men in Black — a cadre of black-suited attorneys making litigation threats to the Commission over an supposed “inadequate” and “rushed” environmental review and public process — represented fishing interests. Heal the Bay’s tireless and committed point-person on MPAs, coastal resources director Sarah Sikich, led both our negotiations and research efforts. Rebutting arguments about supposedly hasty decision-making, she pointedly noted that the just-concluded entire environmental review process for the 30-year Chevron lease in El Segundo at the State Lands Commission lasted only three months from the release of the draft EIR to commission approval — about six months fewer than the Southern California Marine Life Protection Act process.

On a personal note, my son Zack, an ocean swimmer, diver, and activist, chose to ditch class at Santa Monica High School to come  to the hearing.  Zack has been co-president of the school’s Heal the Bay-Surfrider Club for three years and a longtime volunteer at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.  He testified passionately and eloquently . Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to fully enjoy my proud paternal moment, as I had to speak immediately after him.  I know I’m biased, but I think he’s grown into an effective environmental advocate in his own right.

Commissioners Rogers, Sutton and Baylis supported the network, with strong opposition from Richards and Kellogg. Baylis made the final motion for approval.  However, the most dramatic moment came from Rogers. He made a heartfelt speech recounting his over 50 years of diving experience and his desire to protect marine life for future generations. Also, he responded to the attorneys’ threats simply by saying, “Bring it!”  His stated goal to return California’s coast to the resilient, sustainable state of his youth (larger fish and greater diversity) moved the audience.

The commission and its staff fulfilled their duties.  The Science Advisory Team did a strong job developing science guidelines.  The environmental community’s extraordinary coordination and advocacy efforts should serve as a model for future efforts.  The two-plus year journey to a Southern California MPA network isn’t over.  Fish and Game’s work to set up the MPAs, educate the public and enforce the MPA requirements has just begun.  Hopefully the frivolous claims from the Men in Black will be dismissed, allowing Fish and Game to get down to details with MPA education and enforcement.

But today’s events mean that the continued degradation of Southern California’s marine ecosystems should become a distant memory, and the halcyon days of big fish and crustaceans and amazing biodiversity may return sooner than we think.


7 Responses

  1. Beautiful to hear about your son speaking up…he has a great role model!

  2. This is going to put san diego’s enviros in a tough spot- San Diego Surfrider Foundation CoastKeeper and Sierra Club all supported the continued dumping of 50 billion gallons a year of sub standard treated sewage off Point Loma (surfrider and coastkeeper got 2 million from the city of DS to keep quiet about yet another extension of the 301h sewage ‘waiver’). State enviros fought them and beat the waiver, but Arnold intervened on surfriders behalf, and we’ve been dumping ever since.

    But now there is a State Marine reserve at Cabrillo! Ha hya ha ha ha!

    joey racano
    ocean defender hawaii and ocean outfall group california

  3. So glad to hear this has happened. I was a sport diver in the Channel Islands from early to late 70s, and a commercial diver there in the late 70s. Going back 30 years later and diving in the same places I saw that so much fauna was just gone. So glad to hear that the areas are being protected.

  4. The first California marine reserves were Hopkins Marine Reserve (the oldest California marine reserve still in existence today) and Pacific Grove Gardens both in monterey bay in 1931 created by Dr. Mayor Julia Platt, first woman in the country to receive a PhD in marine biology … while mayor of Pacific Grove she wrote a new state law which was signed into effect by California Governor James Rolf on June 19, 1931, for the first time granting a city the right to manage its own coastline. 75 years later the State of California expanded these two little zones Julia created by passing the Marine Life Protection Act. Stanford University Professor of Biological Sciences Steven Palumbi, says “hers was a legacy of foresight!”

  5. Heal the Bay proved once again it is the only large coastal conservation organization that hasn’t sold out, therefore remaining effective.

    Thank you!

    joey xoxo

  6. As an avid scuba diver, I welcome this! Now it is up to the game wardens to catch and prosecute the scofflaws who are over fishing our great ocean. My wife has been diving for 40+ years and she and other long time divers tell of stories of lots of fish and invertebrates. Hopefully this passage is a step in the right direction to return the oceans to sustainability. We can only HOPE for our childrens sake!

  7. Heartfelt appreciation and thanks to all who made this happen, especially to Heal the Bay’s leaders for tireless and persistent organizing, educating, lobbying, attending, cajoling, and persuading. Keep up the great work!

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