A Savings Plan for Southern California's Ocean

Nicole Lampe

Investing in ocean protection along California's south coast will pay big dividends for years to come.

On November 10, the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force voted unanimously to recommend a compromise ocean protection plan for southern California. Their plan—which will create a string of underwater parks, or marine protected areas, along the coast from Santa Barbara to the border with Mexico—is an important step in the right direction. It includes critical protections for iconic places like south La Jolla, Point Dume, and Naples Reef while leaving nearly 90% of the coast open for fishing. However, it falls short of scientists' recommendations at Rocky Point and Catalina Island.

The Task Force will present their recommendation to the California Fish & Game Commission on December 9, and the Commission is expected to make a final decision early next year.

The Marine Life Protection Act Science Advisory Team emphasized the importance of protecting high quality habitats where fish and invertebrates feed and breed. A new study by UC Santa Cruz biologists supports this recommendation.

The study , published in the scientific journal PLos ONE, shows that fully protected marine reserves can restock waters outside of their boundaries, improving fishing conditions nearby. The biologists monitored 58 sites in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and found that baby fish born in marine reserves drifted along the coast to open areas where they could be caught by local anglers.

Study co-author Richard Cudney-Bueno describes marine reserves as investment banks for fish . The more you invest in protecting big fertile fish (who produce exponentially more young) the more interest you can collect as the babies disperse in ocean currents.

He explained that location of marine reserves is critical--you have to protect high quality habitat in order to maximize returns. Luckily, southern California's new marine protected area plan would create ocean sanctuaries where big fertile fish, and other plants and animals, can grow and multiply.

For more information on the Marine Life Protection Act, visit http://www.caloceans.org, or check out the short videos about the science and economics of ocean protection at http://www.youtube.com/oceancalifornia.