February 19, 2013

Protecting California’s Coastal Treasures

Mendocino County coastline

By Megan Wehrenberg, Reef Check California North-Central Regional Manager

California’s coastal resources are about to experience a bit of reprieve. Policy makers have been busy the last few months outlining and finalizing plans for new northern California marine protected areas, proposed expansion of two national marine sanctuaries, and rerouting shipping lanes to protect against ship strikes of whales. These three new and/or updated management measures will help to ensure that the integrity of California’s coastal treasures will be preserved for years to come.

State Marine Protected Areas
On December 19, 2012 a group of state marine protected areas (MPAs) along California’s north coast went into effect, thus completing a monumental statewide network of MPAs. Under the direction of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, numerous MPAs have been designated and have gone into effect region by region since 2007, starting with the central coast and finishing with the north coast. The north coast network extends from Adler Creek in Mendocino county to the California/Oregon border and includes 19 MPAs, one State Marine Recreational Management area, and seven special closures, in total covering approximately 13 percent of state waters in the region. The new protections include various limits on both commercial and recreational take of fishes, invertebrates, and seaweeds from state waters. For maps and specific regulations of the new MPAs visit: www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.

Sonoma County coastline

National Marine Sanctuary Expansion
In late December 2012, the Obama administration announced plans to more than double the size of the Cordell Bank and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries in northern California. This marks the largest sanctuary expansion in California waters in 20 years. The proposed expansion will permanently ban oil drilling and gas exploration along 50 miles of coastline in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. National marine sanctuaries are different from MPAs because they do not set any limitations on fishing. Instead these sanctuaries ban other extractive activities such as oil drilling and regulate practices like cruise ship sewage dumping in near shore waters. They are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which has the authority to expand sanctuaries without a vote from Congress. Using the national sanctuary system to protect California waters is a strategic maneuver being used by the Obama administration. While the expansion process will begin early in 2013 with public hearings, officials say the whole procedure may take up to two years to complete.

Rerouting of Shipping Lanes
The International Maritime Organization, which governs global shipping, has approved three proposals to reroute shipping lanes to protect whales from collision. The proposals include shifting a lane in the Santa Barbara Channel and lanes used to approach Los Angeles/Long Beach and San Francisco ports. The recommendations came from the US Coast Guard and NOAA after four endangered blue whales were thought to have been killed by ship strikes in the Santa Barbara Channel in 2007 and five more whales were thought to be strike victims in Central and Northern California in 2010. The changes in navigational charts are expected to go into effect later this year after the US Coast Guard publishes notices, completes an environmental impact assessment and takes public comment. So far the shipping industry has been supportive of the changes.