California Marine Protected Area Network

Shark Stewards has been a stakeholder representing shark and habitat protection interests in California since 1999 when the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act. We participated in hearing and collected comments supporting the MPAs around the San Francisco Bay region which include SE Farallon Island, North Farallon Island and Pt Reyes, all critical foraging habitat for NE Pacific white sharks. Since 2013, our director has been co-chair in the Golden Gate MPA Collaborative network, planning, educating the public and facilitating enforcement.

As participating members in the California Marine Protected Area Collaborative Network with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ocean Protection Council (OPC) we work with important stakeholders in coastal protection. Under a grant by the OPC, Shark Stewards has helped develop a free online educational series of training modules designed for docents, volunteers and the engaged public.

These training materials were developed by the Golden Gate MPA Collaborative co- chaired by David McGuire, Shark Stewards; Morgan Patton, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin; and Paul Hobi, Seabird Protection Network, under a grant by the Ocean Protection Council and Coastal Quest.

The work group is tasked with developing tools and stakeholder engagement to help increase awareness about marine protected areas and setbacks, and minimize incursions by fishermen into protected areas in MPAS around San Francisco and Marin Counties. The Golden Gate MPA Collaborative is represented by State Parks, Fish and Wildlife Service at the Farallon Islands, the Point Reyes National Seashore, California Academy of Sciences, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, Greater Farallones Association, Seabird Protection Network, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, additional marine and coastal non-profit organizations, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Collaborative is supported by grants from Resources Legacy Fund and the Ocean Protection Council.

MPA Education Resources
Download a toolkit and other MPA educational materials from the California MPAS website and learn about marine protected areas.  Download the Golden Gate MPA Brochure to learn about MPAs near the San Francisco Bay Area. The Golden Gate MPA Collaborative Ambassador program has developed outreach materials for use by fishermen and public at the South East Farallon Island, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Duxbury Reef and Point Reyes. Download a toolkit and other MPA educational materials from the California MPAS website and learn about marine protected areas.  

MPA Public Engagement Opportunities
The public is able to participate to support MPAs in many different ways by volunteering with programs like MPA WatchBeach Watch and LIMPETS ).

On shore teams will help provide training to educators, docents and others who are interacting along the coastline (eg MPA Watch, Beach Citizen scientists can help with this program by joining the MPA Watch program. MPA Watch is a citizen science initiative to monitor human use of coastal natural resources by training and supporting volunteers in the collection of relevant, scientifically rigorous, and broadly accessible data. Data are meant to inform the management, enforcement, and science of California’s marine protected areas (MPAs) and allow us to see how human uses are changing as a result of MPA implementation. By involving local communities in this important work, MPA Watch programs inspire and empower stewardship, and educate citizens about California’s ocean ecosystems.

Off shore team members will include charter boat captains and whale watch vessels who engage with the public near the marine protected areas off shore.

California State Marine Protected Areas

California is the first state in the nation to establish a system of MPAs – similar to national parks and forests on land – to protect and restore ocean habitats and increase the health, productivity, and resilience of ocean ecosystems. Under the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) passed in 1999, California took a regional approach to the design and implementation of MPAs along its 1,100 mile coastline, and divided the state into five regions: the north coast, north central coast, central coast, south coast and San Francisco Bay. The state completed the coastal network of MPAs in 2012, creating over 120 underwater refuges along California’s coast, extending protection from Oregon to Mexico.


Marine Protected Areas come in all types of shapes, sizes, and purposes. As the coastal resources are a public trust, it is necessary to balance needs for multiple use with conservation priorities. The MLPA provides for this by defining four different types of MPAs:

  • State Marine Reserves (SMR)
    These restrict all commercial and recreational activities, keeping the area free from human impact as possible.
  • State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCA)
    These are areas that have specific goals for conservation and activities are restricted to meet the conservation goals.
  • State Marine Parks (SMP)
    These allow opportunities for education, research, and recreation, while preventing commercial extractive activities.
  • State Marine Recreational Management Areas (SMRMA)
    These are areas intended to protect certain recreational activities. Other types of activities that may interfere or compete with the specifically protected recreation are restricted.
  • Special Closures
    Special Closures are areas designated by the Fish and Game Commission that prohibit access or restrict boating activities in waters adjacent to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites (restrictions vary).

Implementing the MLPA: A Stakeholder Process  The MLPA process was a stakeholder driven process that used the best readily available science to design a network of MPAs that spans the entire California coast. The purpose of this network is to: 1) conserve key marine habitats, 2) allow marine life to thrive, 3) preserve natural diversity, 4) help rebuild depleted populations, and 5) offer recreational, research, and economic opportunities.

A Regional Process California took a regional approach to the design and implementation of MPAs along its 1,100 mile coastline, and divided the state into five study regions: the north coast, south coast, north central coast, central coast and San Francisco Bay. All California Marine Protected Area Fact Sheets from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Monterey Sanctuary Foundation. North Central Coast  Twenty-five MPAs and 6 special closure areas were designated in the north central coast, between Alder Creek near Point Arena in the north and Pigeon Point in the south. These became effective in May of 2010. MPAs in the Golden Gate study region includes 10 SMRs, 12 SMCAs, and 3 SMRMA. The MPAs cover 20% of state waters, with 11% being no-take state marine reserves.