June 28, 2011

Marine Protected Areas - Our Underwater State Parks

Here on California's Central Coast, we are lucky to have a number of beneficial environmental protections that were put into place to preserve our natural environment and/or promote our wildlife. The Central Coast Marine Protected Areas are one of them.

In 2007, 29 Marine Protected Areas were established for the Central Coast, otherwise known as MPAs. Of these 29 areas, 13 are State Marine Reserves, 13 are State Marine Conservation Areas, 2 are State Marine Parks, and 1 is a State Marine Recreational Management Area. Together, these MPAs account for 18% of the marine environment included in the area known as the Central Coast region of MPAs.

Many would be surprised to learn that some of their favorite natural places are actually included in the Central Coast MPAs, such as Ano Nuevo, Natural Bridges State Park, Elkhorn Slough, the Monterey Peninsula, and the beautiful Big Sur coastline.

A trip to Ano Nuevo State Park in the winter months has the power to get just about anyone thinking about marine protections and wildlife of the Central Coast. With the largest breeding colony of northern elephant seals in the US, Ano Nuevo has become a safe haven for these endangered species, and onlookers just might never be the same after their first experience with the elephant seals there. The waters of Ano Nuevo also host a large concentration of great white sharks (look out, elephant seal pups!), attract sea lions and harbor seals, and support amazing tidepools along the shoreline that house more than 300 species of invertebrates!

South of Santa Cruz lies another natural wonder of the Central Coast: Elkhorn Slough. Elkhorn Slough is a Marine Protected Area, specifically a State Marine Reserve and State Marine Conservation Area, and includes the adjacent Moro Cojo Slough State Marine Reserve. This environment is breathtaking any time of the year, but receives many visitors during the warmer months who are eager to get out on a kayak and experience the plethora of species that call Elkhorn Slough home. This estuary is one of the few coastal wetlands remaining in the state of California, second in size to San Francisco Bay.

We hope you'll support your local MPAs by paying them a visit this year!

Save Our Shores has been educating the public about MPAs for some time, including gathering signatures to support MPAs in other regions of the state like Southern and Northern California. We have also given nature walks at Natural Bridges State Parks on the topic of MPAs, and continue to educate our youth in the classrooms about these important marine protections.

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