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California MLPA

Forecasting conservation and socioeconomic outcomes of MPA network proposals in California

Passed in 1999, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) mandated the creation of a science-based network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California state waters. The goals of the California network of MPAs under the MPLA are:


  1. To protect the natural diversity and function of marine ecosystems.
  2. To help sustain and restore marine life populations.
  3. To improve recreational, educational, and study opportunities in areas with minimal human disturbance.
  4. To protect representative and unique marine life habitats.


To help ensure that these goals are met, a Science Advisory Team, including SFG Principals Chris Costello and Steve Gaines, was established to develop guidelines for MPA design and to evaluate proposed networks of MPAs.

SFG Postdoctoral Researcher Andrew Rassweiler and Chris Costello developed a cutting-edge spatial bioeconomic model to evaluate alternative MPA networks proposed by stakeholder groups. The model coupled information about fish populations and fish habitat, larval dispersal based on complex ocean circulation patterns, and fishing fleet behavior in order to predict consequences of a given MPA network for conservation and fishery profits.  In an iterative process, stakeholders created network proposals and the Science Advisory Team recommended changes based on the modeling results and other scientific criteria.


As of 2010, 51 MPAs, including 26 no-take marine reserves, have been implemented along the central California coast (see subset of the MPA network at left). An additional 36 MPAs will go into effect on January 1, 2012 along the southern California coast, and the approval process is still underway along the northern coast. The MLPA process is unprecedented in terms of both scientific rigor and public participation. For more information, please visit California's Department of Fish and Game website.








Photo credit: Kelp: NOAA/NOS, MPA network: PISCO