Setting the Scene


California's South Coast is a region distinguished by its abundance and variety, both above and below the water. The South Coast region encompasses 2,351 square miles of state waters, which extend from the mean high tide line to three nautical miles (nm) offshore from the mainland coast and the Channel Islands coast, bounded by Point Conception in the north and the California–Mexico border in the south.


Traditional & Cultural Connections

Since time immemorial, First Nations Peoples have lived in intimate relationship with California’s South Coast. Through partnerships with other First Nations, environmental organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies, Indigenous Californians actively protect ancestral village locations/sacred sites, preserve rights to continue traditional lifeways, restore coastal and marine habitats, and advocate for sustainable practices throughout the region.


California’s MPA Network

The California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA, Chapter 10.5 of the California Fish & Game Code, §2850–2863) was passed by the California legislature in 1999 and directed the state to reevaluate and redesign California’s system of MPAs. Through the MPA network design and siting process, California implemented a science-based and stakeholder driven, collaborative, multi-year public process to plan the new network of MPAs iteratively across four coastal regions. In September 2007, the Central Coast became the first region to implement a redesigned network of MPAs, followed by the North Central Coast in May 2010, the South Coast in January 2012, and the North Coast in December 2012, completing the statewide network.


MPA Management in the South Coast

The MPA Management Program is led by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Ocean Protection Council, Ocean Science Trust, and Fish and Game Commission (FGC). The FGC is the primary decisionmaking authority for California's MPA regulations. 

A Partnership–Based Approach

MPA monitoring in a region as large and diverse as the South Coast relies on collaboration and partnerships. The work summarized in this report represents partnerships among more than 40 academic institutions, state and federal agencies, coastal California Native American tribes, non-profit organizations, fishing groups, and community and citizen science groups.

Policy & Permitting

The number of projects permitted annually within MPAs increased  four-fold from 2010 to 2014, from 25 to 105 projects, respectively. The increase is related to South Coast baseline monitoring beginning in 2011, and an overall interest in studying MPA effects. The projects were split between no-take MPAs (SMRs and no-take SMCAs) and limited take SMCAs.

Enforcement & Compliance

The success of MPAs relies on both the users’ compliance with and the proper enforcement of MPA regulations. CDFW is the primary agency responsible for enforcing MPA regulations, with occasional assistance from California State Parks, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Sanctuaries, U.S. Coast Guard, National Park Service, Harbor Patrol, local police, sheriffs, lifeguards, and city resource officers.

Outreach & Education

Education and outreach are important tools used to encourage compliance with MPA regulations and foster understanding of the statewide network. Initial outreach and education efforts led by CDFW focused on public awareness, understanding, and compliance with the region’s newly implemented 50 MPAs and two special closures. A key partner in the outreach and education efforts in the MPA Collaborative Network.

MPA Collaborative Network–Bringing a local voice to MPA implementation

The MPA Collaborative Network provides a framework for local stakeholders to engage in the MPA implementation process, including enhancing understanding and increasing compliance of MPAs. There are five active MPA Collaboratives in the South Coast region: Santa Barbara Channel, Los Angeles, Catalina Island, Orange County, and San Diego. Each Collaborative works with state partners to advance local priorities.


What is MPA Monitoring & Why Do We Do It?

The MLPA requires that the statewide network of MPAs be monitored to evaluate progress toward meeting specific goals and that the results of monitoring be disseminated to inform adaptive management decisions.

Tracking Conditions in California’s Coast & Ocean

The Statewide MPA Monitoring Program takes an ecosystem-based approach that assesses the condition of California’s coastal and marine ecosystems and how they change through time. Monitoring is conducted by fishermen, community or citizen groups, government agencies (local, state, federal, tribal), research institutions, coastal California Native American tribes, non-profit organizations, and private companies.

Informing MPA Adaptive Management Decisions

Many decisions contributed to creating California’s network of MPAs: How big should each MPA be? How far apart? What types of habitats should be included? What uses and activities should be allowed within the boundaries? MPA monitoring results, combined with additional sources of information, can inform the State’s adaptive management process to help us learn and evaluate whether the MPA network is making progress towards meeting the goals of the MLPA.


Adding Data & Results to Understand the South Coast Setting

Establishing a benchmark, or baseline of conditions requires not only information on the ecology and socioeconomics of the region, but also an understanding of the broader physical habitat, oceanographic and socioeconomic context in which the MPAs are placed. In addition to the ten projects funded as part of baseline monitoring, this report brings together work supported by other state, federal, and private investments.


California's MPA Monitoring Program: Two Phases

Phase 1: Establishing a Benchmark Through Baseline Monitoring

Near the time of MPA implementation in each region, the state designed and implemented baseline monitoring to establish a regional benchmark of ecological and socioeconomic conditions, and document any initial changes resulting from MPA implementation. Baseline monitoring serves as an important set of data against which future conditions can be measured. The findings presented in this report are the outcome of baseline monitoring.

Phase 2: Supporting Decision-Making Through Long-Term Statewide Monitoring

As regional baseline monitoring nears completion, the State is designing and implementing long-term statewide monitoring. A Statewide MPA Monitoring Action Plan is under development, and is planned for release in 2018. It will reflect current State priorities and management needs, while building on the knowledge, capacity, and unique considerations for each region.


Marine protected area resources


Physical Ocean Conditions Resources


Photo credit: iStock/Sean Pavone