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Celebrating California’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

How quickly a decade passes. That’s how long the California network of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs) have been in place, and in March of 2023 the CMSF team spent a week at the MPA Decadal Management Review events in Monterey, California to celebrate the accomplishments and discuss the future. Timed perfectly to coincide with the deluge of atmospheric river rainfall and floods brought on by the historic Winter of 2o23, people traveled from across the state to participate. Staff from Ocean Protection Council, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), California State Parks, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Tribal governments and representatives, scientists, anglers, NGOs and many individuals from the public attended. One day was dedicated to the MPA Collaborative Network Statewide Forum, and two days were dedicated to celebrate and share lessons learned from the seminal California Department of Fish and Wildlife Report for the 2022 Decadal Management Review of the MPA network. The Report is an incredible feat, intended as a first step towards adaptively managing our network.

CMSF was highly involved in the events, with five representatives in attendance, and 3 presentations given by CMSF staff. With a large display of education and outreach materials and accomplishments, this was a chance for everyone to share successes and lessons learned over the past decade.

MPA Collaborative Network Forum

The week kicked off on March 14th, with the MPA Collaborative Network Statewide Forum. The first part of the day showcased presentations from each of the fourteen county collaboratives in the MPA Collaborative Network, who highlighted recent accomplishments of individual Collaboratives across a suite of education and outreach, compliance and enforcement, and research and monitoring efforts. The afternoon was dedicated to the statewide MPA signage improvement project, including a presentation of preliminary sign evaluation results presented by CMSF’s Katelyn Sprofera, identification of priority sign needs, and the public launch of a new MPA signage inventory and monitoring tool. Katelyn shared fascinating preliminary results and recommendations from a statewide evaluation of MPA signage designed to assess effectiveness of existing MPA signs and their associated elements (maps, icons, text, etc.) in encouraging and enhancing compliance with MPA regulations among coastal visitors. Of the nearly 3,000 coastal visitors observed, just under 5% viewed MPA signage upon arrival to the coast, suggesting that coastal visitors in general are not likely to view MPA signs while visiting the coast. Despite the low rate of viewing, sign observers were more likely to recall the correct rules for the nearby MPAs. While not every visitor may look at signs, they are a helpful resource for the subset of the population that does tend to view signs. The formal report contains a cadre of recommendations for MPA signage, and results will be incorporated in a new round of MPA signage over the next year.

MPA Day: Management Review Forum

On Wednesday, March 15th, CDFW dedicated the entire day to the MPA Decadal Management Review. This was an opportunity for CDFW, tribal representatives, partner organizations, and the public to highlight their collaborative work over the last 10 years, and opened a dialogue with many key communities. Tribal voices expressed the needs and importance of recognizing cultural rights and traditions of coastal resources in their ancestral lands and waters. Many tribal representatives spoke about reclaiming their right to manage and steward their ocean and coastal territories.

Each of the four pillars of management hosted a panel. In the morning, Jess Morten of CMSF and NOAA served as a panelist for the Compliance and Enforcement panel and presented findings from CMSF’s efforts to pilot and manage data collection tools that contribute to improved marine domain awareness and enforcement and compliance tracking in California. Together with NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Resources Legacy Fund, CMSF has collaborated with California Department of Fish and Wildlife andChannel Islands National Park to build, launch, and maintain a mobile data collection and reference app called the electronic Fisheries Information Network System (eFINS). The app is being piloted statewide as a mechanism for marine wardens and officers to easily collect and share important information from enforcement encounters while patrolling in the marine environment and for managers to more easily track and analyze marine regulation and MPA compliance. Jess also summarized findings from CMSF’s efforts to pilot and maintain shore-based radar monitoring systems - known as Marine Monitor or M2 - that can support enforcement patrol efforts and contribute to greater awareness of activities taking place in California’s MPAs and national marine sanctuaries. The MPA Education and Outreach panel shared highlights from what has been learned communicating and engaging with different audiences and communities in California. I presented an overview of all of the amazing MPA outreach and education materials and programs that have been developed over the past decade. Myself, Wayne Kotow, Jules Jackson and Erika Delamarre fielded questions about how to increase awareness and stewardship of the MPA Network. CMSF’s efforts have yielded incredibly positive results, reaching thousands of Californians, but much remains to be done.

During MPA Day at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, which blew cold and blustery in the winter storm, there was an exhibit room for tabling and posters. CMSF hosted a table showcasing different materials developed over the years, and presented three posters spanning the breadth of our MPA work. One poster shared accomplishments of CMSF since 2007, when CMSF began to focus on MPA education and outreach efforts, becoming the first NGO to work statewide. Some of these accomplishments include: More than 500 MPA signs have been installed, the MPA social media campaign had 4 million views, over 3,000 MPA toolkits were disseminated, and print and digital outreach materials have been created and put into use statewide. The second poster spoke specifically to angler outreach. CMSF dedicated considerable effort to reach anglers and develop products suited to their needs, and much was accomplished in reaching this user group. A social media campaign reached into angler forums, and a series of two way sharing sessions were hosted with fishing clubs. More than 20,000 MPA post cards with information on where to find mobile MPA information including regulations and maps on the water, and over 50,000 tidebooks were distributed as part of the effort. A video series produced reached over 250,000 anglers and advertisements were placed in popular fishing magazines like Western Outdoor News sharing MPA information. The third poster shared findings from Katelyn Sprofera’s 2021 report on the efficacy of select outreach tools for increasing awareness of MPAs among primary coastal user groups. Results offer a better understanding of success of outreach efforts and can be used to inform future outreach endeavors. Because different audiences have vastly different needs, MPA education and outreach cannot be undertaken with a one size fits all approach. This work highlights the crucial need to understand audience specific needs before updating existing education and outreach materials or developing new materials.

The day was a wonderful chance to reconnect with partners and learn from the perspectives and concerns of different communities across California.

Fish and Game Commission (FGC) Marine Resources Committee (MRC) Meeting

With blue skies clearing the showers, MRC meeting of the FGC convened the following day (March 16) to begin to discuss the Decadal Management Review. An overview of the previous day was offered, but the majority of the day was dedicated to public comment and input. Large participation of California Tribes allowed for sharing of historical content and traditional rights. Representatives from tribal communities across the state offered new perspectives for managing the coast and ocean.

The latter part of the day was dedicated to clarifying the review process moving forward. In addition, recommendations for adaptive management of the network of MPAs were provided. The NGO community was present in substantive numbers as well, raising general concerns and recommendations for prioritizing next steps.

Something to Celebrate

We have come a very long way in many respects with MPA management in our state. California’s MPAs are unique, designed for precisely the current global situation we find ourselves in, given the onslaught of stressor facing the ocean. We must adaptively manage our MPAs as a functional connected network. Given the rapidly changing climate conditions, it is vital that we identify ways to build resiliency and ensure that the MPAs are working as intended.

After three days of MPAs, I know I was not the only person in attendance who was wiped out. It was, however, an incredible achievement to bring together anglers, tribal representatives, enforcement staff, state and local agencies and NGOs together to discuss the future of our ocean. Now is the time to apply all that we have learned, and adapt to the current situation and threats before us. Together, we can continue to make California’s MPA network a model for the world.

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