California’s coastal waters are some of the richest in the world. But they have begun showing signs of overuse and declining health. Threatened by pollution, climate change, and overexploitation, California’s ocean ecosystems require proactive protection and smart management to thrive into the future.  With successful protection and restoration our coastal waters and marine wildlife can flourish.

Point Blue, in partnership with many other organizations and agencies, studies and guides management of coastal ecosystems of western North America.  We collect information using scientific methods about abundance, diversity and preferred feeding areas of seabirds and some shorebirds. 

Marine Protected Areas

California established a unique and powerful program for protecting nearshore ecosystems, which we helped design. The state’s new network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), from Oregon to Mexico, began with the adoption of the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999.

This network now boasts 119 MPAs and protects approximately 16% of California’s coastal waters. It is the first such network in the country.

To find out whether the MPAs off California’s coast are working, Point Blue studies seabirds that forage on fishes in and near these protected areas. Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, seabirds are great indicators telling us about the health of local marine ecosystems. Studying where and what seabirds eat helps us understand how well fish populations are doing.

Are They Working?

Based on our studies to date these new marine protections seem effective. In many of the protected areas, fish and wildlife populations are rebounding. For example, in MPAs established between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, black rockfish, grass rockfish, perch, and lingcod — and even the threatened black abalone — are coming back.

Point Blue scientists are studying MPAs up and down the California coast, from Bodega Bay to San Diego. At the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve, we have found, that just like with real estate, location is key. Our research is revealing that this MPA does not include a key feeding area just south of it.

Our unique expertise is helping to ensure that California’s MPA network does the best possible job of protecting our extraordinary ocean resources, for wildlife and for people.

While early signs are encouraging, resource managers need more scientific guidance to understand how well MPAs are working. Point Blue helps identify and prioritize actions to strengthen protection for our rich ocean legacy.