How are we defending our Marine Protected Areas?
Since the MPAs went into effect, they have enjoyed great support from the community, cities and non-profit organizations along the coast, especially in Orange County. The public has also been widely accepting and respectful of these new protected areas.
MPA Watch Program
When Coastkeeper was involved in creating these marine protected areas there was a lot of specific information available on each site, including the types of fish and other marine life that existed, how much rocky reef there was, and other basic information. However, we didn’t have a lot of data on what people do and where. The human use data was sorely lacking. We knew generally that people surfed in this one spot or people dive in this other area. However, we didn’t know to what extent these activities were taking place, and how many people were doing them, and where these activities were going on in other places.
To close this information gap, MPA Watch was started by the Monterey Coastkeeper, followed closely by Orange County Coastkeeper and Heal the Bay. Since that time it has been expanded statewide, so there are now MPA Watch programs up and down the state.
A technical advisory team of scientists is helping MPA Watch to ensure the data collected is valid and useful. MPA Watch worked with this team to develop monitoring protocols and a data sheet to standardize the way data is collected at all of the Marine Protected Areas throughout the state. Training manuals have been developed so that all MPA Watch personnel and volunteers everywhere are collecting and recording data in the same way. MPA watch surveys are done by citizen volunteers who have gone through a training course to ensure the accurate collection of human use data. After training, volunteers conduct MPA Watch surveys at their own convenience on any day of the week. This unscheduled survey regime results in a set of random surveys that covers all times of day and all days of the week, ensuring that we capture the variety of human uses that occur in MPAs.
The information is entered into a statewide database, from which Coastkeeper pulls the Orange County information and analyzes it to produce quarterly and annual reports. Currently the database application can’t self-generate reports, but that is an immediate goal for the mpawatch.org site. Members will soon be able to click on a map of a given MPA anywhere along the coast and get a summary report on activities and measurements that have taken place recently in that area.
One of the major reasons for ensuring the validity of the data and building functionality into the web site is to encourage and allow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to use the human use data collected by MPA Watch for their management and enforcement activities for MPAs. The web site and associated database will also allow the public and other entities to access information on human use in the MPAs.
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