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Years of data shows what types of human activities occur in our priceless marine habitats

Orange County is home to seven Marine Protected Areas – or MPAs. These underwater areas are designed to protect marine ecosystems rather than individual species. MPAs restrict killing or harming marine life or habitat within its boundaries, thus creating a safe place for marine populations to grow and thrive. Until recently, Orange County lacked a coordinated effort to track human uses and potential violations. That’s where Coastkeeper stepped in.

Thanks to the help of our MPA Watch, volunteers, we have gathered three year’s worth of data documenting human activities in MPAs. Volunteers tracked human use to maximize the effectiveness of MPAs while minimizing harmful actions in the future.

What did we learn about Orange County’s MPAs?

Beach recreation took the top-spot as the most popular non-consumptive activity of 2014 while fishing from private vessels led the consumptive activities category.

The biggest recorded change is the decrease from 2013 to 2014 in potential violations. Whether this is due to increased public awareness about MPAs, better enforcement or increased warning signs around beaches, seeing that Orange County is taking the health of our ocean seriously is a step in the right direction.

Why should we care about MPAs?

Think of MPAs as “underwater parks” – they preserve sensitive plants and animals while allowing people to experience a healthier marine environment. We reap the obvious benefits of healthy ocean waters, but economic and ecological benefits also come into play.

Long-term studies prove that MPAs help support the recovery of fish stocks. MPAs prohibit activities including fishing, oil drilling and wind/wave energy projects within its borders, naturally forming protected nurseries.

Over time, fish populations thrive inside an MPA and begin to migrate out of its boundaries. This creates a spillover effect that consequently increases our fish supply. Overfishing constantly threatens fish populations, but active protection of MPAs contributes to the management of sustainable fisheries. 

Why do we need to monitor MPAs?

To assure that MPAs serve their purpose, knowledge of the types of human activities that occur in or near them is crucial. With proper information on human use, minimizing negative effects on marine habitats becomes a reality.

Each year, Orange County Coastkeeper releases quarterly reports and a year-end report. Thanks to our MPA watch volunteers, we gathered important information about human ocean use and compliance with coastal protection policies and regulations.

How to monitor MPAs?

Volunteer efforts drive the success of the MPA Watch program. Our ability to better understand how individuals use coastal areas is dependent upon the accurate and reliable information the trained MPA Watch team produces.

Through classroom and field trainings, volunteers learn about MPA science, local marine resources, MPA locations, allowed uses, identification of common human use activities and existing MPA monitoring efforts.

After training, we provide volunteers with monitoring data sheets that serve as tracking mechanisms for human uses. The activities monitored include consumptive (e.g. recreational and commercial shore-based and ocean-based fishing activities) and non-consumptive (e.g. kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, stand-up paddling, and wildlife viewing and beach-going) uses. If volunteering for the MPA Watch program interests you, sign up here.