MPA Watch Program

Get Involved!

Enjoy your marine reserves! Thriving protected areas provide a great environment for swimming, kayaking, diving, snorkeling and tidepooling.

Throughout California, residents are embracing marine reserves and joining local efforts to monitor them. Learn more about becoming an MPA Watch volunteer here. They are making a difference in ocean protection – and you can too! Visit the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website for online maps of all the marine protected area networks or visit the mobile site to identify underwater parks in your area.

A Sheltered Sea – Southern Passage is a great short film that further explains the pressing issues our oceans face and how marine protected areas work to tackle some of those problems.

Here’s a list of MPA designations:

  • State Marine Reserve (SMR): fully protects fish, wildlife, and habitat from all extractive activities.
  • State Marine Park (SMP): allows for some recreational fishing.
  • State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA): allows for some consumptive recreational and commercial activities.

Overview and Purpose

Partnerships with key community groups and engaged citizens are a cost-effective and resource-efficient way to evaluate human ocean use and compliance with coastal protection policies and regulations. Trained volunteers can produce accurate and reliable information that can be used to better understand how individuals use coastal areas. With scientifically sound practices, data from effective volunteer monitoring programs can be used to inform regulatory and enforcement agencies to help with enforcement of the MPAs.

Through classroom and field trainings, volunteers learn about MPA science, local marine resources, the MLPA process, MPA locations, allowed uses, identification of common human use activities, and existing MPA monitoring efforts. After training, volunteers are provided with monitoring data sheets which serve as tracking mechanisms for human uses, e.g. clipboards, binoculars and other tools for conducting surveys.

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.

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The data collected by volunteers is analyzed for trends in human use, before and after Southern California MPAs were implemented, for patterns in MPA compliance or non-compliance. Coastkeeper then uses the collected information to prepare reports on survey findings for partner groups, the DFW, and other interested parties. This will allow us to compare before and after use patterns within and proximate to MPA boundaries.

The DFW intends to review the success of MPAs based on ecological monitoring results. However, while ecological data can tell us what is happening underwater—how populations and ecosystems are changing—concurrent human use surveys are needed to help provide context for ecological data interpretation. It is essential that more than just ecological factors are monitored to better understand MPA effectiveness. Collected MPA Watch data provides the human use context needed to assist with the interpretation of biological data in the South Coast region through monitoring of human uses inside and outside MPAs. Compliance and use monitoring will help illustrate whether MPAs are given the opportunity to achieve the goals of enhancing and restoring habitat and marine life populations.

MPA Watch data can also be used to measure initial changes in consumptive and non-consumptive user groups following MPA implementation, which will help to show whether certain user groups are experiencing notable use pattern changes. In the future, this data can be used to describe the degree to which any observed changes are attributable to MPA implementation. Documentation of compliance and non-compliance can also provide valuable insight to MPA managers about where to target limited resources for compliance assurance, outreach and enforcement. They also provide cost effective ways to highlight areas to target the limited DFW education and enforcement resources. It will help track the frequency and location of illegal activities which will help focus enforcement responses.

Another important secondary benefit includes MPA stewardship and education regarding coastal resources, their threats, and protection measures helps build knowledge and understanding among interested individuals and groups as well as promote public engagement and stewardship.

How does it work?

Volunteers can sign up with Orange County Coastkeeper or one of the organizations involved in implementing this program and will be assigned to a specific area for observation. You will be trained in proper monitoring methods and given information about your site location as well as directions to the area and beach access locations especially for the smaller neighborhood beaches. Once you arrive at the locations with the provided materials, usually data collection sheets, you can get to work.

What does a MPA Watch Volunteer do?

MPA Watch volunteers monitor all human uses in MPA’s including resting and games, running, walking, fishing, swimming, surfing, boating, diving and interacting with local tide pools. Most of these beach activities have little if any effect on the local Marine Protected Areas. Volunteers will also monitor consumptive activities such as collection from tide pools, and trampling that would disturb or displace any marine and plant life in the tide pools and surrounding beaches.