Skip to main content
by Wendy Berube

2024 marks Orange County Coastkeeper’s 12th year participating in Marine Protected Area Watch, a statewide monitoring project documenting human activity in and around coastal zones designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). These regulated sections of coastline protect the diversity and abundance of aquatic life, the habitats they depend on, and the integrity of marine ecosystems.

In Orange County, our volunteers, staff members, interns, and Crystal Cove State Park partners have been actively monitoring Orange County MPAs since 2012, recording over 6,000 surveys. MPA Watch surveyors record the number of individuals engaged in activities considered consumptive (line fishing, trap fishing, shore-based collecting, spearfishing, etc.) and non-consumptive (walking, sunbathing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, etc.).

Are you a visual learner? Watch this video!

Some MPAs allow certain consumptive activities, while others, such as the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve, are no-take. When a surveyor encounters a prohibited activity, they record it as a possible violation and report it to enforcement authorities.

The data collected from the surveys is entered into a database shared with the statewide MPA Watch community. Twice a year, each regional MPA Watch program administrator generates a report. You can find reports for all of California’s MPA Watch programs, including ours in Orange County, on this webpage.

I have been administrating OC Coastkeeper’s MPA Watch program since last July, and we continue to expand the program with new volunteers and partnerships with local schools and government agencies! In the first quarter of 2024, we conducted over 170 surveys and trained 19 new volunteers. Fortunately, we continue to see little violations in Orange County’s MPAs; most instances involve hand collection of biota in the tidepools.

This July, we will generate a mid-year report and submit it to the statewide MPA Network. These reports are used to assist local agencies and the California Fish and Wildlife Department in managing MPAs. This includes deciding where resources such as signs, docents, outreach efforts, or enforcement activities are needed.

MPAs are currently under a system-wide review as part of the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) Decadal Management Review. As a part of the FGC’s adaptive management plan, it conducts an exhaustive review of the MPAs every ten years in partnership with stakeholders across California.

Following the release of the Decadal Management Review 2022 Report, the Commission is determining what, if any, changes need to be made in managing the MPA Network. The FGC received petitions for changes to California MPAs last November and is now considering each petition. They are currently gathering feedback from municipalities, environmental groups, fishers, law enforcement, concerned residents, and anyone with a stake in MPAs to help make decisions on the petitions.

If you are interested in participating in this process, you can review the petitions here. We submitted our own petition, which you can read about here.

Thank you for engaging with and supporting our MPA Watch program for over a decade! If you’d like to help us conduct MPA Watch surveys and contribute to this statewide community science project, please email me by clicking here!