Exciting Times for MPA Watch

Photo credit: Heal the Bay

This past week was an exciting one for MPA Watch.

As everybody who works in conservation knows, protecting anything is an ongoing task. The job doesn’t simply end once the regulations have been written and the signs have been posted. Further work is needed, including ongoing policy work, enforcement, and continued outreach to educate people on the importance of properly managing protected areas. In the case of California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), MPA Watch has been working to fill some of these needs, at least partially.

In the realm of MPA monitoring, MPA Watch is unique in that it is focused on how humans are interacting with the coast. This differs from most programs, which are typically interested in measuring ecological changes. By measuring how many people are surfing in, napping on, diving under and jogging through California’s marine protected areas, MPA Watch has begun the task of creating use profiles for some of California’s most special protected places. With approximately 12,000 surveys collected and over 550,000 unique observations logged from 88 different sites, the question now is, what to do with all of this data?

That’s why this past week, and actually the past few months, have been so exciting for MPA Watch.

Hoover High School students conducting an MPA Watch survey and beach cleanup at the Matlahuayl SMR. Photo credit: WILDCOAST

On Tuesday I was invited to present at the “MPA Milestones” meeting in Sacramento, which included representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the California Fish and Game Commission, California Ocean Science Trust (OST), Resources Legacy Fund (RLF), and, among others, the California Secretary for Natural Resources. To be invited to such a high-level meeting is not only an exciting proposition on the face of things, but also a great indication that MPA Watch and the data that have been collected through the program are being taken more and more seriously.

It was great to be able to present to such a dedicated and influential group about the merits of the program, and also to be able to cite specific examples of how MPA Watch is contributing to the protection of California’s natural resources. For example, describing how the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) is incorporating MPA Watch data from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles into their litigation surrounding the Refugio Oil Spill. Or describing how individual MPA Watch programs have been sharing data regarding potential MPA violations with wardens to help inform enforcement efforts.

marin survey
Volunteers conducting an MPA Watch survey on Limantour beach in Marin County. Photo credit: Marin MPA Watch

Moving forward, it’s important that all of us at MPA Watch capitalize on this positive momentum and continue to build partnerships with agencies and academia, while still training volunteers and continuing to build out our unique dataset. Achieving these goals is made easier due to the continued support of RLF, who has not only assisted with ensuring that MPA Watch operates as a standardized network, but continues to facilitate meetings between MPA Watch representatives and leaders from throughout the State. MPA Watch has also been presenting on its findings to MPA Collaboratives statewide, building partnerships and ensuring that all MPA stakeholders are aware of and involved with the monitoring process.

Recently, discussions have begun to determine how MPA Watch and DFW can work together more closely, and how MPA Watch can provide reports that can be institutionalized throughout the state. Working with a consultant, we are also in the process of developing a baseline MPA Watch report, developing the first statistical look at how MPA Watch can identify trends in activities through our network of MPAs.

I have no doubt that more opportunities for collaboration will continue to become apparent as new and unique questions are asked about our protected areas. In that regard, it looks as though there will be many more exciting weeks to come for MPA Watch.

By Tarrant Seautelle, California MPA Watch Coordinator