California Completes Nation’s Largest Marine Reserve

California marine reserves now stretch from Oregon to MexicoMore than 13 years after the California State Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act, the wildlife reserves that it was meant to create have now been completed. The final section of these preserves went into effect just before Christmas, officially protecting 16% of the state’s waters and covering 848 square miles stretching from Oregon to the border of Mexico. The move also created the largest network of underwater parks in the U.S. while establishing important protections for wildlife living in those regions.

Establishing these marine reserves was no easy task as the Act had to survive opposition from a variety of interest groups including commercial fisherman. The majority of the new preserves ban fishing of any kind, something that wasn’t well received in a state that issues more than 2 million fishing licenses each year. That ban also had to be negotiated with Native American tribes who viewed the changes as a threat to their traditional way of life. In the end, all sides agreed that the move would be a benefit for everyone in the long run, as they all had a vested interest in a healthy marine population off California’s coast.

While marine reserves are not a new concept, what is unusual about California’s system is that it is off the coast of a heavily populated area. Most of the world’s undersea preserves are in sparsely populated regions, making them much easier to establish and maintain. This system presents new challenges but is a milestone for marine conservation worldwide.

It is believed that this new system of marine reserves will make for healthier fish populations along the entire west coast. That means that visitors to not just California, but Oregon, Washington and beyond will see improved fishing, as well as better options for whale watching, sea kayaking and scuba diving too.

[Photo Credit: State of California]