Public Release:  Science for long-term management of the Marine Life Protection Act

University of California - Santa Barbara

(San Francisco, Calif.) -- Steve Gaines, director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will present a talk about marine protection at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco on Sunday, Feb. 18.

A very small fraction of the ocean's habitats are set aside in permanent marine protected areas (MPAs). Several efforts around the globe are trying to rapidly increase the extent of ocean protection by creating new, fully protected marine reserves and other types of MPAs. Gaines will address how the urgency of creating protected areas is driven by continually emerging evidence of the scope of human impacts on marine ecosystems.

California is at the forefront of this growing global effort in expanded ocean protection. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is landmark legislation passed in the late 1990s that mandates the establishment of new MPAs along the entire state coastline. The design of this new collection of MPAs is required to have two key features: they need to represent the diversity of California's marine habitats, species, and ecosystems, and they need to function as an ecological network, rather than an independent collection of protected areas.

Science was given a prominent role by the MLPA to specify how to achieve these goals. A broad group of scientists from across the state drew upon many recent advances in MPA science to devise a set of guidelines for effective implementation of California's emerging network of MPAs. The guidelines define key habitats, levels of protection, and specify goals for MPA sizes and spacing. Gaines will focus on the basis for these science guidelines and discuss lessons learned from their use in the first phase of implementation of the MLPA. In 2007, 29 new MPAs, including 15 fully protected marine reserves, are scheduled to be implemented along the central coast of California. This initial phase sets the stage for three subsequent planning efforts to complete the statewide network of MPAs.

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