California Casts Historic Vote to Preserve Ocean Riches for All Americans to Enjoy

Summer vacation season has arrived, and millions of Americans are packing their bags and heading toward the ocean. We have many beautiful beaches to choose from in our nation—I still love the Cape Cod shores where I spent my childhood summers—but the California Coast offers magical experiences that few places can these days.

Visitors to the Farollones Islands can sail past blue whales—the largest creature on earth—or cage dive among great white sharks. Travelers to Sonoma and Mendocino can free dive for abalone and grill it on the beach. People stopping at Ano Nuevo can watch enormous elephant seals care for their young. And beachgoers from San Diego to Eureka can explore rocky tide pools for orange sea stars, purple urchins, and green anemones.

Despite these riches, fifteen years ago California had no oceans equivalent of national parks or refuges.  Overfishing had forced the closure of all commercial abalone fisheries and depleted an array of rockfish species. Crisis management wasn’t working. In 1999 California decided to create a safety net for its invaluable marine life. By enacting the Marine Life Protection Act, it set in motion the creation of safe havens for sea creatures all along its coast.

Today California’s Fish and Game Commission voted to establish a system of marine protected areas along the state’s north coast. This historic vote caps California’s extraordinary effort to establish the nation’s first statewide network of underwater parks. A chain of more than 100 protected areas stretching from Mexico to Oregon will help replenish California’s ocean life—and provide people with unforgettable encounters with whales, seals, fish and sea stars for generations to come.

These protected areas can boost the state’s economy. California has the largest coastal economy in the nation, with 11 million of the state’s 14 million jobs found in coastal counties. Meanwhile oceans-based tourism accounts for 76 percent of all spending by visitors to California. Keeping ocean waters vibrant and full of remarkable species helps keep the tourists and businesses coming.

Research shows that marine protected areas can contribute to healthy oceans: they harbor more and bigger fish, more resilient habitat, and more diverse life than unprotected areas. Larger fish, in turn, produce more eggs and help seed neighboring areas with larvae and young fish.

Many scientists believe that marine protected areas are good for sport fishing as well. I have enjoyed sport fishing since my father taught me how to hook striped bass and bluefish off Cape Cod many decades ago. I would like to introduce my grandchildren to this pleasure some day, and I know marine protected areas will help keep fish abundant for the future.

Most Californian are committed to preserving their ocean riches, and many of them played an active role in designing the new protected areas, including fishermen, divers, business leaders, scientists, tribal members, surfers. I am grateful to all those who have volunteered their time and to the Brown Administration for its leadership. And I am proud of NRDC’s role in sponsoring the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999, which set the whole process in motion. Together we have helped make California an international leader in ocean revitalization.

California's network of marine protected areas is a powerful beacon of hope. The world’s oceans are in deep trouble. Scientists tell us that 90 percent of the large fish—including tuna, swordfish, and sharks—are gone. The average size of fish off the west coast declined by 45 percent over the past 20 years.

Underwater parks help us reverse this destructive course. They allow fish to rebound, coastal economies to flourish, and residents and visitors alike to experience the wonders of ocean life. A trip to protected places at Point Lobos or the Channel Islands will show you what is possible.



  • Pelicans fly by the Farallones Islands. Photo courtesy of J. Bissinger
  • Great White Shark. Photo courtesy of FMSA
  • Red abalone from Mendocino County. Photo courtesy of
  • Visitors watch Elephant Seals basking at Ano Nuevo. Photo courtesy of Bob Wilson
  • La Jolla Shores tide pools. Photo courtesy of Meagan Wylie
  • Senorita fish dance in Monterey kelp forest. Photo courtesy of Clinton Bauder
  • Young beach-goers. Photo courtesy of Getty