Monday, June 29, 2009
The state is currently in the process of redesigning California's network of marine protected areas, or MPAs. We'll find out what's at stake in the process, and what's in the works for the Southern California coast.
The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative will hold two open houses in San Diego on Monday, June 29, 2009, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Carlsbad, and on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, at 5:30 p.m. at the Marina Village Conference Center in San Diego.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The coastline, the oceans, the beaches are so much a part of San Diego's identity that it's frightening to think that much of our coast is threatened. Experts say 90% of California's coastal wetlands have been lost, while a large number of marine life species, plants, fish and animals, have see their populations decline in the last 20 years. California already has a series of what are called marine protected areas up and down the state, but critics say they are too few and outdated. So, a public-private partnership called the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is now in the process of re-evaluating the protected coastal areas and coming up with a statewide network of protection for California's coastal habitat. This year, that analysis is focusing on Southern California, and the group is just about to hold a series of open houses to show the public their draft proposals for these new marine protected areas, and get people's comments on the plans. Joining me to discuss the goals of this initiative are my guests, first, Melissa Miller-Henson. She's program manager for the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, a partnership with the California Department of Fish and Game, California Natural Resources Agency, and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. And, Melissa, welcome to These Days.
MELISSA MILLER-HENSON (Program Manager, Marine Life Protection Act Initiative): Thank you very much for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Kate Hanley is here, Director of Marine Conservation for San Diego Coastkeeper. Kate, welcome.
KATE HANLEY (Director of Marine Conservation, San Diego Coastkeeper): Hi. Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, which is a local seafood company. Dave, thanks for being here.
DAVE RUDIE (Owner, Catalina Offshore Products): Thank you for inviting me.
CAVANAUGH: And we want to involve you, our audience, in the conversation if you'd like. If you have a question or a comment, just give us a call at 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Melissa, I'd like to start with you, if I may, and just ground us here and tell us what the Marine Life Protection Act is.
MILLER-HENSON: Well, thanks. You actually gave a great introduction. The Marine Life Protection Act directs the state to redesign its system of Marine Protected Areas. Those are what we refer to as MPAs. Marine Protected Areas were developed over about a 75-80 year period in California under a variety of statutes and organizations, and it didn't make a whole lot of sense. They weren't connected in any way, whether administratively or biologically or by physical oceanography, etcetera. And so the Act requires the state to go back and redesign those MPAs so that they are – the intent is to achieve a set of six goals and those six goals are related to things like natural diversity and abundance, and protecting the ocean ecosystem, etcetera. And so the state attempted to implement that law a couple of times, unsuccessfully, primarily due to a lack of resources, and so the Initiative was created to help the State of California implement that law.
CAVANAUGH: Well, give us an idea, if you would, Melissa, how many Marine Protected Areas are there along the coastline right now?
MILLER-HENSON: Well, in Southern California, which is where we're focused now, there's over 40 existing Marine Protected Areas.
CAVANAUGH: And give us an idea of how this new initiative is going to tie these areas together in a way that makes more sense.
MILLER-HENSON: So there are – there is a science advisory team that is assisting us in this process and they have identified, using the best readily available science, different criteria that need to be met, in fact, to create a system of Marine Protected Areas that are connected. They have identified size criteria, spacing, the different types of habitats that need to be represented, etcetera. And using those criteria, our regional stakeholder group members, who really are the foundation of this effort, they use those criteria along with some that have been developed by the California Department of Fish and Game that are related to management, how can we design these so that they're effective from an enforcement and longterm monitoring perspective, etcetera. And so using that variety of criteria, our stakeholders will redesign these in such a way that they're based on sound science and that can be managed in the long term.
CAVANAUGH: Now you've used the term 'stakeholder' and I just want to be clear. What does it mean to be a stakeholder in this process and who gets to be one?
MILLER-HENSON: Anyone who has an interest in the ocean environment is a stakeholder. In our regional stakeholder group, which is a group of 64 individuals who, again, provide the foundation for this work, they're the ones who are really doing the tough job of identifying how we redesign these MPAs. They represent a wide variety of interests from the general public to commercial fishing, recreational fishing, nonconsumptive recreationists, ports of harbors, marinas, etcetera.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Kate, I want to get you into the conversation…
CAVANAUGH: …because you are one of these stakeholders…
CAVANAUGH: …or at least the San Diego Coastkeeper organization is.
CAVANAUGH: And I wonder what it – what does it mean to be a stakeholder in this process from your angle.
HANLEY: Absolutely, it's a – Well, it's been a really interesting process. I represent the environmental community and use science-based information by working with a lot of my constituents and bring that to the regional stakeholder group process, representing more of the conservation aspects of implementing Marine Protected Areas.
CAVANAUGH: And I wonder what do you see as lacking in the protected areas that we have now?
HANLEY: Well, as Melissa mentioned, there's about 40 in Southern California. There's 10 in San Diego County. They were created kind of ad hoc, not at the same time, and a lot of them are fairly small so they don't offer the kind of protection that we would be looking for. So going through the Marine Life Protection Act process, we use the science advisory team as an entity to get our – receive our guidelines from to say, well, where should these areas be placed? What kind of habitat are we looking at? What kind of species are we looking to protect? And, therefore, you have more of a solid scientific foundation to determine where the areas should be.
CAVANAUGH: I want to invite our audience, once again, to take part in this conversation. What areas of San Diego's coastline do you think should be protected? What do you think is not being protected very well here in San Diego? Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. And, Melissa, I know that this is a really big project. Could you briefly tell us how you're going to evaluate the various Marine Protected Areas? In other words, the entire California coastline was divided into five parts, right?
MILLER-HENSON: Correct, it's divided into five study regions. We've already completed the planning process in two of those study regions and Southern California's the third.
CAVANAUGH: And we're talking – we have been talking here, I think, in generalities. And, Kate, I would like you to perhaps break it down for us.
CAVANAUGH: When you talk about these science people evaluating and so forth, what exactly are we trying to protect here in San Diego County?
HANLEY: Well, if you look at the goals and the objectives of the Act, it's really just looking at, you know, improving the health of these ecosystems but, in addition, improving recreation study, education opportunities all across the board so what we want to do here in San Diego is take a look at what we have, you know, of course, the existing Marine Protected Areas, see what's working, see what habitats we should be evaluating and then, of course, looking at the socio-economic impacts as well because, of course, we have a pretty large fishing community of both recreational and commercial that we need to take into consideration as well. So there are a myriad of factors that are on the table for consideration and determining where these areas should be.
CAVANAUGH: And does it mean – so if you have a particular species that lives along the coast and likes a wetland environment, that what you're trying to do is, you're trying to make sure that sort of wherever this species goes, whichever habitat along the coast that this species likes, at least has an area where they can go and thrive?
HANLEY: Somewhat. It's sort of interesting because this is what we call an ecosystem based management approach, right. So it's protecting everything. I just use this analogy: from sand dollars to sharks. Fisheries management with Department of Fish and Game, etcetera, they will use, you know, looking at a single species, what kind – what the levels are in terms of population, if it's a robust, you know, numbers, at a particular time. But this is really saying, okay, what habitat are we looking at, what resides within that habitat, and – and, of course, the fishing community will know that, the scientific community as well. And then looking at, well, where can we place these areas? I'd like to – I think the best analogy that people can grasp is that it's almost like underwater parks, like how we have Yosemites and Yellowstones on land and these are very special areas that, you know, Teddy Roosevelt, around a hundred years ago, decided, well, you know, we need to set aside five percent of U.S. lands as special heritage area or parks. We're trying to do the same thing here in San Diego because if you look under the water, I mean, it's just this amazing ecosystem of rocky outcrops, giant kelp forests, you know, similar to the redwood forest, if you will, if you – again, try to do a land-based analogy. And so that's what we're really looking at, protecting these special places, the Yosemites of the ocean.
CAVANAUGH: And, Melissa, what happens to an area when it's designated a Marine Protection Area?
MILLER-HENSON: Well, I apologize, I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean by what happens to that area.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I mean, how is it protected?
MILLER-HENSON: Well, it's protected depending up – it depends on the regulations that are established. There are actually three types of Marine Protected Areas in California. We have marine reserves, marine parks, and marine conservation areas. Marine reserves are – I would call them the most limiting. They prohibit any type of extraction. So not only can you not take fish and kelp or algae but you can't take sand and gravel, etcetera. So those are the most restrictive. You also have parks which are very similar to parks on land where there's no commercial extraction allowed but, generally, recreational activities are allowed. And then conservation areas, which is a mix; it's some limitation on commercial and/or recreational activities. So in those cases, in parks and conservation areas, it's really dependent upon the proposed regulations that our stakeholders are suggesting for each of those areas.
CAVANAUGH: Can people swim there?
MILLER-HENSON: Yes, in general, any kind of non-consumptive activity, swimming, diving, wading, surfing, etcetera, generally those activities are allowed to continue. We've not seen an effort by – the body that actually designates these areas is the California Fish and Game Commission and the California State Park and Recreation Commission and they have generally not limited those types of human behavior because generally they're not disruptive to the ecosystem, and not that they can't but they've chosen not to.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Kate, one big difference in the kind of analogy you made between our national park system, saying that these protected areas are kind of underwater parks, is that, you know, it's hard to tell where exactly they are.
CAVANAUGH: I mean, you know, it's not the same as, you know, driving up to a park.
HANLEY: Sure, sure.
CAVANAUGH: How do people know where they are?
HANLEY: Well, a couple of ways. I mean, I think the great benefit of having this regional stakeholder group is you have a lot of local knowledge so what we've been doing in our subgroups is trying to identify landmarks. So if you're in a boat, you can say, oh, okay, that's, you know, x-point. I know that that's where the Marine Protected Area either begins or ends. And then also the way that we look at designating these Marine Protected Areas is we look at the graticules on – minutes, basically, and just say, well, let's keep it within a certain square block so if someone – most people today have GPS systems and that could be easily designated if you're out in a boat and just realizing that. The other thing, the other component, which is going to be – I'm really looking forward to after this process – is educating the public and I'll use La Jolla Shores, which is a state marine conservation area but is a Marine Protected Area. Most people are very much aware that that is kind of a no-take zone, especially from – if you're just going in and, you know, people respect that. And a poll has been done, I think it was by UCSD or the folks at Scripps, and, you know, most people were aware that it was there. They couldn't tell you exactly what, you know, they couldn't take or whatever but people embrace these areas and they are treated as special places, regional special places, very much like a state park on land.
CAVANAUGH: And what does a no-take zone – what is it that you can't take from a no-take zone?
HANLEY: Well, that's the process that we're going through now. So as Melissa mentioned, with extractive activities we have what are called allowable uses or not-allowable uses, if you look at the flip side. And so we will work with different constituents on the regional stakeholder group and try to figure out, well, if it is a state marine conservation area, should there be squid fishing allowed in, you know, in part of the Marine Protected Area? So that's what we are in the process of figuring out right now.
CAVANAUGH: Now I want to bring Dave into the conversation. I know that you're there and you, of course, own a local seafood company and you have very decided opinions on what's going on here. I do want to take a phone call, though, because we are taking calls from our listeners. The number is 1-888-895-5727. And Ed is on the line in Point Loma. And good morning, Ed. Welcome to These Days.
ED (Caller, Point Loma): Hi. This may sound a little bit half-baked but I was over this weekend in the hotels around Mission Bay and they had these very elaborate saltwater water features where they were trying to save water by using ocean water instead of freshwater in a system of artificial streams and ponds. And you could see where there were a few species of sea anemones and things that had colonized it. Mostly it was pretty mungy water. And I almost wonder, is there any way that the city could – and you all, and is it ecologically feasible that you could try and turn those into kind of an artificial slough in exchange for a tax break? Being that they're so unattractive now, I would think if you plant them with things like salacornia, put in some killies and it – you might be able to preserve a lot of species in what's really just a wasted opportunity now. I know it sounds weird but you're talking about thousands of gallons of water and, you know, maybe it would also be a way to educate the public if these hotels and other luxury hotels – but the water's disgusting in those bodies right now.
ED: I mean, it's broken up clam shells, a little bit of seaweed, and, you know, it's nasty. So it wouldn't look uglier as a slough, it would look neat and kids would love, I'm sure, to see fiddler crabs and stuff running around in there. And I know it's not exactly an estuary but you could pump a little freshwater in in one direction. So…
CAVANAUGH: Well, Ed, thank you for that. I'm getting some questioning faces here around me. And I'm wondering, Kate, if you have any response?
HANLEY: Gosh, I would just contact the City of San Diego and pitch that idea to them, the Stormwater Division. I'm not sure. Not that it's half-baked, I just, you know, kind of an interesting concept. I'm not familiar with the area that he was speaking about in terms of, you know, what that looks like.
CAVANAUGH: Right, so…
CAVANAUGH: And, Melissa, I would imagine that what you're largely focusing on is preservation and not creation of any sloughs or anything like that.
MILLER-HENSON: Well, we certainly, in our process, are not looking at creating new habitat or new opportunities, but it sounds like Ed's thinking very creatively and I would encourage him to either contact the City of San Diego and/or the California Department of Fish and Game and see what kind of opportunity might exist there.
CAVANAUGH: And, Ed, thank you so much for that call. We appreciate it. Dave, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, I want to bring you into the conversation. You've been waiting very patiently and I appreciate it. Now you're the owner of a seafood business. You're also a stakeholder in this process. And I wonder why it's important to you to protect parts of the marine coastline?
RUDIE: Sure. I've been working in the sea urchin industry since the late seventies and we started very early on to worry about sustainability. When we first started, sea urchins had overrun the kelp beds and they were considered a nuisance and we wanted to make sure that there was a sustainable fishery and we went to the Fish and Game and we asked for size limits, we asked for management, and the fishery's been very involved in the management of the fishery over the last 20 years. We have set up a limited number of fishermen, limited number of days, and the size limits and so we've been very proactive in making a sustainable fishery. The two main fisheries I represent are the Sea Urchin Divers, which go out on a daily basis, collect only a certain size sea urchin, a certain quality sea urchin, and bring them in that day. We process them and we sell them to sushi bars throughout Southern California and around the country. The other is the spiny lobster where the fishermen go out and trap the lobsters. Again, very low impact fisheries, sustainable. And that's really what we're about, is local, sustainable fisheries.
CAVANAUGH: Now when you started, you say there were so many sea urchins that they were threatening the kelp bed?
RUDIE: Right. What happened is, in the late fifties there were a couple of – some El Ninos and a lot of the kelp disappeared. And after that, a lot of people questioned why the kelp didn't come back, and one of the answers was we, the north, found that the sea urchins were dominating the bottom and sea urchins form these armies and they'll eat up all the kelp and, because they're not very smart, they just eat up the whole fast and the rest of the kelp just washes away. So it's really important to have a good balance between sea urchins and kelp. And the sea urchin divers have been able to do that, they've got the populations down to the level where they don't destroy the kelp beds and yet high enough so we have a sustainable fishery.
CAVANAUGH: And is there – do you have a feeling that that kind of a balance is going to be maintained in the future or is it possible that there may be too much fishing of sea urchin?
RUDIE: Well, is actually a little bit of concern that if we don't fish the sea urchins, we could go back to what we had in the seventies, so we have to keep that in mind when we're creating these marine reserves. Again, I support the marine reserve process, the MLPA process. And in my group, Topaz, we actually were able to reach a cross-interest proposal. In other words, in our sub-group, we have a lot of different interest groups. We have fishing representatives, environmental representatives, government representatives, and we were able to come together with one proposal, and it's called the Topaz Proposal, and it's one of the six proposals that you can visit when you come to Carlsbad tonight…
RUDIE: …or to Mission Bay tomorrow.
CAVANAUGH: For the open house that they're going to be having to show the public what is being proposed under this Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. We want to talk more about the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and some of the concerns I know, Dave, that you have about what's being proposed right now. And we'll be taking more calls but we have to take a break. And These Days will continue in just a moment.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We are talking about a new analysis on Southern California's coastal regions and my guests are Melissa Miller-Henson. She's Program Manager for the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. Kate Hanley is Director of Marine Conservation for San Diego Coastkeeper, and Dave Rudie is owner of Catalina Offshore Products. It's a local seafood company. And we were just – And we're taking your calls, I want to remind you, at 1-888-895-5727. But, Dave, I want you to tell us what concerns that you have that some of the protected areas may have negative impacts perhaps on fishing industries?
RUDIE: Sure, if we close too much of the coastline then there's the potential of the compaction in the remaining areas, so if we were to close a high percentage, then the fish would be closed – forced into the remaining areas and that wouldn't be good to have all that concentrated effort in a small area.
CAVANAUGH: All right. Do you see that happening in these proposals?
RUDIE: The six proposals we have right now all seem somewhat reasonable. I mean, we have to fine tune them and do our best to meet the science guidelines, at the same time minimize the economic impact. I mean, the proposals that are out there right now, on commercial fishing they have somewhere between six and a half and sixteen percent impact on those fisheries, and it, you know, it's between two to five million dollars on ex-vessel income. Yet the other part of it is – the other ripple effects through the economy, some of the sport fishing operations and the kayak fishers and all those people, we just have to keep in mind that, you know, we want to follow the law and we want to have these Marine Protected Areas just in balance, so that's all we're looking for, just a balance.
CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering how involved is the local fishing industry in the creation of these new Marine Protected Areas?
RUDIE: Well, again, we have stakeholders like myself that represent the fishermen and then also we meet. I meet with the fishermen to ask them their opinions and their ideas and, you know, what they can live with. You know, we don't want to put them out of business, so there's been a lot of meetings going on with fisheries' input and – and one of the external proposals is a fishing proposal, it's External A, and that got good marks for meeting a lot of the guidelines. So…
CAVANAUGH: You wanted to add something, Kate?
HANLEY: Well, yeah, I think that it's – When we look at Marine Protected Areas, different systems around the globe, I've worked in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, and seen the benefits that the fishing community have received from the effects of spillover. And, you know, I think it's just so important. I come from a family of fishermen, I'm a diver myself, you know, so there's a lot of various interests that I have in this process. But it's also interesting to note there was a National Ocean Economic Report released on June eighth that showed the ocean economy contributes $138 billion to the GDP in 2004. Three percent of the associated jobs come from living marine resources like fishing, processing aquaculture, which is huge. You know, we definitely want to take that into consideration. 75% of the jobs and 51% of the GDP comes from tourism and recreation so, of course, you know, fishing interests and the livelihood and the historic significance of that and the people who are on the stakeholder group, it's extremely important. It's also important to consider, you know, the intrinsic benefits, you know, the fact that there, you know, there will be a thriving marine ecosystem and that we're all working towards that both for the benefit of the fishing community as well as people who just want to enjoy the esthetic benefits, if you will, the diving community, etcetera.
CAVANAUGH: There are some listeners who'd like to join the conversation. I want to let you know our number is 1-888-895-5727. And Jared is calling from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Jared, and welcome to These Days.
JARED (Caller, Ocean Beach): Hey, good morning. Thank you very much for having me on today.
CAVANAUGH: You're welcome.
JARED: I came into this presentation a little bit late so I apologize for the redundant question but at the Surfrider Foundation, we had somebody come in a few months ago from the Hubbs Aquarium and gave a presentation. Sounded more like an investment pitch. But it was a presentation about fish farms offshore. And I wanted to ask all of you all to kind of weigh in on that. Is that something that's going to be beneficial when added to Marine Life Protected Areas? Is it going to detract? How would fish farms offshore from San Diego impact Marine Protected Areas, if at all?
CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for that, Jared. And Kate.
HANLEY: Dave may be in a better position to answer this but I just want to clarify that that proposed aquaculture, mariculture facility, is five miles offshore and this process deals within state waters out to the three mile line.
CAVANAUGH: I see. I see.
HANLEY: Just to clarify that. But Dave, if…
RUDIE: Yeah, I don't know that much about the proposal. Like Kate said, it's supposed to be five miles offshore. It's proposed by Hubbs. I know they have an awful lot of permits they have to get through before they can even do anything like that. There's just a lot of environmental permits they'd have to go through.
CAVANAUGH: And, Melissa, this would not have anything to do with the Marine Protection Initiative?
MILLER-HENSON: No, it doesn't have anything to do with the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and I think the listener's question really is relevant to the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those are the folks who will be looking very closely at that proposal and determining what kind of impacts it might have on the ocean ecosystem and how to mitigate for those impacts or eliminate them. So while not directly related to the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, it clearly is related to protecting our ocean ecosystem.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let's talk to Rachel. She's calling from North Park. And good morning, Rachel, welcome to These Days.
RACHEL (Caller, North Park): Hi. Thank you for having my call. I was just asking – or I was just wondering if Kate could have the opportunity to respond to what Dave was talking about from his perspective as an urchin fisherman. I completely understand his point of view as an entrepreneur and a fisherman but as far as my understanding goes, these MPAs, as Kate was trying to explain, are based on ecosystem protection and if we, in fact, can establish some very healthy MPAs off of areas, you know, like Point Loma and La Jolla, if – if Kate could just respond. If we can rebuild these ecosystems, what kind of predators would we have available to be top predators on urchin populations, and from a conservation perspective what are her thoughts?
CAVANAUGH: Right. Rachel is asking if we could get these ecosystems back without fishing.
HANLEY: Well, I mean, there's a delicate balance there for sure. I like to think of Marine Protected Areas as a living laboratory, especially marine reserves, so that we could take a look at, you know, what if there was an undisturbed ecosystem and we allowed things to come back, if you will, you know, we allowed lobster to grow larger. And it's been shown, the Channel Islands, for instance, a study just finished up, a five-year study, which is a relatively short period of time to say, well, you know, what are the effects? Are people benefiting from spillover? Are things getting larger and more numerous? And across the board, pretty much, you know, out of 19 species surveyed, 18 of them were more numerous, larger, etcetera. So I think we would, you know, I suspect, you know, looking at the science from different ecosystems that we would see effects as such. And then, you know, taking into account that, in, you know, on the regional stakeholder group, creative folks like Dave have come up with these, you know, hypotheticals like, well, what if we had a state marine conservation area right next to a marine reserve and we allowed fishing of sea urchins right next door to a marine reserve? And then just see what that looks like. And this is an adaptive management process so in five years we can take a look at that and see have we done things right and have we done things wrong? Are these reserves too small? Are they too large? And really take into consideration all these effects.
CAVANAUGH: And, Dave, is – Do you see at this point as fishing being actually part of the ecosystem?
RUDIE: Certainly, I mean, the humans are part of the ecosystem.
RUDIE: And I'd like to respond to some of the things Kate said. I agree with a lot of the things she said and, like she said, in our group, we've come up with this concept of having a reserve next to a conservation area and these conservation areas would be fisheries' research adaptive management areas where we can test some of these theories because the SAT has said that their uncertain about some of these issues. Some of the issues that I've raised to the Science Advisory Team, they've come back and said, well, there's a lot of uncertainty and we're not sure about the predators, we're not sure what's going to happen and we know that sea urchins have destroyed kelp beds before. So, really, we need to study it more. We need to set up these experimental areas where we can test the effect of sheephead, lobster, sea urchins, sea urchin diving, on the ecosystem and see what happens after five years. So the adaptive management process, which is ingrained in this law – this law says very clearly we have to have adaptive management, we have to have monitoring, we have to find out what's happening in these marine reserves and see if they're working or not.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want to take a question that a caller is posing and that is, how do we know if these areas are working? How will we know that? Kate.
HANLEY: Well, I think the science will tell us. That's kind of the exciting part about this as well. We're going to have a monitoring aspect and we're looking at that statewide now. But just to throw out some of the stats from the benefits of marine reserves, for instance, scientific studies of over 124 marine reserves worldwide, 53 of which have ocean temperatures similar to California, so temperate waters, have shown the protecting areas from fishing and extractive uses do make a difference. The studies showed that reserves placed in these habitats allow the number of plants and animals to more than triple, and boost individual sizes by an average of 27%. You know, this is – Another study showed that marine reserves have 21% higher diversity of plants and animals than surrounding waters. So you want robust ecosystems to provide, you know, so you have that resiliency. It's extremely important and I think that we'll be looking at that, and that's going to be a great experiment with the fishing community, with scientists, with the environmental community, etcetera. So I'm really looking forward to that part of this once these Marine Protected Areas are implemented.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Melissa, you're just about to embark on a series of open houses to get public input to the proposals for the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. Now I'm wondering, with stakeholders and scientists and public input, who gets to make the final decision on these areas?
MILLER-HENSON: Well, under the Marine Life Protection Act, ultimately, the California Fish and Game Commission has that final authority. They are identified in statute as the lead agency or lead organization for the state for this system of MPAs. The California State Park and Recreation Commission also has a role, with state parks, obviously. But as far as the planning process that we are going through and that will ultimately lead to recommendations, those start with our regional stakeholder group and, again, as we mentioned earlier, is a lot of advice and guidelines that are provided by a Science Advisory Team, by the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as Initiative staff based on the Act itself and a master plan for MPAs that's been approved by the Fish and Game Commission. And all of that information then and the development of those proposals is overseen by a blue ribbon task force and that task force will take the recommendations from the regional stakeholder group. They may select one of those proposals that are developed, they might slightly modify one, you know, there's a number of options. And they will forward then a final recommendation to the State of California.
CAVANAUGH: And, Melissa, I'm wondering, what is all this costing? Is the state -- and, you know, the state is having deep budget problems. Will that have any impact on this process?
MILLER-HENSON: Clearly, the state's economy and the budget for the State of California is a concern for everyone and it continues to be a concern for us as well because the State of California is an important partner in this process. When we started the Initiative along the central coast of California, we only had a couple of Department of Fish and Game staff involved. We managed to get through that process and make progress because we did have this public-private partnership, and so we have private funds available to hire staff and contractors to assist our stakeholders and our Science Advisory Team, etcetera. As we move to the north coast and the south coast, we had quite a few more Department of Fish and Game staff assisting us. They've been an integral part of the team as we move forward. And who knows what's going to happen? After July one, we may have to go through a leaner staff but we will, again, with that public-private partnership, those private funds will allow us to continue to move forward and we will continue to seek the participation and advice of our state agency partners.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. I want to thank Melissa Miller-Henson. She's Program Manager for the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. Kate Hanley is Director of Marine Conservation for San Diego Coastkeeper, and Dave Rudie, owner of Catalina Offshore Products, a local seafood company. Thank you all for talking with us this morning.
HANLEY: Thank you.
RUDIE: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everyone know that the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is holding two open houses in San Diego this week. Tonight at 5:30 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Carlsbad and tomorrow night at 5:30 at the Marina Village Conference Center in San Diego. And you can go to KPBS.org/TheseDays for more information.