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Research Shows California's Marine Sea Life Reserves Are Working

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New research finds California’s System of Marine Protected Areas is doing exactly what it was designed to do — allowing marine species to reproduce in safe places.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 The experiment seems to have worked seven years ago. California expanded marine protected areas off the coast, 11 of them in San Diego. The areas described as underwater parks where some or all fishing is prohibited, are men to allow fish and marine life to thrive in a natural state. A recent review of San Diego's MPHs finds that marine species are being protected in the areas and are reproducing journey. Me as Samantha Marie, she's a faculty member who works with the marine biodiversity and conservation program at Scripps and Samantha, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me. What kinds of signs are researchers seeing that suggest that the marine protected areas are actually working? Well, it's, it's early days for looking at our marine protected area network. As you said, it's only been in the water for seven years, but we're already seeing bigger fish, more fish, and a greater diversity of fish inside marine protected area boundaries.

Speaker 1: 00:59 And those benefits might also extend to areas beyond those protected areas. Is that right? That's right. In some cases we have a documented spillover. Um, in 2015, scientists used DNA barcoding and modeling to look at our nps at scripts and found that there's significant spillover of, uh, larva and fish into areas outside of boundaries, which means they're replenishing the populations outside as well. Can you give us an idea of where these areas are located? Off The coast of San Diego? Yeah. In San Diego we have 11 marine protected areas and some of them are, um, a longshore or even in protecting coastal lagoons, like, uh, San Alito or a San Dieguito lagoon or, uh, the t I want a river mouth. Uh, but we also have, uh, marine protected areas that are more off shore, like in south La Jolla or Cabrio and Swamis for example. And because our marine protected areas are managed by the state, they can be any place from sort of the mean high tide line out to three nautical miles offshore.

Speaker 1: 02:05 And do the rules and regulations vary between those protected areas? Yeah, they vary quite a lot actually. When we were creating the marine protected areas in California, the state brought together fishermen. And divers and surfers and tribes and really anyone you can imagine who enjoys the coastline in California to sit down and think about the goals of the marine protected areas. You know, what do we want to protect here? What are we trying to get at? And then design the protected areas to sort of achieve those goals. What kind of goals should they come up with? I mean, what is the purpose of these in the first place? So some marine protected areas are really designed to protect certain, uh, certain kinds of species. So for example, rockfish, rockfish off of California live a long, long time. And there's evidence to show that if you, um, if you set areas aside in marine protected areas, let rockfish, uh, sort of just do their thing, do, do what nature intended for them, that they can grow to be 85 years old.

Speaker 1: 03:08 In some cases, some don't even reproduce until they're 20, 30 years old. But when you have these big old fat females, and that is actually a scientific term, um, they have more babies that are more robust and more resilient to stressors like starvation. So that's one example of, of why you might create a marine protected areas for, for example, replenishing rock fish populations. But if you know that there's an area that's really important, um, for a spiny lobster or for abalone or for some other species or for a kelp forest or a certain kind of habitat, surf grass or Eelgrass, you could also create a marine protected area for that purpose. So in those areas where fishing is prohibited or really not much of it allowed at all, how is enforcement carried out? Yeah, great question. So enforcement, um, is a challenge. It's a challenge anytime you have any kind of a wildlife regulation at all, right?

Speaker 1: 04:06 Whether it's hunting or recreational fishing and it's no different for marine protected areas. But the nice thing is that if you have a marine protected area that says, Hey, we're not fishing inside these boundaries, it actually can make it pretty, pretty clean and pretty clear and simple. And in the case of California, um, we have wardens who are both wardens for terrestrial, for land and for the water. And they are tasked with going out. And you know, certainly giving warnings to people who may not know that they're inside a protected area, but if necessary, also writing tickets to deter poaching inside a protected area. Now as you continue to study these marine protected areas, what other benefits are you hoping to discover? Well, one really interesting benefit about marine protected areas in addition to just more fish, both inside and outside is being able to sort of contextualize oceanographic changes.

Speaker 1: 05:05 So we've heard a lot over the last week or so about this blob that might be coming back to town. Uh, this warm water, um, uh, oceanographic events the same as we saw in 2014 and 2015. What's nice about marine protected areas as we have these really robust, longstanding datasets. So we're taking a hard look at what's happening inside the protected areas. When we have a blob or another kind of oceanographic event happening at a large scale, we can sort of study what's happening with the ecosystems without the confounding effects of, and complex effects of fishing, for example. So it helps us to sort of contextualize these oceanographic changes and large scale events in more of a controlled setting. Do you think that it could turn around some of the negative things we're hearing happening in the ocean and with climate change and perhaps replenish some of the things that are eroding?

Speaker 1: 05:59 Yeah, we do tend to find that when you have intact ecosystems, you know, so habitat on wildlife, they're just sort of doing their natural thing, that they are more resilient to outside stressors. And there's also a study that shows that a marine protected area that had been protected, protected a very long time since the 70s was more resilient to invasive algae that we're seeing at a pretty large scale in California, especially in southern California. But that this longstanding protection had sort of warded off the invasive algae. Thank you. I've been speaking with Samantha Marie, she's a faculty member who works at the marine biodiversity and conservation program at Scripps. Samantha, thank you so much. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:40 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.