Marine Protected Areas

Focus Areas > Coastal Ecosystems > Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are discreet geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. MPAs are considered to be an essential part of ecosystem based management regimes. There are three types of MPAs recognized in California: state marine reserves (SMR), state marine parks (SMP) and state marine conservation areas (SMCA). In California, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 2001 mandated the designation of an integrated state network of marine reserves along the entire coast. A new system of MPAs went into effect in Southern California on January 1, 2012.

USC Sea Grant was a Regional Stakeholder for the South Coast region and played a critical role in the establishment of these MPAs. USC Sea Grant provided leadership and leveraged resources to bring to the best available science to the discussion for the redesign, and ensured input from scientists, resource managers, experts, stakeholders and members of the public were included. Ensuring adequate monitoring of the MPAs, science-based adaptive management, and public education will be critical for the future success of these protected areas. USC Sea Grant helped to initiate public programs intended to foster education, compliance and enforcement of Southern California MPAs.

Los Angeles County: A Guide to Fishing In and Near Marine Protected Areas (published 2017)

Outreach Projects

MPA Watch

MPA Watch is a citizen-science program, created and run by Heal the Bay and sponsored by USC Sea Grant. MPA Watch trains volunteers to observe and collect unbiased data on coastal and marine resource use. This data provides valuable information to help managers understand how people are using the new South Coast MPAs, established under the Marine Life Protection Act. Not only do local volunteers learn about their coastal environment and become scientists and stewards of the area, but they generate quantities of monitoring data that would not be possible under the current state budget. Monitoring the newly created MPAs is important in order to make sure that these areas meet the goals of the Act, facilitate adaptive management in the future if adjustments need to made, and to improve our understanding of coastal marine ecosystems. Specifically, the MPA Watch volunteers will observe and record both consumptive and non-consumptive offshore and onshore activities in and around MPAs, which will improve our understanding of how people are using these new MPAs. Data from citizen-science projects like MPA Watch will compliment data collected by official monitoring groups, resource managers, scientists and the Department of Fish and Game. Ecological, economic, and demographic are just a few types of data that will be collected to provide a comprehensive picture on how the MPAs are functioning. For more information on the MPA Watch Program. Learn more...

Los Angeles Marine Protected Area Collaborative

MPA Collaboratives were formed at the statewide and regional level to provide a localized, comprehensive approach to resource management by bringing together local experts in the areas of outreach, education, enforcement, compliance, and scientific research and monitoring. USC Sea Grant has been co-chair of the Los Angeles MPA Collaborative since it’s inception. We help guide projects that aid in the enforcement and public education of marine protected areas in Southern California. Several products, including maps, guides, informational brochures, beach signage identifying MPAs, and fishing information has been published and distributed in English and Spanish. Learn more...

Educational Resources

For more information, contact Phyllis Grifman, Associate Director, 213.740.1963

  • USC Sea Grant
  • 3454 Trousdale Pkwy, CAS 200
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0373
  • (213) 740 - 1961