News FocusECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT

Science Meets Politics Off California's Coast

Science  26 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5973, pp. 1574-1575
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5973.1574

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Summary

Forty-eight marine protected areas (MPAs) have been designated by a new plan, approved in December, that would safeguard 15% of the state waters off Southern California. Under an ambitious $38 million program that began in 2004, the state has already protected an even larger fraction of the Central Coast. Next up is the far northern reach of the coast. When the process is complete, California will have set aside more of its waters as no-take reserves than any other state, and perhaps as much as any country save Australia. Other countries are beginning to emulate the approach. But as the California experiment has shown, it's not easy. The process was authorized by a 1999 state law, the Marine Life Protection Act, that called for a network of protected areas to rebuild and protect marine ecosystems. From the outset, scientists were heavily involved in figuring out the most effective locations for MPAs. After their initial efforts met with heated opposition, it became clear that the needs of the fishers had to be accommodated, too. So a political dance ensued and compromises were struck—especially in Southern California, where controversy has been most intense.