Restoring and Protecting the Ocean

Restoring and Protecting the Ocean

In 1999, California enacted landmark legislation to establish a network of marine protected areas along the coast where harvesting of sea life is restricted. The law required a focus on managing whole ecosystems, not just a single species or even groups of species.

Implementing this visionary new science-based law proved challenging. The first two attempts at conducting a statewide planning process foundered. A budget crisis in 2003 halted implementation activities. Tapping its extensive experience and expertise in marine policy and public decision making, Resources Legacy Fund developed a comprehensive strategy for implementing the new law.

RLF guided and, with its donor partners, supported development of an innovative structure, including a Blue Ribbon Task Force of experienced decision makers to oversee the process, a Science Advisory Team to guide marine protected area design, and stakeholder groups in each of four coastal planning regions to develop a range of proposals. This structure provided more freedom and support for open discussion than exists in formal regulatory settings, ensuring that proposals were vigorously vetted before they reached state agencies.

RLF developed a sophisticated online visualization tool to help scientists and stakeholders map, design, and evaluate marine protected areas. RLF and its donor partners also ensured that conservation organizations, fishing groups, tribes, and local governments could participate fully in the planning process.


In June 2012, the state approved the fourth and final regional plan, completing the first statewide network of marine protected areas in the United States. The network stretches from Oregon to the Mexico border and comprises 124 protected areas that cover , a total of 850 square miles—approximately 16.5 percent of state waters. RLF continues to be closely involved in implementation and monitoring of the network, which serves as a model for other states and nations.

A 2013 report on the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and other RLF work on ocean conservation can be found here.

Maps of marine protected areas can be found here.


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