MPA Collaboratives: a model for the UK?

Getting marine reserves to work in practice clearly requires coordination of all the agencies with interests or responsibilities for manaing them, as well as opportunities for local stakeholders to be involved. That's MPA 101 (as they'd say here).

In doing research for this trip to California, I'd picked up on the existence of so-called 'MPA Collaborative' groups along the coast. These were initiated off the back of the MPA redesign process where stakeholders formed regional groups to identify the SMRs and other MPAs that would be part of the expanded network.

MPA Collaborative map ( (c) MPA collaborative network)

It was established by a forward thinking lady called Calla Allison off her own experiences down in Southern California (Orange County), who saw there would be a gap in maintaining this stakeholder engagement in MPA decision making once these sites had been chosen. From this successful model in the OC, private funding was secured (another recurring theme) to expand the program, such that there are now 14 regional MPA collaboratives all along the Californian coast.

Each collaborative has two co-chairs from different organisations, and there are 3 collaborative staff (including Calla) and an annual budget of around $300,000 from legacy funding to help support them. In their words, their mission is to " empower coastal communities to advance MPA management and encourage ocean stewardship."

And so it was that I rocked up at the CA State Parks Monterey Division on Wednesday to attend the Monterey MPA collaborative meeting and give a presentation on my WCMT fellowship.

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In attendance were around fifteen people in person or by phone, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, State Parks Dept, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Marine Mammal Center and the owner of a StandUp Paddleboarding company. No other industry users, especially fishermen, were present, which I have heard is an ongoing challenge to engage here but which I think would certainly improve the ratio between public and private represesentation.

I presented the background to my fellowship (that the UK has many MPAs but no marine reserves, that Point Lobos SMR at 5.5 square miles is twice as big as all ours put together!) and my aims to better understand the realities of managing, monitoring and enforcing these sites. This prompted some really useful discussion from all sides. Again, some key themes emerging were:

  • Keep it local. Stakeholders talking to stakeholders matters (even if the MPAs are coordinated or assessed at a network wide scale - remember no individual SMR has a management plan).
  • Most people (not all) have got used to the reserves over time and certainly for places like Point Lobos would not imagine them not being there. Interestingly, I heard elsewhere that it is the young and very old generation of fishers (that can remember how things used to be) that are the most supportive of the SMRs, but the middle generation have been most resistant.
  • Enforcement is an ongoing challenge, even in Point Lobos, particularly from commercial and recreational fishing for rockfish.
  • Communication and outreach, usign simple messages and innovative channels (the Monterey Collaborative has had a lot of success with a MPA colouring book, and much of the regular updates on progress related to implementation of signages, information, websites and so on. Clearly, lots of people are doing lots of good work in this regard and it's a part of the process California places a lot of emphasis on.

There are many interesting models of facilitating dialogue in California, that the UK could potentially benefit from, whether it be for stakeholders (in the case of these collectives) or higher governance (which the Ocean Protection Council helps with). One thing seems clear: that this is needed in California with the range of organisations even at a state level who have a voice. Not to mention the federal regulations and management of marine sanctuaries, mammals and birds in the state!

I'm hoping to meet Calla herself next week when I travel down south towards Santa Barbara and LA, it will be fascinating to get her take on them as they mature and seek new sources of funding to ensure they survive and thrive.

My sincere thanks to Pat Clark-Gray, Monterey MPA Collaborative co-chair, for arranging the meeting around me! And to all the participants for their thoughtful input. And to Leandra Lopez from the Collaborative network for her time before the meeting at Point Lobos.

Ps after the meeting I took a walk along Asilomar state beach, backing onto another SMR by the same name. It was chilly!

Asilomar State Beach

Asilomar State Beach