California’s MPA Watch: Harnessing the Power of Citizen Science

California is home to the largest integrated network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the world with over 500,000-acres of underwater parks. These marine reserves not only protect ocean wildlife, they also provide amazing opportunities for snorkelers, surfers, kayakers, divers, and anyone else who loves spending a day at the beach.

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To help safeguard California’s treasured coastal and marine resources, WILDCOAST has stepped up to coordinate an innovative, impactful, and fun citizen science project called MPA Watch.

MPA Watch is a statewide citizen science initiative designed to engage and inspire the next generation of ocean stewards, research scientists and marine biologists. Anyone can volunteer, and all participants use the same protocol to ensure the highest possible data quality.

“The MPAs of California are so extensive, that we have begun recruiting the public to help collect and analyze real scientific data on everything from birds to DNA to human use of natural resources”, says Angela Kemsley, MPA Watch Managing Coordinator.

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This data will help real scientists come to real conclusions. In other words, you can help protect California’s beautiful beaches and oceans just by joining WILDCOAST and walking the beach!

If you are ready to unleash your inner scientist or if you just really enjoy long walks on the beach, consider becoming an MPA Watch volunteer today! The data you collect will be added to a database of over 19,000 observations and applied to inform the educational outreach, legal enforcement and future management of California’s MPAs!

Visit to learn more about how you can become a citizen scientist for WILDCOAST



The Mexican government and WILDCOAST worked together to help protect more than nine miles of sea turtle nesting beach at Morro Ayuta, Oaxaca, where in 2017, more than two million Olive Ridley sea turtles laid their eggs. The wild and mostly uninhabited beach on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast is one of 12 beaches in the world where there is massive nesting of Olive Ridley turtles.


Through WILDCOAST’s partnership with Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP), the equivalent of the U.S. National Park Service, 9.3 miles of this key nesting beach for Olive Ridley and the critically endangered leatherback sea turtles are now permanently protected.

“We are grateful to the government of Mexico for preserving the pristine beach of Morro Ayuta that is crucial for the survival of threatened and endangered sea turtle species,” said Serge Dedina, Executive Director of WILDCOAST.

Unfortunately, illegal poaching of meat and eggs, and even more so, the threat of development in their habitat, weigh heavy on most sea turtle species. That is why WILDCOAST is working on the monitoring, surveillance and protection of turtles and Morro Ayuta in partnership with CONANP, the Mexican Turtle Center, SEMARNAT, and the Mexican Navy,” he added.

mg_8862tortugas-golfina-anidando.jpgIn 2008, WILDCOAST and CONANP initiated a conservation partnership to preserve the federal coastal zone, the first 60 feet of shoreline above the maximum high tide line, in key wildlife habitats and federal protected areas along Mexico’s Pacific coastline. To date CONANP and WILDCOAST have protected more than 1,000 miles of coastline to help protect against sea level rise and and prevent coastal development that impacts globally important coastal ecosystems. The 9.3 miles protected in Morro Ayuta is one of these conservation concessions.

mg_3795tortugas-golfina-apareandose.jpgWILDCOAST’s federal zone conservation tool has protected other critical wildlife habitat in Mexico, including the gray whale breeding lagoons in Laguna San Ignacio, Ojo de Liebre, and Guerro Negro, as well as vast mangrove forests in Bahia Magdalena and the Gulf of California, and the beaches that front the unique and fragile coral reef of Cabo Pulmo National Park near Cabo San Lucas.

As next steps to the protection of Morro Ayuta and its incredible and diverse natural surroundings, WILDCOAST is working with CONANP and the local community to declare the area as a federally protected wildlife reserve and protected area. This would provide long-term protection to an area known for its abundant sea turtles, marine mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals such as deer, jaguarundi, and anteaters.

“This is a tremendous conservation victory for the protection of sea turtles and Oaxaca’s coastal and marine ecosystems,” said Eduardo Najera, WILDCOAST’s Mexico’s Director. “We are so fortunate to have this partnership with CONANP to be able to develop and use this conservation tool,” he continued.



Advancing a Blue Future: The World Ocean Summit 2018

2.jpgWILDCOAST had the opportunity to attend The World Ocean Summit in Cancun, Mexico. The summit was an amazing experience that provided us with the rare chance to  listen and meet with business leaders, ocean conservationists and top government officials from around the world about collaborating to conserve the long-term health of the ocean. The President  of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto attended as well as Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment, Rafael Pacchiano, and Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

The WILDCOAST team was able to network with officials from Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment, including talk to Environmental Secretary Pacchiano about our Blue Carbon Initiative in Mexico. We also met with officials of the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi, Canada and the U.S., as well as with our colleagues at of the World Wildlife Fund, Pew Charitable Trusts,  the Conservation International Team, and our partners from the Packard Foundation and El Centro Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza, amongst others.

IMG_2692.jpg“The Ocean Summit reiterated our belief that WILDCOAST’s Blue Carbon Initiative is truly cutting-edge. With each conversation and during the panels discussions we discovered that there is a tremendous interest in both the capacity of mangroves in reducing carbon emissions as well as blue carbon’s possibilities of reactivating the global carbon market” said Eduardo Najera, WILDCOAST’s Mexico Director.

1.jpgOne of the main goals of this conference was to increase the engagement of the private sector with ocean conservation initiatives. Many panel discussions explored new ways for the private sector to invest in and fund ocean sustainability.

“Every leader who spoke at the World Ocean Summit emphasized that more than ever we need to invest in preserving the ocean in a sustainable way”, said Fay Crevoshay, Communications and Policy Director of WILDCOAST. “That is our path forward for a Blue future.”

First Floating Lab of 2018 O’Fishially a Success!

Picture2We at WILDCOAST are thrilled to announce that our 2018 Floating Lab Initiative has officially kicked off! Just several days ago, WILDCOAST teamed up with a group of talented young students from Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, CA to conduct critical marine research within the South La Jolla Marine Protected Area.

Aimed at building multi-generational conservation capacity, our award-winning Floating Lab program equips students with invaluable first-hand knowledge of cutting-edge survey techniques and exposes participants to the challenges and incredible rewards of a career in marine biology.

After a breath-taking greeting from over 25 wild Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, our research teams collected and analyzed local plankton species, surveyed water quality at 8 different depths and monitored human usage of the MPA.

Picture1Combining teamwork with clever research technology like the Van Dorn bottle, our Water Quality team used water measurements such as pH level, salinity and temperature to develop intuitive hypotheses about how to manage and predict long-term trends in ocean and atmospheric health. Our pod of Planktonic Practitioners worked closely with the captain and crew of our research vessel to collect and determine plankton composition by towing cone-shaped nets and analyzing samples with high-resolution digital microscopes. In fact, we made an alarming discovery… mixed in amongst the various copepods and diatoms were tiny filaments of micro-plastics! The data collected during this voyage will directly contribute to on-going human impact studies conducted by high-impact partner organizations like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

In order to solidify their new understanding of marine research and conservation, each group finished off the morning by delivering an interactive presentation including details about what they studied, what they found, and how their results could impact the future management of marine protected areas. As if all of this wasn’t exciting enough, the final moments of our voyage were spent alongside a young California Grey Whale as she dutifully migrated up the coast.

Picture 3 png“For me, the most incredible part of the day was seeing how passionate and curious these students were about ocean conservation,” remarked Andrew Orozco, WILDCOAST’s newest Conservation Intern and Floating Lab Team Leader. “Within each research group, students shared stories of beautiful moments in nature and discussed plans to pursue future degrees at world-renowned universities like UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley! It was a really empowering environment.”

WILDCOAST would like to thank the generous crew at Seaforth Landing and the wonderful students and staff of Mar Vista High School for making this year’s first Floating Lab so special! It’s going to be a great year.


California MPA Watch Goes Border to Border

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Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area – now an MPA Watch site.

WILDCOAST’s MPA Watch Coordinator, Angela Kemsley traveled to the far reaches of northern California to expand the state-wide MPA Watch program. Angela met with the Marine Biologist for the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation in Smith River to set up two new MPA Watch sites – including one site that runs right into the California-Oregon border! Now with these new implementations, California’s MPA Watch Program runs border to border – from Mexico to Oregon –  and covers every coastal county in California.

MPA Watch relies on the power of local partnerships to engage communities in the collection of data to create a snapshot of how people are using coastal and marine resources inside and outside of MPAs in California.

Angela was honored to work alongside representatives of the both the Tolowa Dee-ni’ and Yurok Nations, whose local knowledge and expertise will help to strengthen MPA Watch and MPA management in Del Norte County. Among the topics discussed was the submission of AB 2369, a bill WILDCOAST is sponsoring to make poaching violations within MPAs receive similar treatment to poaching violations within state parks on land.


Ruthie Maloney of the Yurok Nation (left) and Angela Kemsley, WILDCOAST’s MPA Watch Coordinator (right) surveying one of two new MPA Watch sites in Klamath, California.

The Tolowa and Yurok peoples are wonderful examples of why poaching enforcement is so crucial as their ancestral lands overlap with several MPAs in the region. Unsustainable poaching threatens not only the amazing biodiversity of the area, but also depletes the natural resources the Tolowa and Yurok still rely on to this day.

If you are interested in becoming an MPA Watch volunteer and helping to save the beautiful waters of California please visit for a list of MPA Watch providers near you!



Saving Mexico’s Coral Reefs

_MG_0162Pargo prieto.jpgMexico’s Pacific coast features some of the most biodiverse rocky and coral reef ecosystems on the planet, that are home to hundreds of species of fish, marine invertebrates and iconic wildlife including sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks.

This past week, the WILDCOAST team hosted the “2nd Regional Workshop on Coral Reef Monitoring in the Mexican Pacific” in Huatulco, Oaxaca, Mexico. National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) staff from seven marine protected areas throughout the Mexican Pacific attended along with university researchers and other conservation organizations for a total of 24 representatives in attendance.Team Corals (1)



The workshop provided an opportunity to share best practices and standardized monitoring protocols for the coral reef ecosystems that stretch along Mexico’s Pacific coast from Cabo Pulmo National Park in the north all the way to Huatulco National Park in the south.


Prior to 2016, there was no baseline for monitoring coral reef health and abundance in the Mexican Pacific – therefore cross comparing sites and data year over year was unfeasible. This collaborative of stakeholders, led by WILDCOAST for the past two years, has provided the ideal platform for implementing best management practices for coral reefs, and has streamlined monitoring protocols for CONANP staff to monitor coral reef health over time.   

_MG_8120Peces cochinito y charrito ojonAcross each of the seven sites – coral reefs and the surrounding ecosystems are monitored utilizing the same protocol one to two times a year. Surveyors monitor fish abundance, size and species as well as coral reef coverage and health. All data collected is implemented into a centralized database that can be accessed by CONANP staff from across Mexico, as well as academic researchers studying the coral ecosystems.

With constant human pressures, paired with the global threat of climate change, warming sea temperatures and increased ocean acidification, coral reefs around the world are under threat. It is more important than ever to ensure the conservation of coral reef ecosystems.


Busting MPA Poachers: The Case of the Pacific Star

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Last week the California Fish and Game Commission ordered a five-year suspension of the permit of Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc., a recreational sport fishing vessel operator based out of San Diego, as a result of numerous violations including poaching within California’s marine protected area (MPA) network. The decision was reached following oral arguments made by the California Department Fish and Wildlife, legal counsel of the Pacific Star and its owner and members of the conservation community, including WILDCOAST.

lobster poachingPoaching and the illegal take of marine resources is essentially theft of a resource shared by all Californians. The suspension of a Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel (CPFV) permit for violations inside of an MPA has never before been handed down by the California Fish and Game Commission. The Pacific Star’s case sets legal precedent and sends a strong message to those that act outside of the law that poaching is a serious offense and carries a heavy consequence.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public and fishermen in California,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “The Commission took ample time to review the department’s accusation and we hope this serves as a message that we do not take lightly these sorts of violations and will ensure those who are responsible receive the appropriate penalty.”

The Pacific Star was one of the most egregious cases of poaching in an MPA that has ever come before the Commission. In 2013  undercover operation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers observed 18 distinct violations that included – poaching within California’s MPA network, exceeding possession limits, using illegal take methods, and failing to report accurate counts on logbooks. Based on these violations, CDFW filed an accusation with the Commission against Pacific Star requesting that the Commission suspend this commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

WILDCOAST led a coordinated effort to support the rejection of the original 90 day Commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV) permit suspension that came before the Fish and Game commissioners back in December of 2017 regarding the Pacific Star.

After receiving WILDCOAST’s sign-on letter and testimony, the Commission decided to reconsider the case at their February 2018 meeting. WILDCOAST attended both meetings to address the Commission through public comment and asked for the strictest possible penalty to be applied in the case of the Pacific Star.

“The Fish and Game Commission’s decision to suspend Pacific Star’s license sends a strong message that California will not tolerate poaching in our marine protected areas,” said Serge Dedina, WILDCOAST’s Executive Director. “The vast majority of fishermen follow the rules, and passengers on party boats should be able to trust the captain and crew to keep them on the right side of the law.”

WILDCOAST was one of several conservation organizations responsible for creating California’s MPA network back in 2012, and ever since, the group has helped to manage an ensure the effectiveness of the network.

The Pacific Star was first charged in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara County Superior Courts, and fined only $4,700. According to its website, the Pacific Star grossed between $6,000-$11,500 for a 2.5 day trip.


What is Blue Carbon?

IMG_0157.CR2“Blue carbon” is the carbon that is absorbed and stored naturally by marine and coastal – aka ‘blue’ – ecosystems. Mangrove forests are important blue carbon sinks, storing up to five times more carbon than land-based forests, because the deep mud between the trees’ propagated root systems effectively capture and store atmospheric carbon. 

If the mangroves are destroyed, then all of the carbon stored within is released into the atmosphere. Therefore, this ability to store carbon, and maintain the ecosystem in a natural and pristine state, is crucial to mitigating the damaging effects of climate change.

WILDCOAST’s work to conserve carbon sequestering ecosystems, strengthen natural protected areas, develop and improve land-use planning and advance public policy for climate change adaptation, are all necessary steps to maintain a livable planet for future generations.  

Mexico ranks fourth in the world for the country with the most mangroves (7,755.55 km2 = 5.1% of the world total), but in the last 40 years they have lost 9% of its coverage due to changes in land use, unsustainable coastal development, pollution and changes in the use of water.

Mangroves occupy 1.2% of Mexico’s total forest coverage, but conserving them can reduce 12% of carbon emissions caused by changes in land use by 2030 – also the deadline year for the Paris Climate Agreement.

The impact WILDCOAST’s blue carbon project has on the protection of mangrove ecosystems can easily position Mexico as a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Tri-National Conservation Team Explores Blue Carbon in the Mangroves of Baja California

team pic_bahia mag1Earlier this month, a tri-national Mexico-Australia-U.S. WILDCOAST team carried out a Blue Carbon Research Expedition at three sites – Loreto Bay National Park, Bahia Magdalena, and La Paz Bay– in the Baja California peninsula to survey some of the most pristine and biologically important coastal desert mangrove forests in the world and to understand their role in helping to regulate and mitigate climate change.

WILDCOAST was joined by two Australian scientists – Dr. Fernanda Adame, Griffith University and world renowned mangrove expert, Dr. Catherine Lovelock of University of Queensland. Together our tri-national team conducted field surveys and sampling to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide that is stored in the coastal desert mangroves of the region.

IMG_0131.CR2“It was so inspiring to be with our team of international mangrove and blue carbon experts from Mexico, Australia and the U.S.,” said Dr. Eduardo Najera, WILDCOAST’s Mexico Director. “It is critical to understand the role of desert mangroves to help implement natural climate solutions that help us to preserve ecosystems that sequester increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere.”

Researchers call the desert mangroves of the Baja California peninsula “atmospheric bombs” because they absorb more carbon dioxide than any other plant on the planet. Since Bahia Magdalena is the largest coastal wetland in the Baja California peninsula and a critical breeding lagoon for the iconic gray whale, the significance of protecting the region and this globally important site has never been more important.IMG_0456.CR2

WILDCOAST’s Blue Carbon aims to protect a total of 71,374 acres of mangroves in northwest Mexico over the next four to five years, and will effectively reduce carbon emissions by 26.7 million tons.

The project will expedite the approval of conservation concessions for 35,796 acres of mangroves and enable WILDCOAST to pursue a carbon credit registration process for financing continued mangrove conservation and management.


Learn more about Blue Carbon here.

Calling all Beachcombers

20170629_ETC_OO25The sun shines on the rolling waves along one of San Diego’s 70 miles of coastline. Beneath the water a smack of moon jellies float by riding the California Current down toward Baja, a gulp of cormorants can be seen diving to depths of 25 feet in search of a tasty fish breakfast, and a shiver of leopard sharks weave their way through the legs of dozens of surfers out to catch a wave before heading to the office.

The ocean is a resource treasured by San Diegans and now you have a chance to help protect it.

WILDCOAST is dedicated to conserving coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife including the 17,779 acres of marine protected areas (MPAs) in San Diego County.

Just like state parks do on land, MPAs help protect and provide refuge to some of the world’s most iconic species and provide great spots for tourists and locals alike to enjoy a day at the beach.

To effectively manage human use of MPAs it is vital that we first know one important thing – how humans are using the coast!

20170707-WILDCOAST (8)This is where you come in… WILDCOAST invites you to join our MPA Watch Program- a citizen science project that works with community members just like you to collect data on how humans are using the coast both inside and outside of MPAs. Approximately 15% of San Diego County’s coast is protected by MPAs and our efforts help scientists, management, and enforcement officials better conserve the valuable wildlife and abundant geological and archaeological resources found within MPAs. In addition, MPA Watch data helps ensure humans may continue to enjoy the amazing recreational opportunities offered at these gorgeous places.

20170629_ETC_OO30How it Works:
Volunteers are recruited on a rolling basis and are required to attend a three-hour training before participating in the program. Each training consists of a classroom portion and a field portion. Volunteers will be trained on the background of WILDCOAST, MPAs, how to collect data, and the importance of our work.
Data is collected at sites in Encinitas, La Jolla, and Imperial Beach. Volunteers are free to collect data at any or all of these sites.
There is no minimum time requirement required of volunteers. You can go out, walk the beach, and collect data whenever you wish!

For more information on the MPA Watch program please check out our website:

If walking the beach and saving our coast is something you are interested in please email the MPA Watch Coordinator at: