Exciting Times for MPA Watch

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Photo credit: Heal the Bay

This past week was an exciting one for MPA Watch.

As everybody who works in conservation knows, protecting anything is an ongoing task. The job doesn’t simply end once the regulations have been written and the signs have been posted. Further work is needed, including ongoing policy work, enforcement, and continued outreach to educate people on the importance of properly managing protected areas. In the case of California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), MPA Watch has been working to fill some of these needs, at least partially.

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MPA Watch Takes to the Skies

Coastline View

“Recreational, sport fisher, actively fishing.”

We’re flying in a Beechcraft BE-36 aircraft approximately 750 feet above the Pacific Ocean as our spotter in the front seat makes the call.

“Mark it…now”.

The person she’s relaying this information to is sitting directly behind her, operating a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) device that can log the types of vessels encountered and their activities, as well as their geographic coordinates. Photographs of the different vessels are also taken to help verify vessel types and activities prior to being uploaded to a database.

This aerial survey, and others like it, are being conducted by The Bay Foundation with support from Lighthawk. The aerial surveys compliment land-based surveys that are being carried out as part of a data collection program called MPA Watch. The MPA Watch program, which is being carried out statewide by 10 different organizations, including Wildcoast, monitors human use of the California coastline, especially in marine protected areas and surrounding locations. While MPA Watch data is most often collected through shore-based surveys conducted by trained volunteers, boat-based surveys and aerial surveys are also used to collect data on off-shore activities.

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On the water with WILDCOAST and LA Waterkeeper

Last week, WILDCOAST got the opportunity to join Captain Michael Quill and the team from Los Angeles Waterkeeper to experience first-hand their boat-based MPA Watch Program off Palos Verdes. Over the last two years, WILDCOAST has been carrying out a shore-based MPA Watch program in San Diego County, as part of a statewide effort, to understand how people are using our MPAs. Through the project we have trained over 80 volunteers.

Los Angeles Waterkeeper has a similar program, but from a different perspective; taking the surveys from a boat. Their mission is to record how people are using Los Angeles MPAs, specifically off-shore activities, while conducting outreach and education in and around the MPAs. Through volunteerism and friendly outreach this is an excellent way to directly educate and engage community stakeholders.

Most MPA Watch surveys in the state are being carried out from shore. LA Waterkeeper’s boat-based surveys compliments this work and greatly contributes to our understanding of how people are using the MPAs.

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