NEWPORT BEACH – Until now, Orange County lacked a coordinated effort to track human activity and potential violations throughout its seven Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). With dedicated MPA Watch volunteers, Orange County Coastkeeper collected a year’s data detailing how humans interact with MPAs.
Coastkeeper analyzed the data collected by MPA Watch volunteers for trends in human use. Results show recreational beach activities like swimming and sunbathing as the most popular non-consumptive use of MPAs while fishing from private vessels stands as the most popular consumptive activity. From 2013 to 2014, the largest behavioral change MPA Watch volunteers observed was the notable decrease in potential violations within the MPAs boundaries.
“Whether the change is due to increased public awareness about MPAs, better enforcement or increased warning signs around beaches, seeing that Orange County is taking the health of our ocean seriously is a step in the right direction,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper.
MPAs, designated to protect entire marine ecosystems rather than individual species, create a safe place for marine populations to grow and thrive. Once an area is designated as an MPA, the law prohibits fishing within its boundaries entirely or limits fishing to very specific sections and species. Active protection of MPAs also contributes to the management of sustainable fisheries by restricting overfishing.
Knowledge of human activities that occur in or near MPAs is critical to ensure MPAs serve their purpose in protecting wildlife. This research also allows Coastkeeper to assist regulatory and enforcement agencies in proper regulation to minimize the human footprint.