A marine reserve area (MPA) is a designated area in the ocean that serves to protect marine life, its ecosystem, and habitats. MPAs in California are required by the California Fish and Game Department. Five different California regions were established, and each region plays a pivotal role in the planning process. Laguna Beach’s State Marine Reserve covers 5.88 miles of the Laguna coastline and the Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area covers an additional 1.21 miles of coastline .
If I was explaining marine reserves to a child, my story would go something like this: We draw a line around an area we want to protect in the ocean; and we don’t allow anyone to take any fish, dolphins, seals, whales, starfish, crabs, or anything else from that area because we want them to eat and grow big so they can have babies and their babies can grow up to have more babies. Then, we will have a lot more animals and fish. Bigger fish and bigger animals will come to the marine reserve for their dinners because bigger animals like to munch, munch, munch bigger fish. In the end, we will have more dolphins than anywhere else on earth and more blue whale sightings than anywhere on earth (which we excitingly do according to Wildlife Film Festival award winner Dave Anderson). We will also have more fish to eat later because all the fish that swim outside of the marine reserve are fair game.
“The marine reserve functions as the sea shore’s anchor. Hidden away in all of its’ nooks and crannies within the sandstone caverns and caves lies an entire universe of small plant and animal life which acts as the stabilizing core of the sea. Small anemone filter out impurities taking in and releasing the micro plankton that it feeds upon; small mollusks and barnacles are free to grow, keeping a healthy, productive sea floor suitable to sustain small fish who utilize the kelp forest cover to hide and feed within. By having a marine reserve, it gives this natural eco system a much needed “time out” from the effects of man who has for the past 100 years or so, over fished, over harvested and in effect over disturbed this natural garden of the sea.” – Laguna Beach resident, Robert Celecia
The Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve boundary begins at Abalone Point, the cave on the rocky point between El Moro and Irvine Cove, and continues nearly 6 miles to Treasure Island (at Goff Stairs) forming a triangular shape. According to the Department of Marine Safety, City of Laguna Beach, the State Marine Park and the State Marine Conservation encompasses 6.26 square miles. And, as explained by the Laguna Ocean Foundation, the recognized areas extend from the mean high tide mark to 3 miles offshore.
The Laguna Beach State Conservation Area begins at Treasure Island’s Goff Point and continues south to Table Rock Beach. Why the conservation area does not extend to Three Arch Bay, the southern Laguna Beach border, is unknown to me.
Unless you are a verified member of a federally recognized tribe on the List of Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible to Receive Services from the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs with valid identification, a marine state reserve prohibits the taking of any marine life. Take means pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to pursue, catch, capture, or kill. In a marine reserve, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a scientific collecting permit issued or specific authorization from the commission for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes.
Marine plants, such as kelp and sea grass, are equally important to our ecosystem and they are also protected in marine reserves for good reason. According to Marine Biologist and Pacific Marine Mammal Center Executive Director, Keith Matassa, “70% of the earth’s oxygen is produced by marine plants.”
Swimming, surfing, diving, boating, hiking and walking is allowed unless otherwise specified in individual MPA regulations. But, while you are out on the water playing, you cannot feed the fish or wildlife, nor can you release your pet alligator, or any other fish, plants, or wildlife species into the area.
Bring your children, your wet suits, masks & snorkels, and enjoy a swim with colorful fish and plant life in the giant Laguna Beach aquarium or play with anemones and starfish in the tide pools – but don’t touch.
Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve Area
Marine reserves are defined by longitude and latitude, so if you are on the water, you would need special equipment such as a geographic coordinate system to determine exactly where the borders begin and end. According to the Department of Fish and Game, below are the Laguna Beach Marine Reserve coordinates. This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed:
33° 33.233′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.;
33° 30.800′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.; and
33° 30.800′ N. lat. 117° 45.631′ W. long.
Tip: You can see the Laguna Beach marine reserves on Google Earth by ticking the Ocean side box, which reveals the boundaries.
Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area
Marine Conservation has a different set of rules than marine reserves. Take of all living marine resources is prohibited except operation and maintenance of artificial structures and facilities, beach grooming, maintenance dredging, and habitat restoration inside the conservation area per any required federal, state and local permits, or as otherwise authorized by the department. In a State Marine Recreational Management Area, it is unlawful to perform any activity that would compromise the recreational values for which the area may be designated. Recreational opportunities may be protected, enhanced, or restricted, while preserving basic resource values of the area.
The Laguna Beach Marine Conservation area is delineated by the following coordinates in the order listed:
33° 30.800′ N. lat. 117° 45.631′ W. long.;
33° 30.800′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.;
33° 30.050′ N. lat. 117° 49.200′ W. long.; and
33° 30.050′ N. lat. 117° 44.771′ W. long.
Special thanks and gratitude to Marine Biologist and Pacific Marine Mammal Center Executive Director, Keith Matassa, for his extensive assistance in resourcing and defining most of the facts for this article.