Scrutiny Begins for Marine Protection Plans

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Next Tuesday, a Department of Fish and Game oversight panel will evaluate six proposals to broaden marine protected areas along the coast of Southern California, which include plans to strengthen marine protections along Laguna Beach’s coastline.

The panel’s feedback to the interested groups involved in drafting the proposals, as well as recommendations from an advisory team of 20 marine experts, are part of the Marine Life Protection Act process underway in Southern California since last summer.

The network of protected areas is intended to protect marine life and ecosystems, including those of economic value, protect marine natural heritage, and to improve recreational and educational opportunities for the public. The areas are supposed to have clearly defined objectives based on science, adequate enforcement, and function cohesively as a statewide network.

Outside of the MLPA process, the Laguna Beach City Council sparked controversy last month with its endorsement of declaring its entire coastline a marine reserve, which would prohibit all fishing and taking of anything, living or not, out of the area. Laguna Beach, San Diego and Palos Verdes have emerged as key areas considered for more protections because their habitat supports significant fishing and recreational activity, as well as diverse ecosystems with ecological importance.

Under consideration are four proposals devised by the Regional Stakeholders Group and two external proposals crafted by fishing interests. The six proposals, named after various gem stones, cover the entire Southern California study area, which extends from Point Conception in the north, to the Mexican border in the south. The summaries and maps provided here only detail the sub-region that contains Laguna Beach.

All six proposals increase the size and amount of marine protected areas beyond existing ones, though External Proposal B does so the least. All the proposals, with the exception of Externals A and B, suggest some level of protection for the entire coast of Laguna Beach.

The Lapis 1 and Lapis 2 proposals add a marine reserve, the highest level of protection, to the existing marine conservation area at Dana Point to afford study opportunities for the Ocean Institute by splitting the kelp beds there into take and no take zones. The other proposals keep the existing conservation area there intact, while external B removes existing protections there altogether.

The proposals are in their second iteration, and will be re-submitted after this round of review for a third and final analysis on October 20. At that time, the proposals will be analyzed and forwarded by the panel to the Fish and Game commission for final adoption sometime before the end of 2009.

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