Laws & Policies: Marine Life Protection Act


Marine protected areas went into effect on May 1, 2010, in California's north central coast.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are marine or estuarine areas set aside to protect or conserve marine life and habitat.

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was signed into law in 1999 and mandated the redesign of a statewide system of marine protected areas (MPAs) that function to the extent possible as a network. In August 2004, the California Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game [effective January 1, 2013, California's Department of Fish and Game was renamed the Department of Fish and Wildlife], and Resource Legacy Fund Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding that both launched the MLPA Initiative and began its implementation along the central California coast. Among other actions, the MLPA Initiative established the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Master Plan Science Advisory Team (SAT), a statewide stakeholder interest group, and a MLPA Initiative staff.

The goals of the MLPA are:

  • Goal 1: To protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function, and integrity of marine ecosystems.
  • Goal 2: To help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.
  • Goal 3: To improve recreational, educational, and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems that are subject to minimal human disturbance, and to manage these uses in a manner consistent with protecting biodiversity.
  • Goal 4: To protect marine natural heritage, including protection of representative and unique marine life habitats in California waters for their intrinsic value.
  • Goal 5: To ensure that California's MPAs have clearly defined objectives, effective management measures, and adequate enforcement, and are based on sound scientific guidelines.
  • Goal 6: To ensure that the MPAs are designed and managed, to the extent possible, as a component of a statewide network.

For more information on the MLPA process, please visit the California Department of Fish & Wildlife's Marine Life Protection Act website.

On August 5, 2009, California's Fish & Game Commission approved a sweeping plan to protect ocean habitats in twenty-four marine protected areas (MPAs) in State waters in the north central coast region, in accordance with the Marine Life Protection Act, a 1999 State legislation. This study region, the second in the State to be implemented, lies between Pigeon Point in San Mateo County and Point Arena in Mendocino County, and encompasses waters within Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The approved plan includes five MPAs off the coast of Point Reyes National Seashore. The Fish and Game Commission voted to adopt a plan that was developed during two years of public discussion, scientific study and participation by various parties with an interest in ocean protection. The National Park Service has been involved with this process by helping draft proposed MPAs, by providing key scientific guidance, conducting education and outreach initiates, and by providing funding for MPA monitoring.

The network of MPAs:

  • Fully protects about eighty-six square miles of north central coast ocean waters in eleven "no-take" State Marine Reserves;
  • Protects an additional sixty-nine square miles of ocean waters in 9 State Marine Conservation Areas and two State Marine Parks (where some marine take is allowed; regulations vary by site); and
  • Sets aside six "no disturbance" special closures for marine bird and mammal protection, typically 300 feet or 1000 feet off shore.

There is a global body of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of marine reserves to restore marine ecosystems. Many marine scientists, conservationists, fishermen, divers and surfers hope that these MPAs in California's oceans will help restore our declining fisheries and ensure the continuation of these natural resources for generations to come.

The adopted network of north central coast MPAs is the second region in the State of California to be completed, and went into effect May 1, 2010. Continued monitoring, enforcement and education are essential for the success of these MPAs.

MPAs in the waters adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore

  • Point Reyes State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) extends from the end of Point Reyes SMR to the three mile state line. This SMCA allows for recreational and commercial take of salmon by trolling and Dungeness crab by trap.
    • Permitted/Prohibited Uses: It is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for recreational and/or commercial purposes, with the following specified exceptions:
      • The recreational take of salmon by trolling and Dungeness crab by trap is allowed.
      • The commercial take of salmon with troll fishing gear and Dungeness crab by trap is allowed.
    • CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) official maps and latitudes and longitudes
  • Drakes Estero SMCA is in Drakes Estero north of the Estero de Limantour SMR and allows for recreational clamming. The plan also states, "if at any time, it becomes feasible to create a SMR at Drakes Estero, this proposal recommends doing so."
  • Duxbury SMCA is located at the intertidal zone of Duxbury Reef and is intended to protected intertidal invertebrates and algae. This SMP allows for the recreational take of finfish take from shore and abalone.
  • Point Reyes Headlands Special Closure: 1000' special closure around Point Reyes Headlands.
  • Point Resistance Rock Special Closure: 300' special closure around Point Resistance.
  • Double Point/Stormy Stack Special Closure: 300' special closure around Double Point and Storm Stack.


Map of Marine Protect Areas within or adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore (170 KB PDF)

Map of Point Reyes Headlands Special Closure (107 KB PDF)

Map of Marine Protect Areas within or adjacent to the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (1,493 KB PDF)

Learn More

Marine Management News Blog

Visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Marine Management News Blog to find out about MPAs up and down the California coastline. As of March 31, 2019, two of the MPAs in the waters adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore have been featured:

Additional Reading

Price, A. 2020. "Going Mobile. Are dynamic Marine Protected Areas the solution to our rapidly changing ocean ecosystems?" Earth Island Journal 35(3): 33–37. Available at (accessed 24 September 2020).


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Last updated: April 28, 2024

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