In 2012 after 13 years of heated debates, name-calling, lawsuits and public hearings, California finally created the network of underwater wilderness reserves mandated by the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). These reserves, which encompass 16 percent of the waters along California’s spectacular 1,100-mile coastline, include some of the best dive sites on the planet.
The conflict over whether to establish these marine protected areas (MPAs) stemmed from California’s many competing saltwater interest groups: commercial fishers, recreational fishers, ports, conservationists, coastal tribes, the U.S. Navy and others. Thus, it isn’t surprising that it took so long to complete the process of setting up the MPAs. What is perhaps surprising is how often the state’s investment in “blue” (marine conservation) initiatives gets things right. I can attest to California’s success in marine conservation because I’ve sailed across, flown over, reported on and dived through many of these formerly contested waters.