California's Marine Life Protection Act Initiative: Supporting implementation of legislation establishing a statewide network of marine protected areas

Document Type


Publication Date



California enacted the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in 1999 to redesign and improve the state's system of marine protected areas (MPAs), which the State Legislature found created the illusion of protection while falling far short of its potential to protect and conserve living marine life and habitat. In 2004, after two unsuccessful attempts to implement the MLPA, California created the MLPA Initiative through a memorandum of understanding among two state agencies and a privately-funded foundation that established objectives for a planning process, set out a timeline for deliverables, and established roles and responsibilities for key bodies.This paper analyzes how recommendations developed through the Initiative supported regulatory decisions by the California Fish and Game Commission to greatly expand the network of marine protected areas. That network includes 124 MPAs, covering 16.0% of state waters outside of San Francisco Bay, including 9.4% of state waters in "no-take" areas. Such an extensive network of MPAs that consciously incorporates science-based design guidelines is an important achievement worldwide and is a rare example of a sub-national government creating MPAs.Successful implementation of formally adopted public policies is well recognized as a complex process critical to achieving policy goals. The Initiative's Blue Ribbon Task Force played a significant role in guiding the planning process to its successful conclusion in providing the State the information it needed to redesign its system of MPAs. Additional elements of the Initiative's success included: effective statutes, adequate funding and professional capacity, robust stakeholder engagement, strong science guidance, effective decision support tools, transparent decision making, and sustained support from top state officials and private foundations. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Publication Title

Ocean and Coastal Management







First Page


Last Page