Today, California's final Marine Preserves go into effect, creating a network of protection along the entire coast of the state.
And two of the sanctuaries, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank - off the coast of north-central California - will double in size to 3,200 square nautical miles. The area is home for the world's largest concentration of blue whales, the largest concentration of breeding seabirds in the continental US, and one of the world's largest coastal upwellings, which brings cold nutrient-rich water to the surface providing food for fish, seabirds, marine mammals and people.
Congress passed legislation to expand the sanctuaries (HR. 192 and S.172), supported by the public, commercial fishermen, business interests and state and local officials because it will protect the ocean as well as fishing and business interests that depend on tourism.
It's wonderful news, building on that of Australia, which recently protected an area the size of India, as the world's largest network of marine parks.
Another good news story for oceans comes from Chile today, which banned the destructive practice of bottom trawling, which literally scrapes all life from the bottom of the ocean.
Chile also established a system fishing quotas based on scientific recommendations (reversing the policy of letting commercial fisheries determine quotas) and now requires every commercial fishery to have a plan that reduces bycatch (non-targeted fish that are caught).
By Jennifer Savage, Ocean Conservancy
Almost every day brings more news about how the ocean is in trouble. Climate change, pollution, plastics, overfishing - staying optimistic about our future challenges even the most buoyant of spirits. But today, from California, comes some great and hopeful news: the state has completed a network of marine protected areas, the first in the nation, from Oregon to the Mexican border.
Efforts to restore the state's depleted fish populations began well over a decade ago and resulted in the passing of the Marine Life Protection Act in 1999. Over the years, using a combination of the best available science and local stakeholder knowledge specific to each state region, the marine protected area network grew.
The Central Coast was finished first in 2007 and includes gems such as Point Arguello, home to tunas and rockfish, and critical for the recovery of southern sea otters. The North Central Coast followed in 2010, establishing greater protection for remarkable places like Point Reyes, home to 45 percent of North American bird species. South Coast marine protected areas went into effect in 2012, creating safe places for ocean wildlife to thrive in iconic places including Big Sur and La Jolla.
Today, the California network finally becomes complete as the North Coast marine protected areas go into effect. The 19 new North Coast underwater parks span from just south of Fort Bragg up to the Oregon border and cover about 13 percent of the region. They include Pyramid Point's rugged coastline, Point St. George Reef-home to the second largest nesting seabird colony south of Alaska-and waters at the mouth of waterways such as Ten Mile River that are critical for salmon and steelhead populations.
These underwater parks are meant to be enjoyed. Many of the 19 new protected areas are located adjacent to public beaches and state parks, creating great opportunities for education, research and recreation - whether you're looking to bird watch or kayak. For example, Pyramid Point at the northernmost tip of the rugged California coastline is popular for shore angling, beachcombing and kite flying.
The environmental problems we face seem insurmountable at times, but we must not grow discouraged. Today brings fresh hope for the future of California's fisheries and the ocean beyond.
Watch a slide show celebrating California's new underwater parks: