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California's New State Parks Will Get You All Wet

A new series of marine parks creates an almost unbroken chain of protected ocean from Mexico to Oregon.

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California just opened several new state parks, but you may need scuba gear to visit them. They’re underwater.

The new parks include a massive kelp forest off the coast of La Jolla, coral reefs around Catalina Island, and an underwater canyon near Malibu. In total, there are about three dozen new protected marine areas in Southern California where scuba diving, kayaking, and surfing are encouraged but fishing is either tightly restricted or prohibited altogether.

The boundaries of the parks were decided with input from thousands of stakeholders, including scientists, environmentalists, fishermen, and residents. The protected areas cover more than 350 square miles of the state’s most productive and diverse marine habitats.

These new parks, which became official on January 1st, are part of a vast network of ocean parks that was called for by the state’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act. The first were established along California’s central coast in 2007 and 2010. The third and final section, in northern California, will be added in a year or so, completing a series of protected ocean areas that stretches from Oregon to Mexico.

Having a large network of parks provides important benefits. According to Stanford biologist Larry Crowder: "California made a really innovative step here, to link marine protected areas in a network … this helps fish and other marine life feed and breed … a single protected area doesn’t achieve what a network of linked protected areas would do."

Fishermen aren’t entirely happy about these areas being off limits, especially with pesky volunteer environmentalists patrolling their boundaries. But if the new parks prevent the kind of collapse that hit populations of barred sand bass and kelp bass in 2011, they may be good for the fishermen in the long run.

And given that California’s coast and ocean account for an estimated $22 billion in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs, protecting these areas may mean real economic benefits for the rest of the state as well.