November 17 2008


by Surfrider Foundation

New Regulations Close Loopholes and Establishes Seasonal Fifth Zone For Personal Watercraft Use

After nearly a decade of work, the Surfrider Foundation is celebrating a twofold success that balances resource protection with recreational access in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS).

Through a joint management plan review process in which many stakeholders participated, the Surfrider Foundation and its chapters worked with the Sanctuary officials and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to close a loophole in the laws governing usage of motorized personal watercraft (MPWC) in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The original restrictions were established in 1992 and designed to provide enhanced resource protection for marine mammal and seabird concentrations, kelp forests, river mouths, estuaries, lagoons and all near shore areas that numerous studies have shows to be highly vulnerable to disturbance and injury from personal watercraft. However changes in watercraft technology and design resulted in a definition loophole that allowed newer three- and four-seat personal watercraft models to operate outside of the four established zones within the Sanctuary. By changing the definition and closing the loophole, MPWC will be relegated back to the four established zones, restoring the original intent of the law.

Additionally, NOAA has established a seasonal fifth MPWC zone at Mavericks. NOAA chose Mavericks as the seasonal fifth zone due to the break’s close proximity to an existing offshore MPWC zone. NOAA expects to minimize MPWC impacts to the local environment by restricting their use in this new zone, which borders the existing Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. The seasonal fifth zone would be open for tow-in surfing and MPWC usages from December through February during National Weather Service-issued high surf warnings.

The inclusion of an additional seasonal fifth MPWC zone at Mavericks for tow-in surfing balances recreational access with maximum protection for Sanctuary resources. The Surfrider Foundation and its local San Mateo County Chapter recognize the value of these objectives and view the seasonal zone as a solution that holds protection of a National Marine Sanctuary in highest regard while allowing recreational use of MPWC.

“From the start, our goal has been maximal protection for the National Marine Sanctuary,” says Edmundo Larenas, Chair of the Surfrider Foundation San Mateo County Chapter. “We are pleased that NOAA’s inclusive approach with all the stakeholders in working to define the governing regulations produced a result that will restore protection to the National Marine Sanctuary.”

While the new regulations seek to protect Sanctuary resources and recreational access, the Sanctuary and stakeholders will have to work together to address issues such as safety, enforcement and environmental protection.

“The addition of a fifth zone will not be without its challenges,” Larenas cautioned. “With the seasonal fifth zone in place, it is important for all stakeholders to continue working together to safeguard the environment around the established fifth zone.”

The new regulations are expected to go in effect February 2009.