Ocean Protection, Marine Protected Areas, Surf Protection
January 18 2013

Can California’s Marine Protected Areas protect surfing?

by Chad Nelsen

In December, California’s coastal marine protected area network was completed. By doing so California has established the largest network of marine protection in the continental United States. This was an incredibly contentious process that divided many local communities and upset many folks who both surf and fish. The LA Times described that here:

Outside of the ecological benefits of establishing marine reserves, one of the outstanding questions during the MPA designation process was, will these marine protected areas benefit surfing in any way?

The answer is yes, they already have.

Wildcoast's Serge Dedina wrote about the general benefits of marine protected areas to surfers earlier.

Now there is a specific example. Last November, the California Coastal Commission unanimously denied PG & E’s proposal to do seismic testing near the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  The proposed seismic testing would have resulting in thousands of air blasts that create noise levels that would be harmful not only to mammals but ocean recreators, including surfers. The blasts could have gone on 24/7 for weeks on end and during that time surfers from Cayucos to Montana de Oro state park would be been prohibited from entering the water. Local surfers vigorously opposed this project. Imagine having 15 miles of your favorite stretch of surf spots closed for four to six weeks during the peak of your surf season.

Also, significant was the fact the proposed testing would have impacted the Point Buchon Marine Reserve and White Rock Conservation Areas. The fact that these marine protected areas (MPAS) would be impacted was a major factor in the Coastal Commissions decision to deny this project. That is because Section 30230 of the Coastal Act states that special protection shall be given to areas of special biological significance. While there were numerous reasons to deny this project, the conflict with Section 30230 weighed heavily with the Commissioners. This project set important precedent that the Coastal Commission has a responsibility to ensure that coastal and ocean development does not negatively impact the health of the marine protected areas.

In terms of surf protection, this is good news. It means that surfing areas in or near marine protected areas will benefit from this incresed level of protection, as we saw in San Luis Obispo.  Whether you support or dislike California’s MPAs, they are here to stay, and can be used as another way to protect our favorite surf spots.

There are indications that Southern California Edison, owners of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, will be proposing a similar seismic survey project that could affect ocean recreation and surfing areas between Laguna Beach and Encinitas so we may be addressing this threat again soon.