CA Pub Res Code Section 36601


The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:


California’s extraordinary ocean and coastal resources provide a vital asset to the state and nation. These resources are important to public health and well-being, ecological health, and ocean-dependent industries.


The ocean ecosystem is inextricably connected to the land, with coastal development, water pollution, and other human activities threatening the health of marine habitat and the biological diversity found in California’s ocean waters. New technologies and demands have encouraged the expansion of fishing and other activities to formerly inaccessible marine areas that once recharged nearby fisheries. As a result, ecosystems throughout the state’s ocean waters are being altered, often at a rapid rate.


California’s marine managed areas (MMAs), such as refuges, reserves, and state reserves, are one of many tools for resource managers to use for protecting, conserving, and managing the state’s valuable marine resources. MMAs can offer many benefits, including protecting habitats, species, cultural resources, and water quality; enhancing recreational opportunities; and contributing to the economy through such things as increased tourism and property values. MMAs may also benefit fisheries management by protecting representative habitats and reducing extractive uses.


The array of state MMAs in California is the result of over 50 years of designations through legislative, administrative, and statewide ballot initiative actions, which has led to 18 classifications and subclassifications of these areas.


A State Interagency Marine Managed Areas Workgroup was convened by the Resources Agency to address this issue, bringing together for the first time all of the state agencies with jurisdiction over these areas. This group’s report indicates that California’s state MMAs have evolved on a case-by-case basis, without conforming to any plan for establishing MMAs in the most effective way or in a manner which ensures that the most representative or unique areas of the ocean and coastal environment are included.


The report further states that California’s MMAs do not comprise an organized system, as the individual sites are not designated, classified, or managed in a systematic manner. Many of these areas lack clearly defined purposes, effective management measures, and enforcement.


To some, this array of MMAs creates the illusion of a comprehensive system of management, while in reality, it falls short of its potential to protect, conserve, and manage natural, cultural, and recreational resources along the California coast. Without a properly designed and coordinated system of MMAs, it is difficult for agencies to meet management objectives, such as maintaining biodiversity, providing education and outreach, and protecting marine resources.


Agency personnel and the public are often confused about the laws, rules, and regulations that apply to MMAs, especially those adjacent to a terrestrial area set aside for management purposes. Lack of clarity about the manner in which the set of laws, rules, and regulations for the array of MMAs interface and complement each other limits public and resource managers’ ability to understand and apply the regulatory structure.


Designation of sites and subsequent adoption of regulations often occur without adequate consideration being given to overall classification goals and objectives. This has contributed to fragmented management, poor compliance with regulations, and a lack of effective enforcement.


Education and outreach related to state MMAs is limited and responsibility for these activities is distributed across many state agencies. These factors hamper the distribution of information to the public regarding the benefits of MMAs and the role they can play in protecting ocean and coastal resources.


There are few coordinated efforts to identify opportunities for public/private partnerships or public stewardship of MMAs or to provide access to general information and data about ocean and coastal resources within California’s MMAs.


Ocean and coastal scientists and managers generally know far less about the natural systems they work with than their terrestrial counterparts. Understanding natural and human-induced factors that affect ocean ecosystem health, including MMAs, is fundamental to the process of developing sound management policies.


Research in California’s MMAs can provide managers with a wealth of knowledge regarding habitat functions and values, species diversity, and complex physical, biological, chemical, and socioeconomic processes that affect the health of marine ecosystems. That information can be useful in determining the effectiveness of particular sites or classifications in achieving stated goals.


With the single exception of state estuaries, it is the intent of the Legislature that the classifications currently available for use in the marine and estuarine environments of the state shall cease to be used and that a new classification system shall be established, with a mission, statement of objectives, clearly defined designation guidelines, specific classification goals, and a more scientifically-based process for designating sites and determining their effectiveness. The existing classifications may continue to be used for the terrestrial and freshwater environments of the state.


Due to the interrelationship between land and sea, benefits can be gained from siting a portion of the state’s marine managed areas adjacent to, or in close proximity to, terrestrial protected areas. To maximize the benefits that can be gained from having connected protected areas, whenever an MMA is adjacent to a terrestrial protected area, the managing agencies shall coordinate their activities to the greatest extent possible to achieve the objectives of both areas.
Last Updated

Aug. 19, 2023

§ 36601’s source at ca​.gov