Birch Aquarium at Scripps Leads Local Effort to Increase Awareness about Marine Protected Areas

Throughout California, critical decisions are being made about the future of our oceans. Southern Californians now have a limited period of time to provide input on which areas along the coast they would like to see protected. Locally, the scope of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve could be impacted by these decisions.

Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, is collaborating with ocean learning centers in Southern California to increase awareness about a critical decision-making process under way that will determine where to place Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The process concludes in November 2009.

The loss of kelp and the critical marine habitat it represents has been one factor in the effort to establish marine reserves.

In collaboration with Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Ocean Institute and Aquarium of the Pacific, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is offering presentations, outdoor excursions, hands-on activities and online learning resources aimed at educating visitors about MPAs, and inspiring them to get involved in the current decision-making process.

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), passed by California legislators in 1999, directs the state to redesign California's system of MPAs to help protect marine life and critical habitats, marine ecosystems and marine natural heritage, as well

as to improve recreational, educational and research opportunities provided by marine ecosystems. MPAs include state marine conservation areas, state marine parks and state marine reserves. The state Fish and Game Commission is responsible for implementing the MLPA.

A 20-member Science Advisory Team, which includes Scripps biological oceanographer Paul Dayton, is providing scientific guidance about MPAs. A Blue Ribbon Task Force will seek advice from the scientific team along with input from a committee representing regional ocean-user groups and the public. The group will submit its recommendations to the state Fish and Game Commission in October 2009.

To highlight this important ocean conservation opportunity and to inspire visitors to get involved in the regional MPA designation process, Birch Aquarium at Scripps presents the following:

Naturalist-guided excursions to tide pools bordering the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve offer a glimpse into marine protected areas.

• On Nov. 10, Birch Aquarium will feature California Assistant Secretary for Resources Brian Baird and California Sea Grant Director Russell Moll as part of the ongoing public Jeffrey B. Graham Perspectives on Ocean Science Lecture Series. They will explain how marine protected areas are established and how scientists determine if they are working.

• A Jan. 17 Family Day that focuses on MPAs. Scripps researchers who study these areas will lead hands-on activities and discussions with visitors about the underwater sanctuaries.

• Naturalist-guided excursions to tide pools that line the coast of the 533-acre San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve.

• Daily whale-watching cruises beginning Dec. 26 that highlight MPAs.

• Weekly dive shows in the aquarium's two-story kelp forest that emphasize the importance of maintaining protected, healthy ocean ecosystems. This 70,000-gallon tank represents local marine life in the protected waters off the coast of La Jolla and features three species of sharks, moray eels, barracuda, giant sea bass and other animals.

• A special section within the Birch Aquarium at Scripps web site with information and resources about the Marine Life Protection Act and links to how visitors can get involved in the initiative.

For more information about Birch Aquarium's MPA programs or the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative call 858-534-3474 or visit

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