The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 directs the state to redesign California's system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to function as a network in order to: increase coherence and effectiveness in protecting the state's marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage, as well as to improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems subject to minimal human disturbance. Six goals guided the development of MPAs in the MLPA planning process:
To help achieve these goals, three MPA designations (state marine reserves, state marine parks and state marine conservation areas), one marine managed area (state marine recreational management area) and special closureswere used in the MPA planning process. For the purposes of MPA planning, a public-private partnership commonly referred to as the MLPA Initiative was established, and the state was split into five distinct regions (four coastal and the San Francisco Bay) each of which had its own MPA planning process. All four coastal regions have completed these individual planning processes. As a result, the coastal portion of California’s MPA network is now in effect statewide. Options for a planning process in the fifth and final region, the San Francisco Bay, have been developed for consideration at a future date.
Unless specifically prohibited, all non-extractive uses such as swimming, wading, boating, diving and surfing are allowed in MPAs. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) relies upon the Marine Managed Area Improvement Act (MMAIA) to define the types of MPAs and uses that are allowed within those MPAs. The MMAIA indicates that, to the extent possible, MPAs should be open to the public for managed enjoyment and study. One of the goals of the MLPA is to improve the recreational, educational and study opportunities within MPAs subject to minimal human disturbance. It is not the intent of the MLPA to prevent access to MPAs for non-extractive activities.
The three main types of MPAs – state marine reserve (SMR), state marine park (SMP), and state marine conservation area (SMCA) – each have different rules about the activities that may or may not be undertaken within the MPA. In general, SMRs do not allow any type of extractive activities (including fishing or kelp harvesting) with the exception of scientific collecting under a permit, SMPs do not allow any commercial extraction, and SMCAs restrict some types of commercial and/or recreational extraction.