**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>

MPA Collaboratives Build Local Partnerships for Ocean Conservation 

A few years ago, it seemed inconceivable that fishermen, tribes, agencies, academic institutions and environmental organizations would be working together to spread the word about California’s new marine protected areas (MPAs).  

And yet, over the past year, representatives of these groups have volunteered to form locally-based work groups under a new initiative: the MPA Collaborative Implementation Project.  Since late 2012, fourteen local collaboratives have come together along the California coast under the guidance of Director Calla Allison. Allison was formerly director of the Orange County Marine Protected Area Council, which served as a model for local management of marine protected areas. 

Each collaborative is chaired by local experts, and has up to fifty participants, including fishermen, conservation groups, scientists, agency staff, and tribal representatives.  In spite of their sometimes rocky history, members have been able to find common ground around the desire to create a locally relevant, balanced message that helps increase compliance with MPAs and educate about ocean health.   

Shaping Local MPA Management

Collaboratives provide a forum for the people who know their stretch of coast best to have a hand in management.  Just as the Marine Life Protection Act provided policymakers with a way to listen to local stakeholders in the planning of MPAs, the collaboratives allow local voices to shape the on-the-ground implementation and ongoing management.  

In San Diego, collaborative members produced a guide encouraging kayaking, diving, and surfing in the county’s easily accessible MPAs.  But in Humboldt County’s remote MPAs, “people can die if they explore them,” explained collaborative Co-Chair Jennifer Savage of the Northcoast Environmental Center.   This is just one of many examples demonstrated by the collaboratives of how a cookie cutter approach will not work for developing effective outreach strategies and materials.  

Through a $10,000 small grants program, collaboratives receive funding for projects that seek to build local awareness of MPAs.  These have included fishing and recreation guides, brochures targeting boaters and fishermen, signage, video projects, strategic planning sessions, and outreach events. A full list of projects ideas and products is available at the Collaborative Implementation Project’s new website: https://www.mpacollaborative.org

Meeting of the Minds: Statewide Workshop 

Earlier this month, leaders of these collaboratives met in Sacramento to share their experiences with each other and with state policymakers, and define strategies for working together in the future.  “Collaboratives offer a way to make MPAs durable, working differently than we have in the past,” said Ocean Protection Council Director Cat Kuhlman. 

There is still much to be done to ensure the success of these groups at the local level and to raise broad level awareness and compliance of MPAs.  Over the next two years, collaboratives will work to implement outreach and education projects, improve communications strategies, find new sources of funding, identify and share local research projects and databases, and host MPA trainings for local law enforcement officers. 

This shared sense of commitment to MPAs from a local and statewide perspective provides a strong foundation for future work. The Ocean Protection Council recently voted to adopt the California Collaborative Approach: Marine Protected Area Partnership Plan, in recognition of the state’s commitment to local partnerships in MPA management.  But this is only a start.  

Policymakers and local experts will continue to work together to solidify collaboratives into a lasting structure that will provide true community support and management for California’s network of marine protected areas. 


Photo : Malibu’s Pt. Dume State Marine Reserve. Credit: Heal the Bay/Ana Luisa Ahern