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

“So… what is this…” the woman tilted her big sunglasses up over her forehead, squinting to get a better look at the brochure, “this… marine… PROTECTED area?” She looked up at me, nose wrinkled, the question written all over her face.

At the time, the question took me unawares. My work for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had focused on helping the public to understand the fine details of marine protected area regulations. Hearing from someone who actually had no idea what a marine protected area was hit me like a sneaker wave full in the face.

I tried not to look dumbfounded. “Well, they’re, ah, they are small areas of California coastal waters set aside to protect marine fish, animals, and habitats,” I said, purposefully discarding the resource management and scientific language that I often used to describe the network. Mentally I kicked myself for not coming up with a more interesting explanation.

“Ah, ah, yeah,” she said after a few minutes of listening to me explain. “Okay, thanks.” She wandered off, pushing her child’s stroller through the uneven grass to the next table at the outdoor activities fair.

That encounter was a wakeup call of sorts. How many more people don’t know that California has a network of marine protected areas? I wondered. For public resources as heavily used as California’s beaches and nearshore waters, something  as simple as public awareness can play an important role in the success of a new marine protected area network and its conservation goals.

To help raise awareness, the Department recently published A Network of Protection, a new article about the state’s marine protected area network. The article provides a basic overview of the network and how marine protected areas are being integrated into everyday life along the California coast. You can read the article in the July-August 2014 issue of the Department’s glossy magazine, Outdoor California or on the California Marine Protected Area website (see the Popular Resources section). Please feel free to share.

For more Department outreach publications and a wealth of information about marine protected areas, please visit the Department’s Marine Protected Area website. Questions? Email AskMPA@wildlife.ca.gov.