Five years after California established the first in a statewide network of marine protected areas on the Central Coast, scientists, policymakers and the public are coming together to take stock.
About 350 people will gather in Monterey next week for a three-day symposium, State of the California Central Coast, that will present results from monitoring efforts in the region.
The data, some of which will be released in a report Wednesday on the first day of the symposium, will provide a benchmark for future studies of marine protected areas.
"It's too soon to draw broad conclusions about the network as a whole, but we can use (the results) to measure future changes on the ocean and on the economy," said Holly Rindge, communications manager with California Ocean Science Trust, one of the hosts of the symposium.
Marine protected areas, or MPAs, were created under the Marine Life Protection Act in 2007 to protect and restore the ocean's habitats and wildlife. The statewide network of 124 underwater refuges was completed in December.
There are 29 MPAs on the Central Coast — the first of five regions to be established — stretching from Pigeon Point to Point Conception. Together, they represent about 204 square miles of state waters, according to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation. Among the local MPAs are Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and the waters off Point Sur.
Next week's symposium is part of a broad plan to share monitoring results with policymakers and the public, which became keenly interested when the MPAs were first set up on the Central Coast, Rindge said.
"We hope they're going to get a better understanding of ocean conditions in the region," she said.
Similar events for other regions aren't yet planned, but the science trust's MPA Monitoring Enterprise program plans to release reports on those areas when results are in, she said.
Baseline studies in Central Coast waters looked at kelp forests, nearshore fishes, rocky intertidal zones, deep-water marine life and human activities, according to MPA Monitoring Enterprise. Though five years is not enough time to see a full ecological response to implementation of MPAs, Rindge said, there are early changes being seen in some species, such as black abalone and rock fish.
In addition to scientists and policymakers, the symposium is attracting stakeholders such as fishermen, conservationists and recreational ocean users. Presentations will cover research, management, enforcement and other topics.
Speakers will include John Laird, state secretary for natural resources, and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who wrote the Marine Life Protection Act.
Cost to attend is $60, which includes a night at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, snacks, refreshments and materials. The symposium will be held Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Monterey Marriott Hotel, 350 Calle Principal.
To register, see www.stateofthecacoast.org.