MarineMap Issue

Photo © Peter Taylor

Photo © Peter Taylor


In 1999, voters in California passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which directs the state to reevaluate and redesign California’s system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to better protect the state’s marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage, and to improve recreational, educational and study opportunities.

The passage of this legislation reflected concerns about the status of California’s marine resources and ecosystems. Marine protected areas have been shown scientifically to help sustain marine ecosystems, but in 1999 the few existing MPAs in California offered little protection. The MLPA requires that the best readily available science be used in the redesign process, as well as the advice and assistance of scientists, resource managers, experts, stakeholders and members of the public.

Identifying the Need for DSS

From 1999 to 2004, the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) made two different, unsuccessful attempts to implement the MLPA. Both attempts suffered from insufficient funding and public involvement. In 2004, the state government established with the Resource Legacy Fund Foundation a public-private partnership known as the MLPA Initiative that provided more funding and support for the process of planning marine protected areas. One of the Initiative’s major priorities was to involve diverse stakeholders in a meaningful way to incorporate their input and cultivate support.

The Initiative recognized that this stakeholder engagement was essential to create a well-designed system of marine protected areas that could be implemented without being stalled by stakeholder opposition. At the same time, the legislation required that the eventual outcome—a network of marine protected areas—meet a complex set of rigorous, science-based criteria. People involved in the MLPA Initiative recognized the need for an interactive decision support system that would enable meaningful public input toward a scientifically valid outcome. MarineMap was designed to meet this need.

Role of the DSS

MarineMap has played two key roles in the  MLPA process: (1) helping to build consensus and stakeholder support, and (2) enabling people to understand complicated information in order to make decisions that conform to complex criteria. A memorandum written in 2008 by MLPA Initiative staff to the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group (SCRSG) explains,

MarineMap is an Internet-based decision support tool that provides SCRSG members with the capability to view data layers, draw individual MPAs, assemble collections of individual MPAs into MPA arrays, receive basic feedback on how well individual MPAs and MPA arrays meet guidelines for MPA design, and submit complete MPA proposals…MarineMap will be the primary means for recording information during the iterative MPA design process.

Proposals submitted through MarineMap are reviewed by a science advisory team, a blue-ribbon task force, and other experts. The California Fish and Game Commission selects the final design of the MPA network based on the recommendation of the blue-ribbon task force.