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:
- Protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function and integrity of marine ecosystems.
- Help sustain, conserve and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.
- Improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems that are subject to minimal human disturbance, and to manage these uses in a manner consistent with protecting biodiversity.
- Protect marine natural heritage, including protection of representative and unique marine life habitats in CA waters for their intrinsic values.
- Ensure California's MPAs have clearly defined objectives, effective management measures and adequate enforcement and are based on sound scientific guidelines.
- Ensure the State's MPAs are designed and managed, to the extent possible, as a network.
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 closures were 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.