Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman of the State of California Resources Agency announced Dan Benninghoven earlier this month as chairman of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative’s South Coast Study Region Blue Ribbon Task Force. Quite a title.

Chrisman also announced Dr. Jane Pisano, president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and Gregory Schem, president and chief executive officer of Harbor Real Estate Group as members of the task force.

The 1999 MLPA is a statewide collaborative effort to establish and implement a network of marine protected areas along California’s 1,100-mile coastline. The initiative was developed to apply the goals of the MLPA using combined input from regional stakeholders, scientists and public leaders.

The task force is central to the process, and is made up on the South Coast of seven influential public figures who oversee the development of regional MPAs and eventually present the proposed areas to the

Steve Martarano from the Department of Fish & Game said that for each coastal region, there are several working bodies of decision-makers in the 18-month process. “The stakeholders are the larger group,” he said. “They are the ones who propound the proposals to the task force.”

More than 100 applications for the South Coast stakeholders group are still being reviewed, along with nominations for the Science Advisory Team, a group of scientists that will work closely with the stakeholders in putting together effective proposals for the task force.   

Benninghoven, former executive director of the League of California Cities, served on the task force in the North Central Coast study region this past year, which is now presenting proposals to the CFGC.   

“The plans really develop through regional stakeholders — fishermen, kayakers, citizens, conservation groups,” Benninghoven said. “They all have a particular interest. What we are trying to set aside is ocean areas that will help restore lost fisheries.”

The areas set aside are categorized into three protection levels: state marine conservation areas, state marine parks and state marine reserves.

Last September, 29 MPAs were mapped out on the Central Coast between Point Conception in Santa Barbara County and Pigeon Point in San Mateo County, followed by the North Central Coast from Alder Creek in Mendocino County to Pigeon Point.

The South Coast study region expands from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the California-Mexico border. It will be followed by the North Coast and then possibly the San Francisco Bay area. 

Largely because of the successful marine reserve development five years ago, Martarano says the Channel Islands coastline, which was the first major marine reserve on the West Coast, will not be included in the South Coast study region.

The plan is to have all five regions networked by 2011.

The MLPAI is largely based on public involvement. Stakeholder meetings as well as SAT meetings are available to the community, and Webcast versions of some meetings are available online.

“It is a developing and improving process,” said Emily Saarman, outreach coordinator with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans. PISCO has been involved on the research front, collaborating with UCSB to monitor baseline marine species distribution patterns.

“They all work independently from the Department of Fish and Game — the task force, Science Advisory Council and the stakeholders group,” Saarman said. “They provide infrastructure so the Blue Ribbon Task Force can say this is the best option.”

Marissa Miller-Henson, program manager for the MLPAI, clarified that although the data collected by groups such as PISCO are often used to establish effective MPAs, independent research is not directly connected with the MLPAI.

“We essentially have been told to use the best readily available science,” she said. “But the other key element is using adaptive management to adjust the system over time.”

Scientifically speaking, the environmental properties of the South Coast study region may prove to be unique as a result of the off-shore islands. Miller-Henson said some scientists are now saying the spacing and size of MPAs could delineate from the standards used in the Central Coast and North Central Coast areas.

Possible additions to the spacing guidelines would take into account wind patterns, currents and other environmental effects of the islands that create a different marine ecology along the South Coast.

The task force will hold its first meeting Sept. 8 in San Diego and is expected to have proposals ready for review by the CFGC late next year. The SAT will be announced at the end of the month and will have its first meeting Sept. 15 in El Segundo.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at