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Swami’s, La Jolla offer underwater state parks

COAST CITIES — On Dec. 19, California celebrated the one-year anniversary of the nation’s only statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). These “underwater parks,” dotting the coast from Oregon to Mexico, provide safe havens for marine life to rebound and opportunities for people to get outside and enjoy nature. For a look at the outdoor adventures to be had in Southern California’s marine protected areas, check out a new 60-second video from Ocean Conservancy, “How Do You MPA?” at

Many of California’s marine protected areas are located just offshore from state and county parks, and offer even winter activities. Local sites include La Jolla Cove with a sheltered kelp forest teeming with leopard sharks, garibaldi, lobsters, octopus and more.

At Swami’s in Cardiff, named after Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, whose Self-Realization ashram overlooks it, the kelp forest offshore grooms the waves while providing a home to spiny lobster, garibaldi and leopard sharks. Spear-fishermen can fish for yellowtail and white sea bass.

California has 124 marine protected areas covering 848 square miles, or about 16 percent of state waters. They allow recreational uses such as swimming, surfing, kayaking and wildlife viewing, but are protected from some or all harvest of marine life so that ocean wildlife and habitat can thrive. The vast majority of California’s coastal waters —around 84 percent — remain open to fishing. On the North Coast, the state made history by designating protections that respect the right of indigenous tribes to continue to practice tribal ceremonies and harvesting.

The protected areas were created through the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999. Conservationists and groups including Ocean Conservancy collaborated with business owners, scientists, tribes, fishermen, recreational ocean users and government officials to design the statewide network one region at a time. The MLPA planning effort was one of the largest, most participatory natural resource management initiatives in the state’s history.