Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Marine Protected Areas

What are MPAs?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are marine or estuarine waters set aside to protect or conserve marine life and its habitat by restricting activities like oil drilling and fishing. California is the first in the United States to intentionally design an ecologically connected network of MPAs. With 124 MPAs protecting 16% of coastal waters, the Golden State has enhanced the effectiveness of its MPAs and their resilience to climate change.

MPAs are important because they protect critical natural habitat while also supporting fisheries. Science shows that MPAs allow fish to thrive by protecting entire ecosystems instead of just individual species, and there are more fish and increased biodiversity as a result. Fish don’t stay within the boundary of an MPA, so the “spillover effect” leads to more fish available for anglers to catch.



MPAs and Habitats of the Santa Monica Bay

Credit: Olivia Ettlin, MPA Watch Intern, Fall 2020

Heal the Bay MPA Watch Program

MPA Watch is a statewide network of volunteer programs that support healthy ocean habitats through community science and public outreach. Heal the Bay leads the Los Angeles County shore-based MPA Watch program and has trained hundreds of volunteers and collected thousands of surveys since 2011.

Heal the Bay volunteers conduct valuable scientific surveys along beautiful beaches and bluffs at MPAs in Malibu and Palos Verdes. These surveys collect information on activities taking place, from swimming and fishing to tide pooling, and the data is shared with MPA agencies to inform important management and legislative decisions. In addition to conducting surveys, Heal the Bay volunteers have the opportunity to participate in other MPA research projects and collaborations.


Steps to Get Involved

1. Attend a Heal the Bay New Volunteer Orientation.

> Register Now

2. Once a New Volunteer Orientation is complete, you can register for one of the quarterly MPA Watch training events. To become a volunteer, you must attend our two-part training program, which includes one virtual classroom training and one field training session. All training materials will be provided. Please note attendance to both sessions is required to become an MPA Watch certified volunteer, as well as previous attendance at an initial Heal the Bay New Volunteer Orientation. The orientation happens every second Thursday of every other month. Choose from the session dates below and register for your MPA Watch training.

> February 7 & 10, 2024

>May 8 & 11, 2024

> August 7 & 10, 2024

>November 6 & 9, 2024

3. Protect the coast!

To learn more about becoming an ocean steward as a Heal the Bay MPA Watch volunteer, please email

*Heal the Bay MPA Watch remains active, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are increased safety measures for volunteers.  MPA Watch in-person classroom events are currently suspended and all classroom trainings have been moved to virtual platforms. Volunteers will need access to the internet to attend virtual classroom trainings.