cabo_pumoIt's a fish tale even the experts are finding hard to believe. A recent study of Mexico's Cabo Pulmo marine reserve by Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found an astonishing 463-percent increase in the number of fish over the last decade. The results are encouraging for California as the state continues to expand its network of underwater parks, called marine protected areas (MPAs), established to protect marine life, habitat and ecosystems.

Dr. Liz Whiteman, program director with the MPA Monitoring Enterprise, says ecologists who work in both tropical and temperate waters are amazed at how fast these results were seen. She says the Baja study goes to show how powerful ocean science can be.

"This will provide a benchmark for us to be able to look forward 10, 15, 20 years and begin to identify the local successes that may occur in MPAs in California."

Whiteman says one important thing to note from the Baja study is the value of the scientific information researchers were able to provide.

liz-whiteman"We have a team of researchers who have been out there monitoring ecosystems or ocean health essentially for the last 10 years. It was through collecting that information and documenting the changes that they were able to identify this local success."

She says the same thing is being done in California by a diverse group of experts and citizens. Baseline studies are already under way from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, and a new set of southern California research projects will begin this fall.

Most experts do not expect to see the dramatic gains in California waters that the Baja underwater park saw, but Whiteman says by tracking the changes in plants and animals over time, researchers can find the local successes and figure out how to replicate them.

The MPA Monitoring Enterprise was launched in 2007 as a program of the California Ocean Science Trust to lead impartial, scientifically rigorous and cost-effective monitoring of California's MPAs. The MPAs along California's central coast will be evaluated in 2012 to review the progress that has been made in the first five years.

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