Since the early-20th century, Big Sur’s stunning natural beauty has attracted people from all walks of life—from writers, to artists, to movie stars. But did you know that Big Sur is also home to two of the 29 marine protected areas (MPAs)?

Created to protect the diversity and abundance of marine life, the habitats they depend on, and the integrity of marine ecosystems, MPAs help conserve biological diversity, provide a sanctuary for marine life, and enhance recreational and educational opportunities.

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Big Creek State Marine Reserve (Credit: UCSC Natural Reserves)

The Big Creek State Marine Reserve—adjacent to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park—was established in 1994 by the California Fish & Wildlife Commission and features underwater canyons which house a variety of deepwater rockfishes, including cabezon and bocaccio. It is also an important forage area for southern sea otters. In Sept. 2007, the commission established the Big Creek State Marine Conservation Area. Together, the combined area of the two adjoining MPAs is 22.45 square miles.

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Big Creek (Credit: UCSC Natural Reserves)

The land located directly next to the MPAs, known as the Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve, is operated by the University of California Natural Reserve System and UC Santa Cruz. The land was part of the Circle M Ranch until the ranch was broken up and sold. Private owners, including Congressman Sam Farr’s father, the late Senator Fred Farr, later granted the land to the Natural Reserve System.

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Point Sur State Marine Reserve (Credit: Hest6960)

Just north of Big Creek lies the Point Sur State Marine Reserve and Point Sur Marine Conservation Area. Established in 2007, both MPAs contain a wide diversity of habitats that support a range of fish, seabird and invertebrate species. The site is adjacent to Andrew Molera State Park and Point Sur State Historic Park, and encompasses a large kelp bed which provides a shelter and nursery habitat to rockfish and other species. Remote from port and from urban development, these MPAs protect one of the few remaining areas in central California that support large, healthy fish populations and pristine habitat.

While their names are similar, the variations in MPA regulations are important to note. For instance, in the Point Sur State Marine Conservation Area and the Big Creek State Marine Conservation Area, commercial and recreational take of salmon and albacore tuna is allowed. However, fishing and take of all living marine resources is prohibited at both the Point Sur State Marine Reserve and the Big Creek State Marine Reserve.

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Southern sea otter (Credit: Mike Baird)

Visitors to both Point Sur MPAs and Big Creek MPAs are encouraged to partake in ocean-related activities like kayaking, diving, snorkeling and swimming (unless otherwise restricted). And if you go, don’t forget to bring a camera!

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