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New ocean protected zones between Santa Barbara and Mexico in the works

A kelp bed off the Palos Verdes peninsula.
Molly Peterson/KPCC
A kelp bed off the Palos Verdes peninsula.

Ocean zones between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border will become designated protected areas under California state law. The California Fish and Game Commission voted on the zones Wednesday.

A majority of state fish and game commissioners voted to green-light the plan under the state's Marine Life Protection Act. That law mandates that California set aside regions of coastal waters for educational, economic and environmental interests.

Coastal researchers emphasize the value that protected areas create in fostering habitat and in encouraging biodiversity. The decision coincides with a report to the United Nations that warns of mass extinctions from causes that include onshore pollution, overfishing and climate change.

In Southern California, Point Dume in Malibu, Laguna and Naples Reef are among the spots that will receive highest protection.

Coalitions of sport fishermen and commercial anglers challenged the state's plans during a two-year process. Then, in court, fishermen argued that meetings about the areas off-limits weren't open enough – that's helped delay the beginning of the protected area program.

Fishermen, marine conservationists and scientists all say they'll monitor protected areas to confirm that they do their job.