Marine Protected Areas

Like state and national parks protect wildlife and habitats on land, marine protected areas (MPAs) conserve and restore wildlife and habitats in our ocean. Many visitors to Point Lobos don’t realize that some of the most beautiful landscapes within the Reserve are found underwater. While the Reserve hosts 550 fully protected land acres, its protected underwater area is over eighteen times that size, at 9,907 acres. 

These underwater parks contribute to healthier, more resilient ocean ecosystems that can better withstand impacts such as pollution and climate change. By protecting entire ecosystems rather than focusing on a single species, MPAs are powerful tools for conserving and restoring ocean biodiversity, and protecting cultural resources, while allowing certain activities such as marine recreation and research.

In the waters adjacent to Point Lobos are two protected areas. The Point Lobos State Marine Reserve extends from the north side of Monastery Beach to the mouth of Mal Paso Creek. In this area, sea otters, sea lions and harbor sealsfind shelter along the shore and over 300 species of birds can be found benefiting from the abundance of protected food and habitat. The Point Lobos State Marine Conservation Area extends three miles offshore and provides shelter for many species of fish living in the kelp forests, sandy bottoms and deep canyons off Point Lobos. Cabezon, vermillion rockfish and blue rockfish hide among the kelp, while mola mola may be found basking on the surface offshore. Goby and sculpin can be found darting amongst the tidepools. Brochures are available within the reserve and include additional information on the natural history, key species, and regulations of these MPAs, as well as detailed maps with GPS coordinates of the protected areas. 

While the MPAs within Point Lobos have been here for many years (part of the area being protected as early as 1960), California has recently become an international leader in ocean protection by completing the United States’ first statewide network of underwater parks designed to ensure healthy, vibrant ocean life for generations to come. The completed necklace of marine protected areas is the latest chapter in California’s long history of being at the vanguard of conservation efforts.

The Point Lobos Foundation hosts an annual event in January, called Underwater Parks Day, to highlight the importance of these protected areas. Underwater Parks day at Point Lobos is organized as part of our mission to support education within the Reserve, and funded locally by the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation (

NEW! The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation has been working with the state of California to make Californians and visitors aware of their 2013 landmark achievement in setting aside 124 underwater parks along our coastline. They recently partnered with GOOGLE to create a virtual tour of the network of underwater parks in the central coast region. Explore it here.