Conservation & Science

A healthy coast supports a strong economy

 It’s all one ocean—and we’re connected with it in deep and surprising ways. Today’s guest post by Paul Michel, superintendent of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, addresses the relationship between resource protection and economic vitality in the Monterey Bay region.

The communities of Monterey Bay need a healthy coast and ocean. Our economy relies on tourism, commercial and recreational fisheries, recreation such as boating and surfing, and marine science. Even the ocean-influenced weather patterns here provide for some of the most productive agriculture in the United States.

PaulMichel, SuperintententMBNMS
Paul Michel, superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, goes deep on ocean protection.

In other words, the protection of our coastal and marine resources is essential to our long-term environmental and economic vitality.

The Monterey Bay region has a strong legacy of residents taking action—especially in the late 1980s and into the early ’90s. Oil and gas development, wastewater discharges and uncontrolled agricultural and urban runoff threatened the health and beauty of this beloved stretch of California coast.

Leadership for coastal protection

Thanks to public pressure, some key pieces of government action came along to improve the protection and wise management of Monterey Bay’s coast and ocean. The designation of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992 and the enactment of the State Marine Life Management Act and Marine Life Protection Act in 1999 led to a state and federal network of marine protected areas, and collaborative management and science unprecedented on the West Coast. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State Water Resources Control Board took actions to address polluted runoff from cities and farms.

Sea otters are an emblem of Monterey Bay’s ecological rebirth. Photo via MBNMS

This coordinated coast and ocean management, along with an abundance of public lands—including the designation of Fort Ord National Monument in 2012—have all made this region one of the most ecologically rich on the West Coast.

Monterey Bay’s strong management and protection framework supports a network of almost two dozen marine science research and education entities, a presence that’s led some to coin this region “America’s Blue Silicon Valley.” (Not coincidentally, the Center for the Blue Economy, dedicated to exploring the economic value of our ocean and coasts, is located at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.)

The result is cutting-edge ocean research, balanced marine management and a growing ocean awareness—fueled by Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and National Marine Sanctuary visitor centers in Santa Cruz and San Simeon.

A recent NOAA report highlighted the economic impact of recreation in the Greater Farallones and the northern portion of Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries. In 2011, more than 4 million visitors spent $127 million on recreation activities and supported nearly 1,700 jobs. The top five most popular activities among survey respondents were going to the beach, watching the coastal scenery from a car, sightseeing, taking photographs and bird watching.

The peer-reviewed report also found that:

Surfers at Mvericks_Josh Pederson
Surfers take on a large wave at Mavericks, a famous surf spot north of Half Moon Bay. Photo by Josh Pederson / NOAA MBNMS
  • Recreation in Greater Farallones and northern Monterey Bay, on average, generated an additional $80 million in income to business owners and employees.
  • In Greater Farallones, surface water sports—including kayaking, kite, wind and body surfing, swimming and boating—was the top reported recreation activity. Sightseeing was second.
  • In the northern portion of Monterey Bay, sightseeing and beachgoing were the top two recreation activities.


Last summer’s BBC and PBS production of Big Blue Live was a stunning portrayal of the Monterey Bay ocean ecosystem, and the benefits of its protection. That international spotlight drew the attention of millions of viewers, many of whom will want to come see for themselves. What these visitors will find when they arrive depends on our stewardship of these lands and waters.

Here are just a few ways you can keep the fire lit for our beautiful Central Coast:

Aquarium volunteer Natividad Melendez talks with visitors at the touch pools.
  • Participate in the Sanctuary Advisory Council process. (The council is currently advising the update of the sanctuary’s management plan, which includes public workshops.)
  • Reuse, recycle, and reduce waste.
  • And vote!


Monterey Bay’s marine ecosystems are healthier because of strong science-based management, ocean education and outreach, and people who step up to support ocean conservation and stewardship. As a result, our regional economy is strong. It’s just one more example of our vital connection with the ocean. When it’s healthy, we all benefit.

To learn more about Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, visit

Featured photo: Divers head out at Point Lobos Ecological Reserve to conduct subtidal surveys. Photo by Chad King / NOAA MBNMS

One thought on “A healthy coast supports a strong economy”

  1. There is only ONE sign between Lovers Point and the Aquarium that is posted by “Fish & Game”, warning that taking “speicimens” from the beach area is prohibited. There are MANY people with their children “collecting” along that waterfront. The ONE sign is on the walking trail fence. I have called the 800 # to report this, and I do not see any results. This is a year ago! People still collect specimens out of the water and rocks…….mostly closer to the “beach” area. This needs to be enforced and more signs leading to these areas.


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