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Oregon's Marine Reserve Program Marks 10 Years

Following ten years of ocean science, deep community collaboration and some pretty remarkable research discoveries and resource management contributions, Oregon's Marine Reserves Program stands up in it's 10 year assessment as a pillar for ocean conservation. The decadal assessment, conducted by an interdisciplinary team of social and ecological scientists from Oregon, strongly supported the Program and conservation effort yet made key legislative recommendations for needed investments - specifically to address adaptive management in an uncertain climate future and support applied research goals important to Oregonians. This coming year, Surfrider Foundation is leading a legislative effort to support those recommendations and celebrate one of Oregon's greatest ocean conservation and nearshore research investments.

Oregon's Marine Reserve Program, run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), is responsible for management of Oregon's five marine reserves and protected areas which were designated by the legislature in 2010 and again in 2012. Senate Bill 1510 was passed during the 2012 Legislative Session designating marine reserves and protected areas at Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head, and Cape Falcon, which complimented the already designated sites at Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks (HB 3013 in 2010) to create a limited system within Oregon's Territorial Sea - roughly the first 3 miles of ocean seaward of Oregon's shoreline. These special places promote research and conservation by providing layers of protection from ocean development and fishing pressures and investments in long term collaborative research and monitoring - more about how marine reserves work here. The legislation also put in place a 10 year timeline for formally evaluating and assessing the program. The landmark of the Marine Reserve assessment was an extremely thorough analysis by ODFW, the decadal Synthesis Report:

Ten years ago, the designation of marine reserves and protected areas in Oregon's ocean was not an easy discussion. In fact, it took nearly 7 years for the Ocean Policy Advisory Council to fully develop the policy guidance and framework that would not only serve as the basis for designating these special ocean places, but also in their evaluation and the assessment of the program 10 years later - which is where we are at today.  This past fall, a team of scientists from the state's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee completed the final assessment and legislative recommendations which weeks later (in much less than 7 years:)) were enthusiastically endorsed by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council - marking a remarkable achievement for the state in realizing this first ever research and conservation effort.

Marine Reserve Assessment Executive Summary

Key Findings:

-Oregon's marine reserves and protected areas effectively designed based on their goals but need more time to fully evaluate their ecological resilience potential.

-Both social and economic effects reveal positive and adverse impacts; however adverse impacts were much less than expected.

-Continue long-term monitoring and consider how to adapt management and Oregon's marine reserve system under renewed social and ecological goals.

Legislative Recommendations:

-Fully fund the Marine Reserve Program, including additional investments to address below mandates

-Mandating an adaptive management approach

-Make marine reserve science more useful for resource management with clearer social indicators, processes and goals

Our Legislative Effort

Surfrider Foundation has played a constant role in both the early designation but also in the ongoing implementation of marine reserves. Working with the Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership, Surfrider has led a Community Advisory Committee for the past 10 years to support community awareness, research collaboration and ongoing outreach of marine reserve science. Our chapters have evolved their programs and outreach for place-based stewardship, collaborative research and monitoring and ongoing public awareness and engagement in these special ocean designations. And today we continue that effort in helping to lead a legislative effort for the 2023 legislative session to statutorily support the recommendations from the 10 year assessment.

This past fall Surfrider helped organize a presentation of the marine reserve recommendations for the Oregon's Coastal Caucus, a legislative collective of Oregon Representatives and Senators that collaborate on representation of coastal and ocean policy issues. Following up with outreach to these key coastal legislators and we helped shape the recommendations into a legislative concept, that was further refined and sponsored by Representatives David Brock-Smith and David Gomberg. By December, we had worked with a number of stakeholders to garner full sponsorship in the House and Senate by the Coastal Caucus and introduce the policy by the legislative deadline. We are excited to continue our Oregon Marine Reserve campaign to support this legislative effort to renew a legacy investment in Oregon ocean conservation and research!

Top Marine Reserve Stories

We couldn't help but share some of our favorite program highlights from over the years. Dive in to learn about some of our favorite stories and community collaborations from over the years or buff up on your marine reserve knowledge!

ROV Data Reveals Sea Stars' Status - Oregon's marine reserves were conducting critical longterm monitoring during multiple sea star disease outbreaks that contributed to conservation status and assessment for a number of sea star species.

How Oregon's Marine Reserves Were Established - Designed and established the "Oregon Way", the planning and ultimate designation of marine reserves in Oregon was nothing short of a soap opera of stakeholder compromises - a worthy lesson in how we got the areas we have today.

Virtual Marine Reserve Tour - Dive into our video series and see why there's more beneath the surface. Check out a tour of each of the 5 marine reserves featuring underwater footage and a series of community stakeholder videos.

Marine Reserve Awareness on the Rise - Surfrider worked with the Cape Perpetua Collaborative to conduct a 2 year visitor intercept study at the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve to inform our outreach progress.

Recreation in Oregon's Marine Reserves - These special places were protected for a reason, they are outstanding both culturally and ecologically which makes them significant areas for recreation and discovery. Check out some of our favorite activities and video features of these special places.

A Pricky Problem with Sea Urchins - Marine reserve surveys on the south coast contributed to some of the early documentation of kelp decline and that prickly problem with the explosive sea urchin population.

Community Scientists Conduct Surveys - The first of many community marine reserve "bioblitzes" occurred in 2018 - now many of these species inventories for each marine reserve site have close to 20,000 community species observations recorded! A snapshot over time of species is a critical way we can assess species health and trends in biodiversity while engaging the community in marine reserve science.

Beach Cleanup Bingo at Cape Falcon Marine Reserve - Stewardship volunteering doesn't have to feel like work, Surfrider makes marine reserve stewardship and cleanups fun!