Big Creek State Marine Reserve and State Marine Conservation Area

Like state and national parks protect wildlife and habitats on land, marine protected areas (MPAs) conserve and restore wildlife and habitats in our ocean. Under the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) passed in 1999, California began a historic effort to establish a science-based, statewide network of MPAs through a collaborative effort that includes the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California State Parks. California is taking a regional approach to the design and implementation of MPAs, and has divided the state into five regions: the north coast, south coast, north central coast, central coast and San Francisco Bay.

MPAs contribute to healthier, more resilient ocean ecosystems that can better withstand a wide range of 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. There is a global body of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of marine protected areas and reserves to restore marine ecosystems (

In the waters adjacent to John Little State Natural Reserve there are two MPAs, Big Creek State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Big Creek State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA)

  • Big Creek State Marine Reserve (SMR)
    • Extends from the mouth of Hot Springs Creek on the north (Hwy 1 mp 32.81) to the mouth of Vincente Creek on the south (Hwy 1 mp 25.90)
    • The MPAs offshore from Landels Hill-Big Creek Reserve include kelp forests, rocky reefs and beaches.
    • University of California Santa Cruz manages the lower Big Creek watershed where researchers access the MPAs. These diverse, inter-connected habitats provide important opportunities for scientific study.
    • Permitted/Prohibited Uses: No fishing. All take of living marine resources is prohibited.

  • Big Creek State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA)
    • This area is bounded by the mean high tide line and straight lines connecting the following points in the order listed except where noted:
    • 36° 07.20' N. lat. 121° 39.00' W. long.;
      36° 07.20' N. lat. 121° 42.90' W. long.;
      thence southward along the three nautical mile offshore boundary to
      36° 05.20' N. lat. 121° 41.25' W. long.;
      36° 05.20' N. lat. 121° 38.00' W. long.; and
      36° 07.20' N. lat. 121° 39.00' W. long.
    • Steelhead thrive in these MPAs, returning to Big Creek to spawn in the spring.
    • Permitted/Prohibited Uses: No take except for recreational take of salmon and albacore vand commercial take of salmon, albacore and spot prawn.

This information does not replace the official regulatory language found in California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 632, including commercial allowances and restrictions.

  • A fishing license is required for any fishing.
  • All existing take regulations still apply in addition to the ones listed above.
  • Unless otherwise stated, all non-consumptive recreational activities are allowed.

Additional Resources:

For additional information on MPAs please visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website:

For resources related to MPAs, please visit the Marine Protected Areas Education and Outreach Initiative’s website: