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 Mendocino Headlands State Park, there is one MPA, Big River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA).

  • Big River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA)
    • This area consists of waters below the mean high tide line within the Big River Estuary, eastward of a line connecting the following two points:
      39° 18.134' N. lat. 123° 47.517' W. long.; and
      39° 18.079' N. lat. 123° 47.540' W. long.
      And westward of a line connecting the following two points:
      39° 18.222' N. lat. 123° 46.242' W. long.; and
      39° 18.150' N. lat. 123° 46.240' W. long.
    • Big River is big on biological diversity: freshwater and brackish marshland, mud?ats, plus stands of redwoods, hardwoods, bishop pine and pygmy cypress. The park is big on birds, too, and offers critical habitat for more than two dozen rare, endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagle and California brown pelican. Big River’s estuary is ideal spawning habitat and nursery waters for coho and steelhead.
    • Kayaking and canoeing Big River are popular activities. Paddling Big River’s forested canyon is a delight—provided paddlers time their travels with the tides.
    • Permitted/Prohibited Uses: Take of all living marine resources is prohibited EXCEPT the recreational take of surfperch (family Embiotocidae) by hook and line from shore only; and Dungeness crab by hoop net or hand.
    • Take pursuant to activities authorized in subsection 632(b)(25)(D) is allowed.
    • Waterfowl may be taken in accordance with the general waterfowl regulations (Sections 502, 550, 551, and 552).
    • The following federally recognized tribes (listed alphabetically) are exempt from the area and take regulations for Big River Estuary State Marine Conservation Area (subsection 632(b)(25)) and shall comply with all other existing regulations and statutes:
      • Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of the Big Valley Rancheria
      • Cahto Indian Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria
      • Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
      • Elem Indian Colony of Pomo Indians of the Sulphur Bank Rancheria
      • Guidiville Rancheria
      • Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake
      • Hopland Band of Pomo Indians of the Hopland Rancheria
      • Lower Lake Rancheria
      • Manchester Band of Pomo Indians of the Manchester-Point Arena Rancheria
      • Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians
      • Pinoleville Pomo Nation
      • Potter Valley Tribe
      • Redwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians
      • Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians
      • Round Valley Indian Tribes of the Round Valley Reservation
      • Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians
      • Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians

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: