On January 1, 2012 Southern California will celebrate the grand opening of a series of underwater parks that stretches from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. The parks will join a growing statewide network called for under California's landmark ocean protection law, the Marine Life Protection Act. Soon, the state will have a system of "marine protected areas" dotting the coast like a string of gems, that protect iconic areas like Point Reyes, Big Sur, and La Jolla.
Southern California's new marine protected areas were planned by local residents with guidance from scientists. They are designed to protect the kelp forests, rocky reefs and coral gardens that feed and shelter sea life while leaving about 90% of coastal waters open for fishing. Many are located near public beaches and bluffs, and offer great recreation for everyone including tide-pooling, diving, kayaking, bird-watching and other activities. For a glimpse of the plants and animals found offshore from Southern California, check out the slideshow below.