12/19/2012 03:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Oceanic Gift

Today we celebrate the grand opening of 19 underwater parks along the beautifully rugged and wild shores of Northern California -- my Golden State can now boast of a complete set of coastal crown jewels. View a map of the new parks here.

These parks (otherwise known as marine protected areas) put the finishing touches on the statewide network called for under California's landmark ocean protection law, the Marine Life Protection Act. This network of "MPAs" now dots our west coast like a string of gems, protecting iconic points of interest and important marine habitats found at Point Reyes, Big Sur, and in the north Point St. George Reef, home to the second largest nesting seabird colony south of Alaska; and estuarine waters at the mouth of waterways like Ten Mile River that are critical for salmon and steelhead populations.

The north coast's marine protected areas were planned by local residents including fishermen, divers, tribes, business owners and conservationists with guidance from scientists. The MPAs are designed to protect the kelp forests, rocky reefs and marine habitats that feed and shelter sea life while leaving most of the coastal waters open for fishing. "I am very proud that North Coast residents were able to come together and design a network of protected areas that will help protect the ocean while preserving our ocean economy and tribal access," said Richard Young, Crescent City Harbor Master and a member of the regional stakeholder group.

Located near public beaches and bluffs, the MPAs offer great recreation for everyone including kayaking, tide-pooling, diving, bird-watching and myriad other activities. "These underwater parks will help safeguard the natural heritage that draws people to this region, its ocean bounty and its pioneering spirit," said Bill Lemos, a retired teacher from Mendocino High School who served as a stakeholder. "They bring the total statewide network to about 120 underwater gems."

Check out the slideshow below to see the wonderful oceanic gifts bestowed on all of us.