Protecting Oregon's Coast and Sea

Anyone who has driven Highway 101 through Oregon knows the coastal landscape - headlands, sandy beaches, tide pools and clear, cold ocean water - are simply stunning! The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife both have roles in protecting the natural beauty of our coast and their viability as habitat for local flora and fauna.

Oregon Rocky Shores

Rocky shores are a defining feature of the dramatic 360-mile long coastline of Oregon. Tidepools, cliffs, rocks, and submerged reefs support an ecologically rich and diverse ecosystem at the boundary of the land and sea along 161 miles (41%) of Oregon’s shoreline including 82 miles (21%) of rocky intertidal habitat. The US Government defines a Marine Protected Area (MPA) as “any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by Federal, State, territorial, tribal or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.” In Oregon there are three specific MPAs that are part of Oregon's Rocky Shores: Marine Gardens, Research Reserves, and Habitat Refuges There are 15 designated sites along the Oregon Coast that are protected.

Marine Gardens are specially protected areas in which it is illegal to collect any marine invertebrate (except single mussels for bait). Collecting seaweed and other marine plants is not allowed in marine gardens. Gardens are areas that are targeted for educational programs that allow visitors to enjoy and learn about intertidal resources. The intertidal of seven areas are designated as Marine Gardens: Cape Kiwanda, Otter Rock, Yaquina Head, Yachats State Park, Cape Perpetua, Harris Beach State Park, and our own Haystack Rock. Educational opportunities are available daily at Haystack Rock at daily low-tides throughout the Spring and Summer.

Marine Garden: Haystack Rock 
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

There are two kinds of Research Reserves, subtidal and intertidal. They have been designated to allow for scientists to reliably obtain rocky shore information over time on natural variations and changes in the marine environment. These areas are used for scientific study or research including baseline studies, monitoring, or applied research. These areas are generally closed to the take of shellfish and marine invertebrates, except that scientific take permits may be issued for scientific and educational reasons. Collecting seaweed and other marine plants is not allowed in intertidal research reserves. There are 2 subtidal research reserves: Pirate Cove (Depoe Bay) and Gregory Point (Cape Arago) and 5 intertidal research reserves: Boiler Bay, Neptune State Park, Cape Arago (Area B), Brookings and Cape Arago (Area A&C)

Research Reserve: Boiler Bay 
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

A Habitat Refuge is a specially protected area that is closed to the take of marine fish, shellfish and all marine invertebrates and is the highest level of protection. They are areas that are needed to maintain the health of the rocky shore ecosystem. Whale Cove, in Lincoln County is the only currently designated marine habitat refuge.

Habitat Refuge: Whale Cove
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

Oregon Marine Reserves

Different levels of government have jurisdiction over ocean and coastal management, based on the distance from the coast. States control the waters from 0-3 nautical miles seaward of mean lower low water. In Oregon, this is the area known as Oregon’s Territorial Sea. In 2012, Oregon completed the designation of five marine reserve sites within its Territorial Sea; each site has a no take marine reserve and most sites also include one or more, less restrictive marine protected area (MPA). The marine reserves prohibit all take of fish, invertebrates, wildlife and seaweeds as well as ocean development. The MPAs have varying levels of protection, allowing or prohibiting specific take and prohibiting all ocean development. The Marine Reserves protection is being phased in over a 4 year period.
  • Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock (Jan 1, 2012) - Scientific monitoring at the sites is currently ongoing. Site management plans have been developed.
  • Cape Perpetua and Cascade Head (Jan 1, 2014) - Scientific monitoring at the sites is currently ongoing. Site management plans are currently under development.
  • Cape Falcon (Jan 1, 2016) - Rules have been adopted and harvest restrictions will begin in 2016. Baseline data collection is currently underway.
Check out the Map of Marine Reserves

For those interested in hearing more about the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, Nadia Gardner will be presenting at the May 12, 2015 Cannon Beach City Council Work Session; 5:30pm at City Hall.

More information about Rocky Shores and Marine Reserves available at
Welcome to the Oregon Marine Reserves Website


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