Orick California – photo copyright Michelle Rhea
The Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) borders approximately 3 miles of coastline in far Northern California and extends out to sea to create a total of nearly 12 square miles of protected area. The slightly smaller Reading Rock State Marine Reserve continues on from the SMCA’s west border and follows the curve of the 3 nautical mile state waters maritime limit. These MPAs are offshore from the town of Orick, approximately 45 miles north of Eureka.
- The coastline and waters in these MPAs are largely pristine, in part due to the small population of people that live in this region. Orick, the only town near Reading Rock for miles around, is estimated to have a population of 357 according to the 2010 census.
- These MPAs protect hard and soft substrates—meaning both rocky bottom and sandy bottom ecosystems. Reading Rock SMCA is cited as being an important nursery ground for Dungeness crabs, rockfish, and flatfish.
- Among other species, the MPAs are known to include: halibut, harbor seals, sea lions, sharks, mussels, rays, kelp, murres, guillemots, cormorants, auklets, lingcod, cabezon, and kelp greenling according to the California Parks Department
- The list of threatened species found within Reading Rock SMCA and SMR is equally long and includes: Western Snowy Plover, Marbled Murrelet, Stellar Sea Lion, Killer, Humpback, and Sperm Whales, Sea Turtles, and Short-Tailed Albatross.
- The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) played a role in building structures in this area in the 1930s. A CCC Company of almost 200 men made their temporary home on the shores near these MPAs.
- Enjoy the peace and quiet. This truly small-town experience could help you unwind from all the hustle and bustle of more populous places.
- Point your binoculars towards those rocky islands in the water. These are known as seastacks and are a vital feature of the Northern California coastline. Often, seabird colonies congregate on seastacks, affording the opportunity for some great bird watching.
- Visit the parks. The neighboring Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park offer trails to hike and explore among the old-growth redwoods.
- Go see the site of the Prairie Creek Fish Hatchery. This hatchery, just outside of Orick, is on the National Register of Historic Places because it is one of three standing California hatcheries from before the 1940’s.