Following a press conference held by state officials at UCSB on Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law yesterday a package of bills that will prevent the spread of invasive species into state waters and make new funds available to the university’s marine researchers.

Sacramento officials held the conference at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management to discuss the new environmental legislation on Wednesday at 1 p.m. The six new bills include stipulations that transfer excess coastal zone property to public agencies and improve the quality of the marine environment. The bills also establish a team of scientists to determine research priorities.

Resources Agency spokeswoman Sandy Cooney said California’s leadership in the area of ocean protection stems largely from past and continued activism in Santa Barbara, which suffered a major oceanic environmental catastrophe in the 1960s due to an offshore oil spill.

“California’s laws with respect to protecting the ocean are some of the strongest,” Cooney said. “That’s been a tradition for this state. Santa Barbara has long been a stronghold for environmental protection, going back to the late 1960s.”

One bill in particular, AB 1280, makes money in the California Ocean Protection Trust Fund available to fishery management programs. The bill will also have a major impact on marine researchers at UCSB. Currently, the university is already involved in two major projects focusing on fishing research.

CALobster, a Bren School fisheries project, collaborates with fishermen in order to understand the impact of fishing and pollution on local fisheries. In addition, the Bren School works with the Marine Stewardship Council Certification program, which encourages consumers to only purchase seafood captured in operations that are less damaging to the environment.

According to Hunter Lenihan, an associate professor at the Bren School, the new bills will increase the university’s ability to work with government agencies and the fishing industry to conduct meaningful research and effect change.

“AB 1280 is really important in providing incentives and resources to help universities work with fisherman and agencies,” Lenihan said. “We can collaborate with fisherman [to analyze] abundance of various species, size and how fast they grow in different ecosystems.”

Another bill in the package – AB 740 – will work to eliminate the influx of invasive species that arrive in California waters in the ballast water of shipping vessels above 300 gross tons. The contaminated water is often derived from ships arriving to California from foreign ports.

The new AB 740 regulations take full effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and will mandate detailed cleaning of the ballast tanks, propellers, hulls and other submerged components of such vessels. It will furthermore empower the State Lands Commission to develop rules relating to water management.

Talha Husayn, a fourth-year biology major, said preserving native species is critical.

“Protecting one species protects the whole ecosystem,” Husayn said. “As a student biologist, I think [the bill] is amazing.”