Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary






Sancutary Program Accomplishments

Intertidal Systems

Rocky Subtidal Systems

Open Ocean & Deep Water Systems

The Physical Environment

Wetlands and Watersheds

Endangered & Threatened Species

Marine Mammals

Bird Populations

Harvested Species

Exotic Species

Human Interactions

Further Reading


Mapping and Monitoring the Sanctuary

The purpose of the National Marine Sanctuary Program is to identify, designate, and manage marine areas of special national significance. Reliable management of a Sanctuary is dependent in large part on surveying and understanding its resources effectively. As discussed in the Research Program section, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (in collaboration with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, MBARI) has begun to develop a comprehensive ecosystem monitoring program to detect changes to natural resources. Although the huge size of the Sanctuary and the complexity of its ecosystem create a daunting challenge in surveying and monitoring, we are uniquely suited to this challenge because of our long-range focus and our tremendous array of regional partners to share in the effort.

While the entire ecosystem monitoring plan will be completed in late 2000, several programs have already begun that will help us achieve our comprehensive monitoring goal. Scientists from several institutions—including the U.S. Geological Survey, MBARI, U.C. Santa Cruz, National Marine Fisheries Service, and California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG)—have made great strides in mapping the Sanctuary's seafloor at various levels, from the shallow nearshore to Monterey Canyon and the abyssal plains. Beginning in 1999 investigators from C.S.U. Monterey Bay and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories are tying these mapping projects together and coordinating the creation of a comprehensive marine habitat GIS (geographic information system) for the California continental shelf. Their general approach is to compile, digitize, update, reinterpret, and verify existing data as well as to initiate the effort to fill the most critical data gaps within existing habitat data coverage for nearshore marine habitats. This project is building upon the collaborative work already begun by the CDFG GIS staff in developing a nearshore ecosystem database. In addition to answering several basic scientific questions, a main priority is to make use of all existing data and technologies to define and map essential marine habitats on the continental shelf and to make these data available in digital formats accessible to, and usable by, local, state, and federal resource agencies.

This year the Sanctuary's research staff has also begun mapping and monitoring a critical Sanctuary resource—kelp communities. Forests of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) characterize much of California's nearshore environment. These rich communities have vast ecological, economic, and aesthetic value, and thus their current and future conditions are a great concern. To understand both natural and human impacts on the temporal and spatial dynamics of kelp forests better, we have begun a long-term kelp canopy monitoring program. Building on previous work, the Sanctuary began flying aerial kelp canopy mapping surveys (see below) in the early fall of 1999. With the return of cooler waters during the recent La Niña conditions, we found tremendous kelp growth. Canopy cover in the Sanctuary and all along the West Coast during the fall of 1999 was at its highest level in more than twenty years.

The various studies described above complement other research efforts detailed in this report, such as those focusing on beaches and rocky shores. Additionally, surveys of vessel traffic, marine reserves, and water quality will all contribute to the Sanctuary's comprehensive ecosystem monitoring efforts.

--Mario Tamburri, Research Fellow
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Monterey Bay Aquarium


The Effects of Small Scale Kelp Harvesting on Giant Kelp Surface Canopy Dynamics in the Ed Ricketts Underwater Park Region

Sanctuary-Specific Kelp Plan

In the summer of 2000 the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) will once again prepare a California Kelp Management Plan for the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC). This Plan will govern the harvest of kelp in California until 2005. The CDFG will review the current California Kelp Management Plan in late spring and make appropriate revisions for the FGC to review in the summer of 2000.

Parallel to the state's process described above, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is developing a "Sanctuary-Specific Kelp Plan" focusing on kelp issues within its boundaries. The purpose will be to make appropriate recommendations to the CDFG and FGC regarding Sanctuary waters, for incorporation into the State Kelp Management Plan. The first of two public drafts—Background and Environ-mental Setting—was released in January 2000. After receiving public comments, the Sanctuary staff planned to prepare a set of recommended actions, to be released later in 2000 for public comment. Sanctuary staff anticipate releasing the Final Plan in May 2000; it will contain the Sanctuary's recommendations to the CDFG and FGC. The Sanctuary will develop its report and recommendations through an open public process that includes the Sanctuary Advisory Council, its working groups and subcommittees, and other public and private organizations.

The issue of the appropriate level of kelp harvest is an ongoing one within the Sanctuary, particularly due to recent plans approved by the California Coastal Com-mission to develop new abalone farms in the region. The Sanctuary, including its Advisory Council, acknowledges that there are many legitimate "uses" of kelp, including harvesting, recreational uses such as kayaking and SCUBA diving, research, and inherent biological benefit to organisms.

The Sanctuary retains authority to regulate kelp harvesting, but recognizes the historical authority of California in managing that issue, and prefers to work through that authority rather than issue its own regulations.

--Aaron King
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

--John Muhilly
Sanctuary MATE Intern

A recent increase in commercial harvesting of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) off Monterey and Pacific Grove has stimulated vigorous public debate over the "appropriateness" of kelp harvesting within the newly-established Ed Ricketts Underwater Park. Conservation and recreation groups have suggested that intensive hand-harvesting of giant kelp by local aquaculture firms, particularly during the winter months when kelp surface canopy is scarce, has reduced the average abundance of the surface canopy and possibly caused increased mortality of giant kelp plants. In the interest of science-based resource management, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the cities of Monterey and Pacific Grove commissioned a study to investigate whether giant kelp surface canopy has indeed decreased over time, and if so, whether the decline can be attributed to kelp harvesting.

Researchers from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories investigated this question using aerial photographs taken since 1976 and available kelp harvest records from the California Department of Fish and Game (Figure 1). These data were analyzed with a modified Before-After-Control-Impact study design, currently one of the most statistically rigorous tests to detect environmental impacts. The abundance of kelp canopies, as measured by the surface area of floating canopy during the fall period of maximum canopy development, was compared among three harvested sites (San Carlos, Cannery Row, and Lovers Point) and an un-harvested control site (Hopkins Marine Life Refuge; HMLR) both before and after harvesting began.

There was no detectable effect of current kelp harvesting practices on kelp canopy abundance, but statistical power to detect an effect was low given the small sample size of the "high harvest" period (n = 2) and high natural variability of kelp canopies. Therefore, these results do not necessarily indicate that there was not a harvesting effect, only that such an effect was undetectable given the available data. Increasing sample size (i.e., more yearly aerial kelp canopy surveys in the future) is the only way to refine these results further.

Interestingly, we did detect a statistically significant decline in kelp canopy during the 1970s and 1980s at San Carlos, presumably due to the harvesting activities of the now-defunct Monterey Abalone Farm that operated on Cannery Row. However, this result was probably confounded by short-term harvesting effects (i.e., canopy removal immediately prior to aerial surveys), which precluded meaningful interpretation and comparison with current harvesting practices.

This review and analysis outlined a procedural groundwork for future investigation of kelp harvesting and highlighted the value of establishing and using long-term data sets of kelp canopy surveys for assessment of environmental impacts in the nearshore marine ecosystem.

--Michael D. Donnellan and Michael S. Foster
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Local High School Students Study Marine Protected Areas

In 1999 a SCUBA/marine research team of eighteen students from four area high schools (Carmel, Pacific Grove, Aptos, and MAOS at Monterey) began collecting data inside and adjacent to Point Lobos Marine Reserve—one of three designated "no-take" Marine Protected Areas (MPA) located within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The project is contributing to ongoing research to determine the effectiveness of such "no-take zones" in replenishing commercial fishing stocks while also providing a wonderful educational experience for participants.

In preparation, students became certified as open water SCUBA divers, learned about resource management within the Sanctuary, became familiar with marine research techniques, and learned to identify ninety-seven species of marine invertebrates and sixty-three fishes indigenous to the Carmel Bay area. The students completed more than 200 research dives inside the reserve and on the adjacent reef at South Monastery. Students swam "fish transects" in order to count the number and variety of twelve "target" resident fish species and recorded whether the fish were juveniles or adults. The students also completed a "site characterization" that describes the depth, substrate, algal species, temperature, currents, and visibility extant in their study sites. In addition, they used a 25 by .25 meter quadrat to count the absolute numbers of twenty species of sessile invertebrates on the rocky reef. They established a database to describe the reef within the reserve accurately and compared it to another immediately outside of the protected area. In this way they controlled the variables before determining whether these two reefs are similar enough to support the comparable populations of fishes. Statistical analysis of the transects, quadrats, and video footage allowed students to compare the results of research conducted inside and outside the reserve.

A preliminary analysis of our data indicates that there are more mature fish inside the reserve while there are more juvenile fish outside (at South Monastery). With virtually no mature fish outside the reserve these juvenile fish most likely are the product of recruitment from the adjacent MPA. The biggest question that remains to be answered is what proportion of a fishery needs to be set aside as an MPA for this to be an effective method of resource management.

--Mike Guardino
Carmel High School Teacher

Note: for additional information on research into marine protected areas, please see Ecosystem Observations 1998, Pages 7-8)

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Last modified on: March 31, 2000