Introduction to the Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary Site Characterization Project
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) embraces more than one-quarter (approximately 350 statute miles) of the California coast. Its 6,094 square statute miles (4,024 square nautical
miles) extend from Rocky Point (just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate
Bridge) to Cambria (just north of Morro Bay), and from mean high tide to
a seaward boundary an average of 35 statute miles offshore (Figure
The MBNMS is often and justifiably described by superlatives. It is the
nation's largest marine sanctuary, and by volume, the world's largest as
well (second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef in area). It spans a
coastline of striking contrasts and unmatched beauty, encompassing windswept
coastal bluffs of the north sanctuary, broad sand beaches and dunes of Monterey
Bay, and spectacular cliffs and countless creeks of the Big Sur coast. MBNMS
waters bathe a great variety of habitats, including lush kelp forests, productive
coastal lagoons, and bizarre deep sea communities in waters as deep as 3,250
Due to a combination of oceanographic and geologic attributes, the MBNMS
supports some of the most diverse and speciose biological assemblages in
the world. For many migratory species, such as
the gray whale, king salmon and brown pelican, the MBNMS is also a critical
link to other habitats which fall beyond the sanctuary's boundaries.
The impressive sum of these natural resources has attracted more than a
dozen research facilities to the area; in fact, it is now recognized as
home to one of the greatest concentrations of such institutions in the
The goal of this MBNMS site characterization is to describe
the spectacular diversity and richness within its protective boundaries,
including its physical and biological features as well as the many human
influences which continue to shape this region. Like the sanctuary itself,
multiple influences have shaped the site characterization product found
here, beginning with the project guidelines proposed in 1994 by the Sanctuaries and Reserves Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (Table 1), project scoping meetings,
interviews and written contributions from many MBNMS researchers and resource
managers (Figure 2). In total, more than 100 individuals and 30 regional institutions have directly contributed to the contents of the project (Table 2.).
The result of these many influences is a document meant to be used as a
resource for information about the current status of MBNMS natural resources.
Based on input from early meetings, our target audience is resource managers,
researchers and educational institutions, i.e. those with some science background,
though not necessarily in the subject of interest, and with access to other
resources cited in this text.
The general public is encouraged to use this document as well, though some
sections may use terminology or refer to concepts which require further
outside reading. Note that the MBNMS office is working jointly with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to publish a book about the MBNMS for the general public; A Natural History of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary should
be available at the Monterey Bay Aquarium by the end of 1996.
This site characterization should be looked at as a "living" document,
i.e. one which will be continuously modified and improved over time. In addition
to a few sections which were beyond the scope of this Phase I effort, and
will therefore be thoroughly covered in Phase II (e.g. Archaeological, Cultural
and Historical Resources), all sections and the bibliography will need continual
updates to remain current and useful to our audience. Fortunately, thanks
to the recent explosion in internet interest and use, these changes can be made relatively
easily and accessed immediately in this medium.