Skip to main content
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Marine Sanctuaries Home Page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Home Page

Symposium Talks:

Symposium Talks
An Overview: Roles for the Site Characterization and You in Managing Resources of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary


Andrew De Vogelaere
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary


It was two years ago in this very room that a not-so-old sage said, "the mind is an amazing thing, it starts working before you're born and it doesn't stop until you're standing in front of a large group of people." That may be true, but I found that my mind stops at other times as well, and one of those times was when Jo Guerrero and Rikk Kvitek sat down in front of me and said, "Andrew, we want you to synthesize the Site Characterization document at this symposium we're giving, and on top of that, you can synthesize what the earlier speakers are going to be saying. There's going to be a really diverse audience, and you can do it in fifteen minutes." That's when my mind stopped, and it didn't turn back on until I found out that I had said "Yes." It took me quite a while to figure out how to accomplish my task, and I decided this would be a good opportunity to put the community profile into a broad perspective.

What I'm going to try to do today is to give you a little bit of a feel for what is in the Site Characterization document, what you might find, and what I learned as I read through it, with just a few examples. I'm going to try to give some feel for how the Site Characterization fits into the Monterey Sanctuary resource management program, and finally I'm going to try to give some perspective as to what the Site Characterization means to you. I'm assuming that you're either a scientist, an educator, somebody who cares about protecting the environment, or maybe one of our many callers who learned about the symposium from a recent article in Sunset Magazine.

icon Let us start off with an overview slide. [Figure 1] Once again, I'm going to give a few examples of the kinds of information you can expect to find in the Site Characterization, give a perspective on the level of understanding we have about different habitats, we know a lot more about some than others. I'm going to try and draw on a few themes from earlier today to discuss links between the different sanctuary habitats, and links between the different resource management components. Finally, I will propose how information in the Site Characterization can be used in education, conservation and research, or simply for pleasure. Let's see where you fit in today.

icon If you start leafing through the Site Characterization you'll see that in the marine mammal section there's this curious animal that I thought many of you might be interested in hearing a little bit about. It's the elephant seal. What kinds of things do we know about the elephant seal that you could read about in the Site Characterization? Here you can see a male raising his head. [Figure 2] Since we started protecting marine mammals, the population of elephant seals has been exploding. Historically, there were less than 100 elephant seals in the United States, and now we have a lot more: 73,000. So, the populations are expanding, and that is particularly relevant to some of you who may have driven up here from the southern part of our Sanctuary. icon There is a new colony, that has arrived in the last five years or so, around Point Piedras Blancas. The top counts are about 4,000 individuals in that area. These elephant seal populations are expanding, and it's an opportunity for many of us to view them, and also opportunities for interaction in terms of resource management. Here's another seal who's a little bit dejected, I think. [Figure 3] You can see that somebody has glued a transmitter to the top of his head. What these transmitters are telling us about the elephant seals is that when they are not on our shorelines in the wintertime, they are out swimming in the Pacific, and the males will go as far north as the western tip of the Aleutian Islands. They are traveling tremendous distances. Depth recorders have been attached to other elephant seals, and they can dive down to almost 5,000 feet. They even sleep under water. These are interesting creatures, and there are a lot of other fascinating facts for you to read about in the Site Characterization. The transmitters fall off when the elephant seals molt, so you don't have to worry about a permanent inconvenience to these "volunteers."

icon Another interesting fact about our Sanctuary is that it supports some of the highest densities of seabirds in the world, and many of the birds are winter visitors. [Figure 4] They come from as far away as New Zealand, and the Arctic areas, and they come around the Monterey Bay because of the abundance of food. Here we have one bird, the snowy plover. [Figure 5] It does breed here on our sandy shores, so you might want to keep an eye out for them when you are walking your dog or involved with some other beach recreation.

icon What I'd like to show you now is a system that drives why some of the tremendous bird densities might be in central California, and it was talked about in one of the earlier presentations.[Figure 6] You can see yet another map of the Monterey Bay, and the Sanctuary includes these regions north to San Francisco and south to Cambria. This is a satellite image of sea surface temperatures in the ocean. icon Temperature ranges are indicated in the adjacent legend. If it's purple, it's cold, if it's yellowish, it's warmer, and these range from about 47º to 57ºF. What you can see here is that we have regions along our shoreline where colder water is apparent, and what's happening is that when wind blows from north to south, as our first speaker Mike Weber talked about, there's something called Ekman transport, icon which pushes the surface water offshore, which is then replaced by cold, upwelled water from down below. This water is obviously colder, as you can see from the figures, and it also has a lot more nutrients. The nitrogen in the water can be ten times higher in these cold areas than in the warmer areas, and that's good for the plankton, which is good for the zooplankton, which then attracts some of our birds. What I thought was especially interesting about the upwelled water, though, is that it might not have seen the light of day in over a thousand or two thousand years. It's been underwater and very deep, and it may have originated all the way from the north Atlantic. If you go to the poster session and find an oceanographer, they will explain to you these deep-sea current patterns. But this is, I think, very interesting information for all of us to know, for educators to excite students, and to help us manage resources and to see how we are connected, even across the oceans.

icon[Figure 7] This is another overhead of upwelling, in the same month, but it's in a period where there was less upwelling. You can see that here, at Año Nuevo, there isn't the upwelling that was seen before. Down here at Point Sur there is still some cold water coming up to the surface. So, there is a seasonality to upwelling.

Now, as you read through the Site Characterization, you'll get the feeling that we know a lot of information. Especially when you read about some habitats like the rocky intertidal, there is very detailed information. [Figure 8] We know things about the rocky shore such as the behavior of this small limpet here, it's actually called a giant owl limpet, but there it is, it iconmaintains patches on the rocky shoreline by bulldozing any creature that lands in its territory.It pushes barnacles and mussels right off the rocks, and then it farms this area for microalgae that it eats. Not only do we know a bit about its behavior, we know the chemistry of mucous tracks that it leaves behind. The mucous works as a fertilizer for the algae that it's farming. This is the kind of information that is effective at inspiring young students, and I thought it would also be of interest to our local ag community.

icon We were going to have a talk about biodiversity this morning, and we know a lot about the biodiversity of rocky shores. In a mussel bed like this, if you start picking it apart, you can find up to 300 different taxa, groups of species, living in just a small area. [Figure 9]Even if you simply look, organisms that my colleague Aaron King says "are singularly uninteresting, unless you slip and fall on them," you will find that they are very important. [Figure 10] Like this alga, Fucus, can tell us something about what's happening in the rest of the world. There is a Canadian scientist who collected Fucus from our shoreline and was able to detect the fallout from the Chernobyl, Russia nuclear disaster by measuring concentrations of iodine-131. He was able to detect a global scale effect with algae!

icon So, we know a lot about certain habitats, but there are also habitats that we know less about. Not only do we know less about them, we have fewer good slides of those habitats. [Figure 11] I could not find a good slide of a sea pen. They grow in the 40-200 meter depth zone. This is a habitat we know very little about. If you look in our Site Characterization, you'll see that there are about half a dozen publications on this huge area of the coast, and these publications aren't even published in scientific journals, they are what we call gray literature that are hard-to-find reports that few people have read. So, we have about half a dozen references versus in the short intertidal chapter where there are 133 references, and many of them are summary documents that have hundreds more references within them. There's a big disparity in what we know about the different habitats.

icon Some of the habitats that we do know a lot about, like the kelp forest, we don't know about all their components. [Figure 12] When you're out there diving or kayaking, you see these kelp canopies, and we know a lot about them. We know they're seasonal, they come and go with winter storms, they attract sea otters, there are a lot of fish associated with them, and there are even observations that gray whales will hide in kelp forests to avoid attacks from killer whales. So we know a lot about the big kelps, but we know less about the small stages of their life cycle. [Figure 13] icon Here you see a large kelp plant, it can be 100 feet long. It's called a sporophyte, and when the sporophyte releases its spores they grow into microscopic stages at the bottom of the ocean. They become separate male and female plants. The males release sperm that go through the water and fertilize the eggs, and then the sporophyte grows right on top of the female and becomes a large plant again. It's only within the last few years that we're starting to learn something about the microscopic stage of this cycle, and it can be very important in understanding how we might manage this resource and what determines where and how many of these plants exist.

icon We're also finding that these gametophytes can be very useful in what are called bioassays. When someone tells you that there are so many parts per million of something in the water, and you want to know if that's good or bad, you don't know much unless you perform a bioassay. [Figure 14] The Granite Canyon pollution lab has been using these kelp gametophytes, growing them in water samples. By the development patterns of cells, and noting if the plant is growing crooked or not growing at all, they can determine if the water contains something of concern in terms of biology. By learning more about poorly understood systems we can develop links to other previously unrelated questions.

Historically, scientists, and I think all of us, like to focus on one habitat and one subject, and try to know a lot about it. It's only in literature from the last decade and a half that I've seen increasing discussion on linking across different systems. We have different habitat chapters in the Site Characterization, but you can read about barnacles in several of them. [Figure 15] icon Balanus is a very common barnacle on our shore, and for years and years, everyone was describing the number and density of these barnacles as based on predation, competition, and maybe how often people trample into study sites. It's only in the last ten years that we have realized that distribution patterns are affected by regional and local upwelling. These barnacles have a larval stage that's not on the shore, it's out to sea, and when there is a strong upwelling, the larvae are washed out to sea, and not able to swim back to the shoreline and settle. If you think back to our kelp forest, it also turns out that they work as barnacle nets. Within the kelp beds there are many fish, and as the barnacle larvae are passing through the kelp, they are being eaten by these fish. So, what's happening on the shoreline is linked with processes offshore, and we have to keep this in mind for resource management decisions.

icon We've heard about links between different marine systems, let's move inland. [Figure 16] Here we have an upland area that's being farmed for strawberries. Methyl bromide is injected underneath this layer of plastic, and we have a wetland down below in the Elkhorn Slough. Earlier today, Bob Curry taught us about links between uplands and estuaries, and the potential benefits of vegetative buffers between them. There are also links between terrestrial organisms and marine species. [Figure 17] icon I'm using this slide of a nest and eggs because I'm hoping somebody in the audience could identify what species it belongs to. I found it in a pickleweed marsh at Elkhorn Slough. One of the links we have to think about is what's happening with some of the species that we've introduced to California. The red fox was brought in historically, as something that's fun to hunt, and their populations are ever growing. They've done so well that now they are wiping out some of our ground-nesting birds. We've seen that in some of our local marshes. Birds, such as the clapper rail, are disappearing because the foxes gobble up their eggs and chicks.

What I hope you have a feel for now is that there are a lot of links between habitats, and that we know a lot about some of them. But if we're pressed for answering specific questions and predicting what's going to happen to, for example, a fisherman's fishery if the elephant seal populations continue to expand, or what's really going to happen if we have global warming, we're really left with best guesses, because we don't have a long time-series of information, and there is still a lot we don't know. So, hopefully we realize that we've learned a lot, and that there are a lot of links between the different habitats and scientific subject matters. There is a tremendous amount of information that's available for the public, scientists, educators, and resource managers to use. However, we still have much to learn and have to keep doing research and teaching to be good stewards of the place we live.

icon That's a brief synopsis of what you can expect to find in the Site Characterization. Now I want to talk about resource management, and how the Site Characterization fits into that. [Figure 18] The Site Characterization is a portion of the Sanctuary Research Program. When the sanctuary started up, one of the first goals of the Research Activities Panel, the RAP, the Rappers, was to come up with a scientific research plan, and here it is. What they did was they worked with the sanctuary staff, other researchers, the SRD, which is the sanctuaries and reserves headquarters, and other resource managers to give input into our scientific plan. You know, what should our plan be? The plan was to first come up with a Site Characterization. Let's find out what we know about the area, what are the important things we should be monitoring, what are some of the key questions, what are the gaps in information, and basically get a good synthesis of existing information, and that's what the Site Characterization is.

Falling out of the Site Characterization, and from experience that these people lended, we came up with a list of research priorities, things that are important to know. What should we be spending our few dollars looking at? That reminds me of the recent Sunset Magazine article on Monterey Bay. I just love the line that says, "...the sanctuary's budget is as tiny and tight as a barnacle." And if it's that tiny and tight, we have to know where to focus our research dollars. But, once we know what these priorities are, we can set up monitoring programs to try to detect changes in key resources. And if we do detect a change, we can set up experiments to try to find out what's causing these changes. If we really understand what's going on with our experiments we can then develop models to help us predict what's going to happen in the future, and then we use all of this to make resource management decisions. Then, there's a feedback loop. If we need more information, the resource managers can help us decide which one of these components researchers need to focus on. This is a very organized way of managing a sanctuary, and I think it's a good and thoughtful way of doing things. We also have to react to things that crop up that we didn't think of originally, and the Site Characterization and research priorities are going to be continually updated.

icon So, that's an overview of the process. But what I really would have liked to have done was give you concrete examples of completed projects, walk you through that list of steps, and say, "Here's how we solved the problem of tidal erosion in Elkhorn Slough", or with the Fort Ord exclusion zone, where we're trying to clean up anything that might be in the bay from when there was artillery practice, "This is how we went through the process and solved the management problem." However, this slide reminds me that we're working on long time scales.[Figure 19] This alga is called Petrocelis. It can live over 90 years, and the sanctuary is only 3 years old. It takes about three years to complete a master's thesis project. It takes 20 years to even start some highway projects. And it's only within the last decade or so that the Ecological Society of America, which is really the society that has the most professionals that could predict what would happen as humans interact with the environment, set up a special journal called Ecological Applications. So, we're still very young in this process, and although we've done a lot, we still have a long way to go and a lot of opportunity in terms of solving resource management problems. So, the bad news is you can't expect any miracles, and I can't give you a whole list of how we've gone through this process today.

icon The good news is that there's a lot of opportunity to solve problems. We're young, and so we have a lot of opportunity, and you have a lot of opportunity, to get involved and tackle problems that you are interested in, and even tackle problems with the Sanctuary program. If you think that there is a Sanctuary or resource management problem, there are avenues for you to get involved, and say, "You know, there's a problem here," and that's what I'd like to show with one of my ending slides. [Figure 20] Where do you fit in? I put the SAC in the middle. The first person that looked at this thought, well, this group should be in the middle, or this group should be in the middle, and it all depends on what your perspective is. I put the SAC in the middle because that's the most direct route for public input, and they are your local representatives. SAC members represent different kinds of interest groups. Whether you're interested in fishing, diving, agriculture, tourism, education, or something else, you all have a representative on the Council. Also, I figured, SAC members are the political types. They'd be more upset than anybody else if they weren't in the middle.

Here's how you can get involved. If you are interested in conservation issues, you want to protect the environment, you might want to tell people about your concerns, and you can join local volunteer groups. We have a BayNet program that's sponsored by the Center for Marine Conservation, there's also the Sanctuary Stewards, through Save Our Shores. You can talk with your representatives that are in these working groups, the Conservation Working Group, to talk about your interests and how you might get involved, and how they might help you set up projects.

We have the Research Activities Panel, which has had input into the Sanctuary program by helping develop this research plan. They are also very upset with some sanctuary regulations and permitting processes. If a scientist wants to take a coffe can-sized core of sand from the beach, they currently have to get a signature from Washington, D.C. to say that's OK to do. The Research Activities Panel gets upset about delays, and the sanctuary staff is also upset about inefficient use of their time for insignificant issues. So scientists and staff raised concerns through the Sanctuary Advisory Council to headquarters, and headquarters has listened to local concerns and are now modifying, nationally, how we're going to deal with permits. So, you have many opportunities to make things better.

The Sanctuary Education Panel, for all you educators, they're involved with outreach programs like what we have here today, and what you can see in the concurrent sessions this afternoon.

Interested parties? An example might be we have a lot of windsurfers in the southern section of our Sanctuary, and all of a sudden where they want to windsurf there's a bunch of elephant seals at Point Piedras Blancas. They can't get through the seals, or they are afraid they are going to be denied access for harassing marine mammals. So they came to the Sanctuary Advisory Council and now the Sanctuary Advisory Council is working with them, the Coastal Commission and CalTrans, to try to set up an overall management plan for dealing with this possible conflict.

If you're not within any of these groups, and if you just have some beef, you're welcome to come to the monthly Sanctuary Advisory Council meetings. The only trick is that if you are all alone you're not going to get anywhere, but if your comments make sense, then people and the program will work with you. And then, of course, the staff, which could be put at the center of the figure, is working with all of these groups, and the sanctuary headquarters.

What did I want to leave you with today? The feeling that there's interesting information to use in many ways from the Site Characterization, and that there is a lot of opportunity for you to get involved. If you have the interest and the enthusiasm, you'll be welcome to participate in this process, and you'll have a great likelihood of creating change. However, I want to make note that however well-equipped and enthusiastic you are as a group, you're never going to be able to deal with the flood of issues without working together with other groups. So, we all need to work together, the scientists, conservation people, educators, resource managers, council members, and general public.

URL: http://montereybay.noaa.gov/sitechar/sympvoge.html    Reviewed: March 05, 2014
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

Privacy Statement | Site Disclaimer | User Survey
National Marine Sanctuaries | National Ocean Service | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | USA.gov