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Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Teachers' Curriculum
"The Land-Sea Connection"

Cover | Table of Contents | Introduction | Background | Investigation 1 | Investigation 2
Glossary | Teacher Resources | Curriculum Evaluation | Credits


NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries

"Today, marine sanctuaries are places in the sea, as elusive as a sea breeze, as tangible as a singing whale. They are beautiful, or priceless, or rare bargains, or long-term assets, or fun, or all of these and more. Above all, sanctuaries are now and with care will continue to be 'special places.' Each of us can have the pleasure of defining what that means."

--Dr. Sylvia Earle

What Are Marine Sanctuaries?

In 1972, as Americans became more aware of the intrinsic ecological and cultural value of our coastal waters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. This law authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate our most cherished marine waters as national marine sanctuaries, in order to protect and manage their priceless resources. In the years since that time, 13 national marine sanctuaries have been created. They include nearshore coral reefs and open oceans, rich banks and submarine canyons, intertidal areas, and sheltered bays. National marine sanctuaries range in size from less than a neighborhood (Fagatele Bay, American Samoa--0.6 square kilometers or 0.25 square miles) to larger than the state of Connecticut (Monterey Bay--13,800 square kilometers or 5,328 square miles).

Sanctuaries harbor a dazzling array of algae, plants, and animals. These protected waters provide a secure habitat for species close to extinction; and they protect historically significant shipwrecks and archaeological sites. They serve as natural classrooms for students of all ages and as living laboratories for scientists.

sanctuary map

Sanctuaries are cherished recreational spots for diving, wilderness hiking, and sport-fishing. They also support valuable commercial industries such as marine transportation, fishing, and kelp harvesting. The perpetual challenge of managing these areas is maintaining the critical balance between environmental protection and economic growth.

Sanctuaries For All

A sanctuary's true definition lies in the eyes of the beholder. To a scientist, a sanctuary is a natural laboratory. To a motel owner it is an attraction to visitors. To schoolchildren, a sanctuary is a special playground--a place to explore and discover. To environmental engineers charged with restoring damaged ecosystems, a sanctuary is a yardstick against which they can gauge "good health." Fishermen, however, might see the sanctuary as a threat to traditional freedoms, yet upon reflection, realize that it is the best hope for maintaining their way of life.

Trying to meet these needs leaves many unanswered questions. How large does a sanctuary need to be in order to protect the ecosystems that lie within? How much pressure can an ecosystem sustain from activities bordering its boundaries? How many fish can we take while ensuring a healthy population for the long term?

National marine sanctuaries represent our riches as a nation. They are treasures that belong to every citizen, and to every generation of citizens to come. We have the right to enjoy them and--just as importantly--the responsibility to sustain them for the long-term.

Sanctuary Management

Responsibility for the entire National Marine Sanctuary program lies within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is under the US Department of Commerce.

On a local level, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council was established by Federal law to assure continued public participation in the management of the Sanctuary. Since its establishment in March 1994, the Council has played a vital role in the decisions affecting the Sanctuary along the central California Coast. The Council's nineteen voting members represent a variety of local user groups, as well as the general public, plus seven local, state and federal governmental jurisdictions. In addition, the respective managers for the four California National Marine Sanctuaries (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary) and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve sit as non-voting members.

Dedicated Council members have laid a strong foundation for the Sanctuary's structure, policies, and procedures. Sanctuary goals to promote research, education and resource protection are a major focus for the Council, and members work diligently to promote public stewardship.

The Council has proven to be a powerful voice for the general public, responding to citizen concerns, ideas and needs. The Council provides a public forum for its constituents, working to enhance communications and provide a conduit for bringing the concerns of user groups and stakeholders to the attention of Sanctuary managers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ecosystem Monitoring In the Sanctuaries

Putting monitoring research into perspective requires understanding three important goals of the research projects:

  • Understanding what is there by systematic exploration, mapping, and species inventories--a process known as site characterization;
  • Looking at a place over time and making spatial comparisons to understand what changes are taking place, and why--a process known as monitoring;
  • Assessing the potential of new tools, like the DeepWorker underwater submersible, in research and management of marine sanctuaries.

Site Characterization

In order to understand any natural environment and make wise decisions that lead to its protection, sanctuary managers need several critical pieces of information. These include knowing what is there (the "parts" of an ecosystem such as the algae, plants, animals, water temperature, and so on), the ecosystem's condition in the past--or at least its condition now--and enough understanding of how the ecosystem works to predict future conditions given certain variables. These are all elements of what sanctuary managers call "site characterizations." Check out MBNMS's site characterization at

Site characterizations provide managers with information that helps them make effective decisions when it comes to determining human activities in protected areas; setting agendas for research, monitoring, education, outreach, and enforcement programs; and using the most appropriate methods to restore an area, should that be necessary.

Site characterizations are detailed reports that contain information on an area's biological and physical environments, cultural history, and human use patterns. They chronicle the history of discovery and use, the record of scientific investigations, the pressures being placed on natural and cultural resources, and the nature of attempts to protect the resources. Properly done, they are complete sources of current information for an area of particular interest.

When conducting site characterizations, there are a number of ways scientists document the presence and abundance of species relative to the environment's physical factors. One method is conducting vertical and horizontal transects.

Vertical transects in the sea are useful to define the ocean's layering system of physical and biological parts. Imagine dropping a line from one point in the water column down to another. Physical factors are then observed and recorded at various points along this line, or transect. Increments along the transect are usually evenly spaced, and when combined with similar transects in other locations, may reveal changes taking place due to water currents, upwelling, and other phenomena.

Horizontal transects are conducted similarly. These are most often used along the seafloor or at a particular depth. For instance, a horizontal transect at a depth of 600 meters might look for distribution

Given the constraints of time and money, these techniques provide researchers with methods to construct models of an ecosystem while only studying small portions of it. The models help us understand how an ecosystem functions. They may describe the flow of energy through a system or they may allow us to predict the effects of natural or human-caused events on an ecosystem.


Monitoring programs are designed to detect changes spatially and over time--changes in physical conditions, changes in distribution or abundance of organisms, or changes caused by human actions and natural events.

Physical factors such as temperature and salinity measured as baseline data can form the foundation of a monitoring program. So can the presence or absence of a species, or age groups of a single species or entire groups of species. Habitats can be monitored to observe changes in structure, such as physical disturbance. In a monitoring project, observations are made or samples are taken--like "snapshots" of the habitat--on a regular basis, at various intervals depending on the type of information needed. Periodic reports of data compare snapshots against each other and against the baseline data. This information helps resource managers evaluate trends (systematic changes over time) or perturbations (sudden changes). Although the causes of these changes may not be apparent as a result of monitoring, they alert managers and suggest ways of studying, in closer detail, the causes of change.

Geographic Information System (GIS) is a powerful new tool that allows resource managers to get a "visual" representation, overtime, of how resources relate to each other, and to humans. Here is a hypothetical example of how GIS can be utilized. Monitoring data tell us that over the past five years, the number of coastal recreational areas has increased. During that same period, there was a reduction in the number of active seabird nesting sites. This became apparent when looking at the same two GIS overlays in 1995 and then again in 2000. One might infer that the increased human activity is disturbing the seabirds as they nest. In an actual example, sanctuary researchers would closely assess the situation, and if needed, recommend further regulations. The first activity in this guide will also demonstrate the power of this new cutting edge tool known as GIS. For more information:

Deepwater Jelly (Photo Kevin Baskoff)
Deepwater Jelly (Photo Kevin Baskoff)

Assessing Research Tools

National Geographic and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have recently launched a deep sea exploration called "Sustainable Seas Expeditions." In addition to supporting sanctuary site characterization and monitoring needs, the five-year Sustainable Seas Expeditions project and the newly developed submersible technology offer the scientific community a chance to evaluate the use of the new one-person sub. Nuytco Research Ltd. developed the lightweight DeepWorker submersible (900 kilograms, or 2,000 pounds) to operate almost as easily as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), which are unmanned, underwater robots often used at these depths. As Nuytco founder Phil Nuytten puts it, the concept was to "take the ROV operator out of the control shack and put him in the ROV." With the potential of new discoveries beckoning and a new national commitment to assess and understand our ocean planet, the Sustainable Seas Expeditions promise new knowledge and new ways to gather knowledge over the next five years. For more information check out the SSE website: & and the National Geographic website:

Meet Deep Worker

DeepWorker 2000

Weight in air: 1,300 kilograms (1.3 tons)
Operating depth: 600 meters (2,000 feet)
Payload: 114 kilograms (250 pounds),
including pilot
Life Support: 100 hours
Speed: 3 knots
Crew: 1 pilot

Communication systems include a modified Imaginex sonar, which allows standard scanning and ultra-high resolution for short range. Ocean sounds are recorded with a directional hydrophone. Video cameras allow the pilot to record the dive. VHF and thru-water communications allow contact with surface support personnel.

An Ocean Explorer's Dream

DeepWorker 2000 is a one-person submersible about the size of a small car. This remarkable vehicle can dive to a depth of 600 meters (2,000 feet) and provide life-sustaining oxygen for its pilot for up to 100 hours (in an emergency--normal operations rarely exceed 12 hours). Without tethers or connecting lines to its support ship, DeepWorker gives its pilot amazing mobility and the gift of time--a precious commodity for humans in the underwater environment.

deepworker photo

Because DeepWorker is a directly operated vehicle--or DOV--it moves independently of its surface support ship. The sub is driven by a trained pilot who may be a scientist, a technician, an explorer, or even a journalist, teacher, or poet. The sub's simple, yet sophisticated technology means that the pilot and the passenger are combined--one person can pilot the craft and still carry out observations and scientific experiments. Eliminating the second occupant from the sub reduces its weight, complexity, and the expense of operation.

Deepworker's Tools

In addition to DeepWorker's design and life support systems, the sub also uses specialized equipment to document marine life, habitat characteristics, and to monitor physical factors such as temperature, the amount of light penetrating the sea, and water quality. Equipment for collecting this data includes:

  • cameras (video and still);
  • external lights that can be turned on and off;
  • a CTD instrument that continuously records conductivity (to determine salinity), temperature, and depth;
  • manipulator arms capable of reaching to 3.6 meters (12 feet);
  • cable cutters on the arms to cut free from entanglement;
  • suction samplers to collect sea water and animals;
  • ocean floor core samplers; and
  • sample baskets for transporting organisms.
deepworker 2000

For more information on Deepworker see:

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Reviewed: September 08, 2023
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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