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


Dedicated in 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the largest of twelve Sanctuaries nationwide managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Encompassing more than 5,300 square miles of water, its boundaries stretch along the central California coast from the Marin County headlands in the north to Cambria in the south. The Sanctuary contains many diverse ecosystems, including wave-swept beaches, lush kelp forests, and one of the deepest underwater canyons in North America. These habitats abound with life, from tiny plankton to huge blue whales.

Our mission is to understand and protect the coastal ecosystem and cultural resources of central California. Four major program divisions work to carry out this mission: resource protection, education, research, and program support. Following is a summary of the major accomplishments and activities within each division for 1999.


Resource Protection

The primary goal of the Resource Protection Program is to implement strategies to reduce detrimental human impact to the Sanctuary. For the past several years the Sanctuary and the U.S. Coast Guard have led a collaborative effort with government agencies, environmental groups, and the shipping industry to identify ways to reduce the threat of catastrophic spills of oil or other hazardous materials from commercial vessel traffic. This work took a significant step forward in 1999 as the vessel routing recommendations made by this group received national and international approval. Shifts in the traffic separation schemes, or lanes, that guide large vessels into San Francisco and through the Santa Barbara Channel were finalized and approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition, the Navigation Subcommittee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) voted in London to support the Sanctuary's vessel routing proposal. The IMO approved the recommendation that container ships and bulk product carriers travel further offshore in north-south tracks between thirteen and twenty nautical miles offshore of Big Sur and the San Mateo coastline. Additionally, the IMO expanded the Sanctuary's recommendation by requiring that ships carrying hazardous materials in bulk travel in north-south tracks between twenty-five and thirty nautical miles from shore. We look forward to final approval of the recommendations by IMO in May and implementation in late 2000.

Another goal was realized this year when the public and private groups that are members of the Sanctuary's Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) finalized the Agriculture and Rural Lands plan. The plan, a collaborative effort with the region's Farm Bureaus, focuses on reducing polluted runoff into coastal watersheds and the ocean. The local Farm Bureaus will organize and educate their members on water quality issues and voluntary conservation practices, building on the positive practices already underway in the industry.

The plan also recommends improvements in technical assistance and education, regulatory coordination and permit streamlining for conservation measures, and improved economic incentives. Agricultural groups and WQPP members began to implement several portions of the plan, including establishment of pilot projects in the Salinas, Pajaro, and Pescadero watersheds, and development of a multi-agency system for streamlining the permitting of erosion control conservation measures in the Salinas watershed. Several new grants have been approved that will help initiate the work.

The Sanctuary's WQPP also continued implementing strategies in its urban runoff, marinas and boating, and regional monitoring plans. We expanded public outreach efforts aimed at reducing polluted runoff (see Education section, below). To reduce discharge of oil to local harbors, we helped install bilge water pumpout facilities for boaters and collaborated with Save Our Shores to develop educational materials on harbor water quality issues. Finally, we worked with the Coastal Watershed Council and the Center for Marine Conservation to develop a Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network to provide standardized training and monitoring protocols and improve agency use of monitoring data. Approximately twenty volunteer groups assess water quality in the Sanctuary's watersheds and along the coastline as part of the network.

Resource protection staff processed forty-five permit actions this year for a variety of activities such as coastal seawall construction, low-altitude overflights, installation of submarine equipment and instruments, marine outfall repair, and military amphibious landing exercises. For each activity, distinct conditions were imposed in order to reduce or eliminate potential threats to Sanctuary resources. We also began environmental review for the proposed installation of two communication cables on the Sanctuary seafloor.

As in past years, the Sanctuary performed joint enforcement patrols and investigated regulatory violations with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). A new State Parks ranger was assigned to Lime Kiln State Park on the Big Sur coast to serve as a Sanctuary enforcement officer, facilitating immediate enforcement responses in that remote coastal area.

The Sanctuary, along with fifteen other agencies and organizations, planned and participated in an oil spill drill in September. The scenario represented a 38,000 gallon refined oil spill caused by a train wreck in Elkhorn Slough, and the drill resulted in improved preparedness for a future hazardous spill.


The goal of the Education and Outreach Program is to promote understanding and stewardship of the Sanctuary. In 1999 a new education specialist, based out of our Santa Cruz office, joined our team to help expand educational efforts in the northern regions of the Sanctuary; she works in free office space on the wharf provided by the city of Santa Cruz. With this new position, we have already strengthened outreach efforts to ecotourism businesses and collaborations with marine educational organizations in the Santa Cruz region.

Area students have created artwork like this in celebration of the Sanctuary. (Kip Evans © MBNMS)

We continued educational activities associated with the Model Urban Runoff Program in the cities of Monterey and Santa Cruz, and expanded this program to the city of Watsonville. A variety of new educational materials were developed for the public and businesses with simple messages about protecting water quality. We also began production of a public service announcement on storm drain pollution.

Working with the city of Watsonville, we began developing outreach products in both English and Spanish. Radio ads, bus advertise-ments, and a door to door campaign will bring water conservation messages and storm drain pollution prevention information to Watsonville residents.

The Urban Watch Monitoring Program expanded to include the city of Pacific Grove in addition to Monterey. Data from volunteers who monitored storm drains in 1998 led to a targeted outreach effort to restaurants in 1999. Based on survey results with restaurant managers, we began production of a training video to help educate kitchen staff about cleaning practices that can prevent storm drain pollution.

Working with partners including the Coastal Watershed Council, Resource Conser-vation District, and Save Our Shores, NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service contracted the Sanctuary to initiate educational efforts on protecting critical salmon and steelhead habitat in San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties. The funding will be used to enhance the Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring network, hold a symposium on salmon conservation, conduct technical training workshops on sediment control, and develop educational materials including a "Salmonids of the Sanctuary" poster.

A variety of educational activities highlighted the Sustainable Seas Expeditions (SSE) in April. Carmel High School teacher Mike Guardino was selected to pilot and conduct a research project using the Deep Worker submersible. Thanks to Mike's enthusiasm, more than eighteen students from four different schools participated by collecting data, on SCUBA dives, to compare bottom topography and organisms within and outside of a no-take zone at Point Lobos Reserve. Mike also designed curriculum for the national program that can be found on the SSE web site and made numerous public presentations about his involvement with the expeditions. In addition, staff organized a student summit in which forty-five students from seven different high schools gathered with local scientists and Dr. Sylvia Earle to discuss no-take marine reserves and other ocean conservation issues. The students also presented the results of their team-based Sanctuary research investigations.

Sanctuary Awards


Presented at the 1999 Sanctuary Currents Symposium:

Public Official: Assemblyman Fred Keeley

Citizen: Mr. Chet Forrest

Conservation: Commander Chip Sharpe, U.S. Coast Guard

Education: Mr. Steve Clark

Science/Research: Dr. H. Gary Greene

Business: Robert Lyn Nelson Studios

Organization/Institution: The U.S.Coast Guard

Special Recognition: Ms. Margaret Owings (posthumously)


Mr. Brian Baird, California Resources Agency

Ms. Rachel Saunders, S.E.A. Lab Monterey Bay

The sixth annual Great American Fish Count attracted more than 150 fish counters who attended seminars in Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Seaside, Monterey, and Pacific Grove. Divers logged more than eighty hours of bottom time counting seventy different species of fish at twenty-seven different locations throughout the Sanctuary. Señorita wrasses were observed most frequently, seen on 84 percent of dives, followed closely by blue rockfish, sighted on 80 percent of dives. Other most frequently-sighted species were pile perch, kelp rockfish, painted greenling, and black-eyed goby. Of the 112 surveys collected, more than twenty were submitted by the Sanctuary's own "Teacher-in-the-Sea," Mike Guardino! And in collaboration with local marine biologist Dan Gotshall, we produced a new fish photo identification card to assist divers during fish count dives. The two-sided card shows fishes most commonly found in the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries.

Working with local divers, the Sanctuary launched the new Diver Partnership Program. The program's goal is to encourage the exchange of information and collaborative projects between local dive businesses, clubs, training institutions, and the Sanctuary. Some of the projects begun in 1999 include a new brochure for divers and construction of a portable trailer to provide information at popular dive sites.

"Climate Change and the Sanctuary" was the theme of the 1999 Sanctuary Currents Symposium, held in March in Seaside. Speakers discussed the effects of El Niño on weather patterns and storm tracks over the Pacific, squid fishing, marine mammal strandings, kelp forests, and the pelagic ecosystem, as well as recent advances in seafloor mapping and understanding shelf circulation. Participants also honored individuals and organizations for their dedication to the Sanctuary.

In November twenty-four adventurous high school teachers participated in our first-ever "Teachers in the Sanctuary" program. During two full days of hands-on activities, teachers learned monitoring and surveying techniques, including how to prepare students for in-depth field studies, at the Carmel River mouth. The teachers also went kayaking at Elkhorn Slough and visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey Plaza Hotel and the Inns of Monterey Bay graciously donated lodging, as many of the teachers were from out of the area.

Finally, we produced a new Sanctuary map in cooperation with the Sanctuary Foundation and with financial support from Duke Energy. The new map displays the bathymetry and topography of the Sanctuary region, including the ocean floor and adjacent land forms. It was distributed free to almost 1,000 teachers and schools.


The Research Program focuses on science for resource management purposes: identifying information gaps, developing collaborative studies to improve understanding of issues, and interpreting research to decision-makers. In 1999 several important personnel changes aided the Research Program. The Research Coordinator position changed from contract to federal employee status and a Research Fellow, funded by MBARI, joined staff to facilitate the development of a Sanctuary ecosystem monitoring plan.

Our main focus this year was to begin developing an ecosystem monitoring plan to understand how the Sanctuary's natural resources are changing with time. In 1999 we compiled all past and current monitoring efforts for each of the Sanctuary's major ecosystems. Some of this information is presented in the technical reports section of the Sanctuary web site and was reviewed at an international marine mammal conference in November. Next year we will complete an assessment of critical information needs and produce a comprehensive Sanctuary ecosystem monitoring plan. In the meantime, the Sanctuary continued its efforts at collecting monitoring data on: beachcast organisms; pelagic surveys for birds, krill, whales, and other mammals; kelp forest canopies using aerial photography; rocky shore habitats; and the non-native green crab. When negative population trends are detected, the education staff will interpret information to the public, and the resource protection team will devise best management practices to try to reverse the trend.

The Sanctuary Site Characterization continues to be an important tool in summarizing information on Sanctuary habitats and species associations. It is one of the most visited sections of our web site and was featured at the 1999 national Coastal Zone conference. We began to improve this characterization with habitat maps, now possible with equipment donated as a result of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. NOAA's national office and private industry have committed to developing a pilot program in central California to demonstrate advanced computer applications for habitat characterizations.

Research staff participated in research cruises on MBARI's Western Flyer, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories' John Martin, Channel Islands Sanctuary's Ballena, and NOAA's McArthur. These collaborative efforts included testing a newly-developed remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) while studying deep water algae; assessing krill and squid populations; removing the ATOC sound source; assessing the impacts of CO2 disposal in the deep sea and Point Lobos; and using the Deep Worker submersible for the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. While we trained scientists to be pilots in this one-person submersible, the public was engaged in ocean exploration through web sites, student summits, and media outreach. Next year we look forward to focusing on a few specific science projects.

Scientists deploying research equipment off the McArthur. (®MBNMS)

Politicians, educators, scientists, resource managers, the news media, and the general public are increasingly turning to our Research Program for technical information—we responded to more than 1,200 requests this year. Some requests are as minor as identifying local experts on specific topics or providing natural history information to wildlife authors; we have also given public seminars and written numerous comment and support letters. Perhaps our most complex request this year was to summarize the marine zones within the Sanctuary boundary (see the technical report section of our web site). Whatever the requests, it is clear that the Sanctuary is an interesting place to many people throughout the world. This year, Britain's Channel 4 television completed filming a series on science in Monterey Bay.

We have been asked to provide support on several harvest issues this year. With other institutions, we organized a workshop addressing issues surrounding pinniped-salmon fishing interactions and provided information for salmon habitat enhancement. Our kelp plan is also underway to complement the Department of Fish and Game management regime in California. Working with NMFS, we've detected significant bird bycatch in the set gillnet fishery. Moreover, comparing necropsies of birds drowned in these nets with those found on the beaches, we have begun a general assessment on the relative importance of red tides, parasites, and pollution in Sanctuary ecosystem health.

Perhaps most of the credit for the Sanctuary Research Program belongs to the extremely cooperative and supportive regional research community. For example, our Research Activities Panel (RAP) is made up of representatives from twenty research institutions, and they met eight times this year to advise the Sanctuary on research issues and develop collaborative projects. In 1999 the RAP addressed issues such as the Sanctuary National Research Plan, potential human impacts to Pt. Pinos rocky shores, presenting science to the public with the Sanctuary Currents Symposium, advising on the relatively new live fish fishery, ecosystem monitoring, information transfer methods, and large collaborative grant proposals.

Program Support

Our Program Support team continued to provide the necessary administrative and operational support to allow us to stay focused on our mission and goals. We replaced two valuable Sanctuary staff by welcoming a new Assistant Manager and Administrative Assistant to our team.

We operated our patrol vessel, SharkCat, and our amphibious aircraft that we shared with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary throughout the year. In addition to monitoring permitted activities and the U.S. Marine Corps' Urban Warrior exercise, the SharkCat supported the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, the CDFG's Squid Fishery Project, and the Great American Fish Count.

At the Shark Festival and Sanctuary Birthday Celebration in September, our new Santa Cruz wharf office was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception co-hosted by the Santa Cruz County Sanctuary Inter-Agency Task Force.

Sanctuary staff hosted international delegations interested in marine reserves from Chile, China, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines, as well as national government staff members from the Secretary of Commerce policy department.

The Sanctuary Advisory Council continued to work with staff to establish short-term and long-term priorities for the Sanctuary, provide a forum for presenting public issues and concerns, and provide information and advice to the Superintendent as requested. At its annual strategic planning session, the Council selected the following priorities to focus its work: increasing funding for the Sanctuary, including working more closely with the Sanctuary Foundation; proposed fiberoptic cables; kelp harvesting issues; and outreach to the business and tourism industry.

Council issues of interest and concern in 1999, in addition to its priorities, included the southern sea otter translocation program,

Marine Life Management Act, Urban Warrior Exercises in Monterey, fisheries issues related to the Sanctuary Program, proposed Cannery Row Marketplace, reauthorization of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and tidepool management. As in the past, the Council worked closely with its three working groups—the Conservation Working Group, Research Activities Panel, and Sanctuary Education Panel—and the Business and Tourism Activity Panel on these issues.

The California Marine Sanctuary Foundation welcomed a new director. The business arm of the Foundation has been very productive over the past year, with marketing and distribution of numerous educational products, anonymous donor support for the Sanctuary's joint enforcement program, and several small grants from NOAA to increase the program's efficiency.

In cooperation with the Sanctuary, the Foundation sponsored several fundraising efforts that involved Robert Lyn Nelson Studios and Duke Energy.

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Last modified on: March 31, 2000