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Sanctuary Currents 2009
Back to the Future: Preserving the Sanctuary by Exploring Its Past

General Info & Program | Session Abstracts | Ricketts Lecture | MBNMS Awards | Exhibitors
Research Posters & Awards | 2009 Symposium Poster (PDF)

Session Abstracts


Saturday, April 18, 2009


Paul Michel, Superintendent, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

John Doughty, Executive Director, Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments

Moderator: Chris Harrold, Director of Conservation Research, Monterey Bay Aquarium


Shifting Baselines Along Sanctuary Shores

Dr. John Pearse, Professor Emeritus,
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz

"Shifting baselines" is a simple concept that has gained considerable currency in recent years: what we consider "normal" today is different from the past. Of course this applies to the shores of Monterey Bay as well. Before humans arrived 12-15 thousand years ago, the sea level was over 100 meters lower than today. Steller sea cows grazed on kelp, and sea otters kept abalones and sea urchins deep within cracks are crevices. The first humans probably preyed mainly on the abundant marine mammals, eliminating some and reducing others. The earliest known middens, formed some 6 to 8 thousand years ago, were full of pinniped and sea otter bones, but shifted to more and more mussel and abalone shells. When Europeans arrived, Monterey Bay teamed with whales and other marine life. After they eliminated sea otters in the 19th century, abalone and sea urchin abundance increased dramatically. Abalones, as well as squids and sardines formed major fisheries a century ago. John Steinbeck made the stink of Cannery Row famous. Now sea otters are back, and whale watching, scuba diving, and kayaking are major attractions as human populations continue to explode. Depending on when you lived here, these shores offered different experiences. This year's symposium provides insight into these changes. My own perspective focuses on Ed Ricketts' rocky shores, and I & ll present some examples of how they might have changed—or not—during the past century.

Second People Meet the First People: Early Spanish Explorers Encounter Native People

Mark Hyklema, Santa Cruz District Archaeologist,
California State Parks

Fishing the Bay

Tim Thomas, Historian/Curator,
Monterey Maritime & History Museum

For thousands of years people have made their living fishing the Monterey Bay. The first real "commercial" fishermen were the Rumsien Ohlone, the Native People of Monterey, diving and fishing the bay in small boats made of tule reeds. From abalone to rockfish, everything was fished and utilized and the Monterey Bay was a multi-cultural stew, made up of whalers from the Azores, squid fishermen from China, salmon fishermen and abalone divers from Japan, and Sicilians fishing sardines in the "dark of the moon." This talk will take a brief look at the history of the fisheries of Monterey Bay and what made it one of the biggest and best fishing ports in the world.

Review of Commercial and Recreational Fisheries in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Area, 1983 to 2007

Paul Reilly, Senior Marine Biologist,
California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Region, Monterey

During the past quarter century, significant changes in landed quantities of primary commercial finfish and invertebrate species have occurred in the Monterey Bay port area. Some of these fisheries, including small pelagic species such as sardine, mackerel, and squid, have been driven by large-scale oceanographic changes coupled with improved fishery management. Others, such as groundfish species occurring on the continental shelf, have been subject to intense fishery regulations from management agencies and from legislation, resulting in area and seasonal closures (including those from new state marine protected areas), and prohibitions or restrictions on harvest. Still others, such as salmon, have suffered recently due to low escapement of spawners to rivers feeding the San Francisco Bay estuarine complex. In addition, most commercial fisheries are under some form of restricted access. While commercial fishing effort and the number of active commercial fishermen have declined significantly during the past 25 years, many fishermen have managed to survive and are engaged in what can be considered sustainable fisheries.

Recreational boat anglers targeting rockfish and lingcod, and more recently, salmon, have also been impacted by regulatory restrictions and environmental changes. Sale of recreational sport fishing licenses for all waters in California decreased by about 40% during the past 25 years but has leveled off to a core of more than a million fishermen statewide. For those individuals in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary area and elsewhere, recreational fishing, whether by hook-and-line from boat or from shore, scuba or free-diving, or in some cases using traps, continues to provide a wide variety of satisfying experiences.

The Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Project: A Decisive Moment Between Centuries of Change

Bryan Largay, Tidal Wetland Project Director,
Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Elkhorn Slough, one of the largest coastal wetland complexes in California, provides a rich ecosystem that supports over 780 species of bird, fish, marine mammals and invertebrates. The slough has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area and hosts highest density of southern sea otters in the world The estuary provides many services, with 50,000 visitors each year coming to kayak, view wildlife and enjoy nature. The coastal wetlands reduce shoreline erosion, improve water quality and shield aquifers from seawater intrusion. This presentation will provide an overview of the Elkhorn Slough Tidal Wetland Project, including a discussion of the rapid ecologic changes occurring in the slough, their historical root causes, and our process for understanding the ecosystem and developing and implementing management actions.

150 years ago the slough shared the mouth of the Salinas River. Seasonal freshwater flows and tidal currents maintained an open mouth and moderately sized channel. In 1908 the river was diverted directly to the bay. Thousands of acres of tidelands were diked and drained for agriculture, and currents slowed. In the decades that followed, the slough began to fill with sediment and the mouth to the bay periodically closed. In 1947 construction of the harbor at Moss Landing stabilized the mouth of the slough deep and wide, and the estuary abruptly shifted from a depositional to an erosional environment. Alarming residents, conservationists and scientists, the slough has undergone rapid ecologic change ever since. The bed of the main channel has dropped from 10 to 25 feet deep, and 200 acres of salt marsh have died back. Sea level rise, accelerated by climate change, is projected to accelerate these trends, unless we do something about it.

The Tidal Wetland Project, initiated in 2004 by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, has brought together groups of scientists and local leaders as an ecosystem based management approach to understand the ecosystem and develop strategies to address these challenges. The effort includes numerous technical investigations and is considering the human dimension by engaging stakeholders, analyzing the policy implications of large-scale restoration projects and by striving to avoid adverse impacts to the local economy.

The next step is to formulate an action plan that begins to restore the processes that will sustain the ecosystem. Actions under consideration include restricting tidal exchange, increasing the supply of sediment from rivers and streams and reducing the inputs of nutrients from adjacent watersheds. The best plan will minimize risk to existing high quality habitats and will accommodate uncertainty by allowing management to adapt to new information.

Inflows from a Changing Society: Our Past, Our Present, Our Pollutants and their Impacts in the Sanctuary

Dr. John Hunt, Research Faculty,
Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory at Granite Canyon, University of California, Davis

Like us, people have been drawn to the Monterey Bay region for thousands of years, and have found a variety of ways to make a living using the area's abundant natural resources. Since the mid-1800s, many human activities have introduced materials into streams, estuaries, and the coastal ocean, often with negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. As the primary economic activities have shifted from logging and mining to agriculture and residential development, the suite of potentially harmful substances has changed, along with the types of biological effects observed. Eroded sediment and heavy metals from early forestry and mining operations caused impacts that were not systematically measured. The agricultural and commercial use of organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, from World War II to the early 1970s resulted in their continuing presence in soils, aquatic organisms, and fish-eating birds and wildlife. Over the past three decades, a substantial public investment in wastewater treatment has greatly reduced problems related to sewage and industrial effluents. However, increased residential and commercial use of pesticides and nutrients threaten streams and estuaries near urban areas, as does runoff from some types of agricultural operations. Most recently, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and similar compounds have been implicated in adverse biological impacts related to the disruption of endocrine systems in aquatic organisms.

This presentation traces three timelines related to water pollution around Monterey Bay: the changing focus of economic activity; changes in population size, land use, and development; and changes in research and monitoring activities that measure pollutant loads and their biological impacts. Many of these monitoring activities show long-term trends, while others highlight specific risks. It is clear from the available data that polluters are no longer just rogue industrialists in black hats, but also people like us whose household products find their way into the aquatic ecosystems we strive to protect.

Resource Protection Challenges for the Future

Meg Caldwell, Executive Director,
Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University

The Pacific Ocean faces myriad pressures that threaten the health of offshore and coastal ecosystems; observed declines in ecosystem health threaten ocean resources upon which people rely. Recently, over 400 scientists from around the world signed a consensus statement identifying the four primary threats to the health of the Pacific Ocean: (1) overfishing and exploitation, (2) habitat destruction, (3) pollution, and (4) climate change. This talk links the major threats facing the Pacific Ocean as a whole to observed impacts in Monterey Bay and suggests approaches to address threats. Coupling effective mitigation with promising management strategies offers hope for the future of the Sanctuary and other regions of the world's largest ocean.

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