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Innovative Historical Ecology Trend Analysis and Interpretation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Choy, S.J. (March 2011)

A Report to the Marine Conservation Biology Institute; A Product of the Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant in Marine Environmental History and Historical Marine Ecology, 18pp.


Historical information is vital for resource managers and scientists trying to understand how the past has affected the present, and how our actions today may affect the future. However, historical data is not always readily available or organized in such a way that is useful for those trying to benefit from it; therefore, we initiated the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Historical Ecology Project (Project). There is a wealth of useful historical ecological data pertaining to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Sanctuary or MBNMS), with topics ranging from coastal water quality to demersal fisheries. Given that the theme of the 2009 Sanctuary Currents Symposium ( was the natural history of the Sanctuary, and recent efforts by Sea Grant Fellows working at the MBNMS resulted in a large database of historical documents, this is an opportune time to more closely examine these data and create a product that can be useful for resource managers, scientists and other interested persons alike.

The Project consisted of two phases. In Phase 1, Selbie (2008) searched Internet and library archives for documents pertaining to the natural history of the Sanctuary. The search resulted in over 300 records that were then entered into the Marine Historical Database (Database), which can be queried with a variety of search tools. Phase 2 of the Project, detailed in this report, provides an example of how historical documents from the Database can be used to analyze ecological trends following methods outlined in Palomares et al. (2005) and Pandolfi et al. (2003). More specifically, anecdotes from which biodiversity and the relative abundance of certain species found in the Sanctuary could be inferred were collected an analyzed. Additionally, the information collected for the analysis portion of Phase 2 was entered into an internet-based interactive timeline (

The analysis portion of Phase 2 of the Project revealed a general decrease in the perceived abundance of selected marine fauna when compared to the historical record. While data points were limited once the information was filtered, the timing of these declines in perceived abundance appear to match well-documented trends in the Sanctuary's ecological past. The timeline is populated with over 100 clickable buttons which display anecdotes, historical facts, background information that links the people of Monterey Bay with their environment, and in most cases, a photograph.

While the types of analyses performed were not novel, the interpretation of the data using those methods is unique for the Sanctuary. Furthermore, the data analysis portion provided a more tangible link between anthropogenic history, attitudes, perceptions, and the marine environment. The marine historical timeline displays this complex relationship in a way that can be easily accessed and viewed. Everyone, from those interested in learning more about the Sanctuary to scientists and resource managers planning for the future of the MBNMS, can use these data and the timeline to better understand the complexities of human impacts on marine ecosystems and the impacts that marine ecosystems have on humans.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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