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Research Technical Report

Development and Use of a Site Characterization for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

DeVogelaere, A., R. Kvitek, and J. Guerrero (1999)

Coastal Zone '99 Conference Abstracts, 27-28 July 1999, San Diego, CA. p.75-76


The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) was designated in 1992 and, at 4,601 square nautical miles, is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The purpose of the MBNMS is to promote comprehensive management and protect the marine ecosystem within its boundaries (roughly 350 miles of coast from San Francisco to Cambria in central California, and extending 35 miles offshore). Habitats within the MBNMS include coastal lagoons, coastal dunes, sandy beaches, rocky intertidal and subtidal reefs, shallow softbottom areas, open ocean, cold seeps, and the deep sea down to 3,250 meters. Immediately after designation, resource managers and scientists recognized a site characterization of the MBNMS would be needed to serve as an information base for guiding decision making processes and to develop a baseline for assessing changes in natural resources. The goal of the MBNMS Site Characterization (found on the world wide web at is to describe the spectacular diversity and abundance within MBNMS protective boundaries, including the physical and biological features, as well as the many human influences which continue to shape the region.

Development of the MBNMS Site Characterization was, and continues to be, a collaborative project. Multiple influences shaped the existing web product: initial contractor guidelines from the Sanctuaries and Reserves Division (now Marine Sanctuaries Division) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; project scoping meetings; interviews and written contributions from regional scientists and resource managers; and donations of bibliographic databases from local researchers. Largely because of its density of research institutions, the greater Monterey Bay region is a recognized leader in marine sciences This site characterization effort benefited greatly by the expertise and cooperative nature of more than 100 individuals and 30 regional institutions that directly contributed to the contents of the project. In the end, the cost to MBNMS for a substantial web-based site characterization, with a searchable 10,000 reference bibliography, was $ 124,000. This is a "living document" that continues to be expanded and updated, as would not be possible with a "hard copy" product.

It was decided during early scoping meetings that the MBNMS Site Characterization target audience would be resource managers, scientists and educators. Those people with some science background, though not necessarily in the subject of interest, and with access to other resources cited in this text. The MBNMS Site Characterization is extensively used by Sanctuary Staff to respond for requests for information and develop briefings; has been assigned text for an oceanography course at the Naval Postgraduate School; is currently a core resource for a course in the Earth System Science and Policy Department at Cal. State Monterey Bay; is used extensively as a reference for local middle and high school programs (apparently because it is more accessible than a recently completed traditional book on MBNMS natural history geared for the public); and the bibliography is the most comprehensive search system for "gray literature" in Central California. Recent counters on the MBNMS web site indicate that the site characterization is one of the most visited sections.

Since the initial characterization was completed in March 1996 there have been additions and requests for modifications. The Pelagic Zone chapter of the Biological Communities section was added; moreover, references are continually being added to the bibliography. Teachers have requested more information on the natural history of common species. Apparently, the term "site characterization" is confusing for many educators, members of the public, and staff working for elected officials. We have opted to use several descriptors, including "Encyclopedia of Sanctuary Resources" to direct people on our web site. In the future, additions to the MBNMS Site Characterization will include more comprehensive habitat maps, a link to a review of MBNMS fisheries, a section on cultural resources, and continued updates to the bibliography.

Key words: Baseline Conditions, Case Study, Ecosystem Management, Marine Sanctuaries, California

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

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