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Harvey and Nevins 2005

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Beach COMBERS: Coastal Ocean Mammal and Bird Education & Research Surveys in Central California 1997-2004

Harvey, J.T., and H.M. Nevins (March 2005)

Report prepared for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network, 3 March 2005, 30pp.


Long-term monitoring programs are needed to establish baseline information and demonstrate effects resulting from catastrophic events (e.g., Exxon Valdez Oil Spill). Long-term monitoring programs also provide consistent data that may resolve subtle changes in environmental quality, which may not be apparent with short-term sampling. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is a large body of water, and monitoring all aspects of the sanctuary is nearly impossible. We proposed, therefore, that surveying beachcast marine birds and mammals can provide an index of ecosystem health. Marine birds and mammals are conspicuous and large predators thus are easily counted, and they are top predators, therefore, their health can be used as an indicator of the quality and quantity of prey resources (e.g. krill, fishes, and squid). Using top predators as indicators also is convenient because the public values these animals and understands the need to study, protect, and conserve them and the habitats they require.

In 1997, we initiated a beach survey program called Beach COMBERS (Coastal Ocean Mammal and Bird Education and Research Surveys) using trained volunteers to survey beachcast marine birds and mammals monthly at selected sections of beaches throughout the Monterey Bay area. The program is a collaborative project between Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) and MBNMS with the specific goal of using deposition of beachcast carcasses as an index of the health of the MBNMS. We currently have 83 volunteers that survey 70 km of beaches in the MBNMS. This program has been greatly successful providing data for a number of scientific papers, contributing to the conservation of sanctuary resources, identifying and quantifying oiled wildlife, and a great many more accomplishments.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
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