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Human Influences: Resource Needs

Resources Needs
Section III. Resource needs summarized from MBNMS expert interviews

Regional experts interviewed during 1995 (see contributors listed in Introduction) were asked a number of questions about their own work as well as broader, research-related topics, including:

  • What are the most important data gaps for the region?
  • What issues of global importance can be addressed within the MBNMS?
  • How can the MBNMS best facilitate and make use of research?
  • What kinds of research would scientists most like to see pursued?

Three broad categories of recommended research were identified by the experts:

  1. Descriptive studies of temporal and spatial patterns of physical and biological characteristics. These studies would include mapping, monitoring, and time series data;
  2. Basic, hypothesis-driven research, to understand the processes and interactions responsible for observed natural patterns; and
  3. Applied research focused on human impacts to the marine environment.

Below we summarize those responses that were most frequent, novel or provocative.

A. Mapping, monitoring, time series

The two most compelling reasons given for this type of research were:

  1. The need to assess natural environmental variability as a means of evaluating global climate as well as human induced changes, and
  2. The vast majority of the species and habitats within the MBNMS are unexplored and therefore remain unknown and undescribed. Frequent recommendations were for the use of more remote sensing to provide broad-scale, cost-effective spatial and time series data on upwelling plumes & jets, kelp cover, sea surface temperature, primary production, plankton blooms and fish distribution, to name but a few.

    Because much of the MBNMS remains virtually unexplored there were numerous suggestions to map the spatial and temporal distributions of species and habitats, as well as to better define the relationships between species and habitats. This was particularly true for commercially and ecologically important species including fishes, birds, and mammals. While there are many research institutions in the Monterey Bay area, much of the marine environment north and south of the Bay, and at various water depths have rarely been explored. This is particularly true for soft-bottom subtidal areas between 60-400 m, and generally from 1000-3000 m, depths not presently covered by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's ROV (remotely operated vehicle) operations.

B. Basic Research

It was highly recommended that the time series and monitoring data described above be collected in such a way that it would be of use to basic research pursuing specific questions. For instance, remote sensing and environmental time series data could be combined with other data sets to construct numerical and conceptual models to aid in both management decisions as well as basic understanding of natural processes. These models could include dynamic three-dimensional visualization models of linked biological, oceanographic and atmospheric processes. Such models would greatly aid our need to understand the interaction of nested cycles of multiple time scales. The use of three-dimensional circulation models would be extremely useful in understanding larval dispersal, suspended sediment plumes, and pollution & spill trajectories. Such models would also be invaluable for determining temporally and spatially explicit relationships between El Niño events, seasonal upwelling, primary productivity, zooplankton, biological hotspots, prey availability, and reproductive timing. A similar three-dimensional visualization approach would also be appropriate for modeling the movements of surface and subsurface water flow in the watersheds and drainages feeding into the MBNMS. Watersheds and aquifers represent major linkages between terrestrial and marine processes, providing conduits for fresh water seeps to marine canyon walls, saltwater intrusion, pathways for urban and agricultural runoff, and corridors for anadromous fish runs.

One excellent suggestion was to record, correlate, and present important natural seasonal events in a MBNMS-maintained and continually updated multimedia MBNMS Calendar of Natural History Events. Little, for example has been done to document the seasonal links between the onset of summer northwest winds, upwelling, plankton blooms, zooplankton, and fish (e.g. how do sardine populations respond to krill cycles), or synthesize the annual appearance, interactions, and disappearance of the many species that use the tidal channels, mudflats, and saltmarshes of the Elkhorn Slough. For example, each spring and summer Gracilaria, Ulva and Enteromorpha grow to cover the mudflats, and moon snails and sea hairs move onto the flats to spawn. Later, high algal cover leads to anoxic conditions exploited by large numbers of Leptostracans, until winter rains, extreme tides, and storms remove the algal mats. These events along with the spawning, development, and feeding of many other species of invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals are all tightly coupled with the lunar and seasonal cycles that govern the climate and tides in the slough.

Other suggestions for basic research included resolving the primary productivity paradox. The fate of the majority of primary production in the MBNMS remains unknown. Does all the missing carbon go into secondary production or into the sediments of the sea floor? At present we do not have the data needed to balance the equation.

There was also the question of where marine species go and how they exploit their habitats and resources. Recent advances in individual instrumentation make it possible to fit miniaturized video cameras, time/depth recorders, and GPS/acoustic positioning devices to a wide variety of species including smaller fishes, sharks, birds, and marine mammals. These instruments will enable us to see what a sea otter sees, know where it goes, when it rests or feeds, and what it interacts with. Coupling these records with simultaneously recorded environmental data and spatially explicit environmental models, will allow individually based simulations to be developed for modeling population and community level dynamics. These types of models will greatly enhance our ability to pose and answer what if scenarios regarding both natural and human related disturbances and impacts.

C. Applied research on human impacts & sustainable resources

The major challenge of any sanctuary program is how to balance multiple and often conflicting uses of the resources within its boundaries. It was suggested by many interviewees that the National Marine Sanctuaries and Reserve Program in general and the MBNMS in particular take advantage of their authority to initiate manipulative experiments to explore how effective harvest refugia can be designed to preserve resources for sustainable use.

Fisheries was the most frequently mentioned human activity referred to as having a profound impact on marine ecosystems. Interviewees repeatedly urged that harvest refugia be established and critically evaluated as means of replenishing or maintaining commercial stocks at sustainable levels. Critical issues mentioned were the relationship between refugia size, dispersal, and stock recruitment.

The other fisheries-related issue receiving equal emphasis was the need to determine the impact of trawl fisheries on benthic communities. Of particular interest was the long-term consequences of trawl disturbance on benthic productivity and fishery sustainability, as well as ways to minimize negative effects. Fisheries exclusion zones and experimental trawling were mentioned as obvious approaches to be taken within sanctuaries to provide data crucial to the long term viability of fisheries and ecosystems.

A related issue of concern was pinniped/fisheries interactions. A popular belief is that the burgeoning population of seals and sea lions in the MBNMS is competing with fisheries for commercially valuable species. Few data are available to directly support or refute this claim. Gut contents and scat analyses would provide these data.

Human/wildlife interactions, particularly involving vessel traffic and divers with birds and mammals were also mentioned by several experts as a point of concern, and one that could be experimentally addressed within the MBNMS. Results of these types of studies could provide policy and rules of behavior governing the operation of kayaks, personal water craft, and other recreational and commercial vessels operating in sensitive wildlife habitats. While these studies could most easily be done within and under the auspices of the MBNMS, the results would be universally applicable wherever humans and wildlife come in contact.

Coastal erosion and equilibrium states were also described as an important issue needing to be addressed with well designed studies. Central coast beaches, river mouths, and the Elkhorn Slough are prime examples of how human actions have resulted in significant, and often accelerating erosion of shorelines, saltmarshes, mudflats, dunes and cliffs. What is not known, is when and in what configuration these systems will stabilize, and what can be done to mediate the process. Interactive models need to be developed for coastal circulation, sediment transport, system hydraulics and hydrodynamics to predict outcomes and test scenarios for stabilization, rehabilitation, and restoration.

It was also suggested that similar models, particularly three-dimensional visualization simulations should be developed for environmental cycling and fate of anthropogenic contaminants from urban and agricultural runoff, as well as point source dischargers. These models could be based on the watershed, groundwater, and coastal circulation models described in the sections above. The rate and degree to which these compounds move through aquifers into the nearshore environment is unknown, as are the body burdens of anthropogenic contaminants in higher trophic levels (e.g. sea otters, birds, fishes, pinnipeds), and the impact of these compounds on phytoplankton and zooplankton in the coastal zone.

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Section II. Resource Needs Summarized from MBNMS Site Characterization Sections
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