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Detailed study launched on SoCal's ocean health

San Mateo Creek, San Clemente California (aka Lowers) © WSL/Kirstin




Environment News

Comprehensive study released on Southern California ocean's health

Report part of ongoing statewide Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring program

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 14 March, 2017 - The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Ocean Protection Council, and California Ocean Science Trust released the most comprehensive study to date of southern California’s coastal ocean, the “State of the California South Coast.”

The report brings together research from more than 45 groups--including academic, agency, and citizen scientists--that  conducted surveys and helped to tag bass and spiny lobster. The report is part of an ongoing statewide barine protected area (MPA) monitoring program that informs the adaptive management of California’s MPA network, one of the world’s largest.

California’s South Coast is a hot spot for recreation, fishing, and commerce. It supports over $40 billion in ocean related tourism. Baseline monitoring looked at the full range of human activities, from shore to sea. The area is also a hub for marine research, and the “State of the California South Coast” report incorporates historic data on fisheries, water quality, and ocean temperatures.

Researchers monitored dozens of sites, from the kelp forests of La Jolla to the beaches of Malibu and underwater caves off the coast of Gaviota.  The study covered several older MPAs, including those established at the Channel Islands in 2003, where fished species have been found to be larger and more numerous inside the protected areas.

“The South Coast baseline study period included two years of record-breaking high ocean temperatures,” said Tom Maloney, Executive Director of Ocean Science Trust. “Climate change already has hit California’s coast, and researchers are seeing marine plants and animals moving north in search of cooler waters. This report creates an important benchmark to help state resource managers make informed decisions that support ocean health.”

Jenn Eckerle, Deputy Director of the Ocean Protection Council, called the study unique. “It spans ecosystems from shore to sea, and reveals the interdependence of things like the health of our beaches, kelp forests, and shorebirds,” she said. “The better we understand the state of our coast, and the links between ecosystems, the better we can manage them.”

“When California created the statewide network of marine protected areas we also committed to scientific monitoring, enforcement, and adaptive management,” said Becky Ota, Environmental Program Manager at California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This baseline study gives us a yardstick against which we can measure changes over time, and equips resource managers and decision makers with the scientific data to help inform their decisions.”

While designed to support MPA management, MPA monitoring has other applications. The South Coast study, coupled with existing data and research, helps to inform the restoration effort following the 2015 Refugio oil spill. It also documented local effects of the widespread sea star wasting disease, along with initial signs of recovery. In 2015, researchers found baby sea stars where they had been nearly wiped out the previous year.

Tom Maloney

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