New projects to “take snapshot” of North Coast’s MPAs

May 01, 2014
Media Contact— Caitlin Coomber / ccoomber@ucsd.edu / 858-534-0580

The California Ocean Science Trust today will announce the selection of an initial set of research projects that will begin the $4-million North Coast Marine Protected Area Baseline Program.

The science grants will support the collection of ecological and socioeconomic information on beaches, reefs and other nearshore ecosystems along the state’s North Coast, which stretches from Alder Creek in Mendocino County north to the Oregon border. A broad collaboration of scientists, fishermen, tribal governments and citizen-science groups from 31 organizations will help gather the data.

The goal of the North Coast Marine Protected Area (MPA) Baseline Program is to establish benchmarks for measuring the performance of the region’s new “underwater parks,” known as marine protected areas, from both ecological and socioeconomic perspectives. The North Coast’s MPAs place restrictions on human activities, such as fishing, in about 13 percent of the region’s state waters and went into effect in December, 2012.

California Sea Grant helps administer the North Coast MPA Baseline Program collaboratively with the MPA Monitoring Enterprise (a program of the California Ocean Science Trust), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Ocean Protection Council (which provides funding for the projects).

Below are summaries of the new projects with their lead investigators. This initial set of projects will begin in February, 2014 and end in February, 2017.

Baseline Characterization of Estuarine Ecosystems
Baseline Characterization of Sandy Beach and Surf-zone Ecosystems
Baseline Characterization of Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems
Baseline Characterization of Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests by Reef Check California
Baseline Characterization of Nearshore Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests
Baseline Characterization of Nearshore Fish Communities Associated with Rocky Reef Habitats
Baseline Characterization of Seabirds
Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Keystone Marine Species and Ecosystems
Baseline Characterization of Human Uses and the Socioeconomic Dimensions of MPAs
Characterization and Indicators of Oceanographic Conditions
Baseline Characterization of Soft and Rocky, Deep-water Ecosystems Using an ROV


Baseline Characterization of Estuarine Ecosystems

Frank Shaughnessy, Humboldt State University, fjs3@humboldt.edu
Timothy Mulligan, Humboldt State University
John Largier, Bodega Marine Laboratory, UC Davis
Adam Wagschal, H.T. Harvey & Associates
Stephen Kullmann, Wiyot Tribe

The North Coast has 16 major estuaries that support a wide diversity of plant and animal life, including salmon and other commercially important species. The focus of this project is to describe and evaluate the ecological status of representative and under-studied estuaries in the region by surveying plants, invertebrates and fishes in tidal mudflats and eelgrass beds of four estuaries – three within MPAs (Humboldt Bay, Big River and Ten Mile River) and the Mad River Estuary. Field surveys will be conducted multiple times a year for two years to better document seasonal and interannual variability in species abundances and diversity, as well as changes in the sizes of focal species, such as bivalves, eelgrass, and black rockfish, among others. Estuarine ecosystems are largely driven by a complex set of interacting physical variables, including freshwater flows, seasonal closures of lagoon mouths and ocean water properties related to winds and upwelling. Information about these “abiotic” variables will be distilled to describe the “contextual conditions” in each estuary. During the analysis phase of their project, scientists will identify baseline and contextual metrics that might allow for future evaluation of MPA performance. This project is a collaboration among academic scientists, North Coast tribes, a non-profit organization and ecological consultants.

Work plan (Shaughnessy_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Sandy Beach and Surf-zone Ecosystems

Karina Nielsen, Sonoma State University, karina.nielsen@sonoma.edu
Sean Craig, Humboldt State University
Timothy Mulligan, Humboldt State University
Jenifer Dugan, Marine Science Institute, UC Santa Cruz
Rosa Laucci, Smith River Rancheria

The goal of this project is to provide the first comprehensive baseline characterization of the region’s sandy beach and adjacent surf-zone ecosystems. This characterization will be based on multiple surveys of sites within and outside of the newly established MPAs. Beach surveys will focus on documenting the biological diversity of intertidal invertebrates, including sand crabs and talitrid amphipods (sandhoppers) that are eaten by shorebirds and surf-zone fishes. Scientists will count numbers and kinds of birds and document the presence of wrack (piles of seaweed that wash up on the shore, providing food and habitat for many beach invertebrates). Human activities will also be recorded at the study beaches. The surf-zone surveys will focus on estimating abundances of surf-zone fishes, including night smelt and surfperch, both of which are important for recreational and commercial beach fishermen and for tribal traditional and subsistence activities. A limited number of fishes caught at the reference sites will be dissected to document their reproductive condition and stomach contents, from which diet is inferred. In the last year of the project, researchers will perform data analyses to identify key trophic links among beach and surf-zone organisms within the context of the North Coast’s physical setting. This will provide the foundation for an evaluation of the baseline ecological status and functioning of the region’s sandy-beach and surf-zone ecosystems. They also hope to identify candidate “indicator” species that could be used for long-term monitoring of sandy beach and surf-zone ecosystem health. This project is a collaboration among academic scientists, North Coast tribes, commercial and recreational fishermen and citizen scientists.

Work plan (Nielsen_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Rocky Intertidal Ecosystems

Sean Craig, Humboldt State University, sean.craig@humboldt.edu
Andrew Kinziger, Humboldt State University
Joe Tyburczy, California Sea Grant Extension, UC San Diego
Ivano Aiello, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San Jose State University Research Foundation
Peter Raimondi, UC Santa Cruz
Rosa Laucci, Smith River Rancheria

The main objective of this project is to produce a quantitative baseline characterization of the region’s rocky intertidal invertebrates and algae, following biodiversity and target-species survey methods developed by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) and Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe). Researchers will also provide quantitative comparisons between rocky intertidal ecosystems within four MPAs (Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), Double Cone SMCA, Ten Mile State Marine Reserve and MacKerricher SMCA) and associated reference sites. According to scientists, about 25-30 fish species (notably, marine sculpins) inhabit tide-pools in the northeast Pacific. Researchers will explore this unique ecological attribute of the North Coast by documenting fish biodiversities in these habitats. In the project’s final year, scientists plan to integrate their baseline assessments of rocky intertidal ecosystems with other components of the baseline monitoring program to help inform the role and design of future MPA monitoring and evaluation. They will also analyze the newly collected data in conjunction with existing PISCO data to look for species that could be used as indicators of rocky intertidal ecosystem health. This project is a collaboration among academic scientists and North Coast tribes.

Work plan (Craig_RI_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests by Reef Check California

Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California, jfreiwald@reefcheck.org
Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Foundation

Reef Check is a non-profit, citizen-science conservation organization that teaches and certifies experienced divers to survey species found in rocky reefs and kelp forests along California. Its volunteers have been helping with baseline monitoring of MPAs in other parts of the state and have been monitoring rocky reefs at four sites along the North Coast for six years. Recently, its survey protocols have been modified to better assist the state in cost-effectively evaluating MPA performance over time. The main goal of this project is expand and grow the existing Reef Check California program along the North Coast to enhance baseline characterizations of rocky reef and kelp forest ecosystems. Closely related to this goal is the emphasis on engaging and educating the public about the value of and need for science-based marine management. For this project, volunteers led by Reef Check California scientists will survey multiple sites inside and outside the new MPAs, documenting abundances of about 70 rocky reef indicator species. Reefs will be surveyed for two years, and in the project’s third year, the data will be analyzed to characterize reef ecosystems in the study region and document any initial changes inside the MPAs. Scientists will also combine the new and existing Reef Check survey data with data from the other baseline monitoring projects to produce a more complete assessment of the status of the region’s rocky reef and kelp forest ecosystems. The lead scientist also hopes to provide recommendations for improving long-term monitoring of marine ecosystems in California.

Work plan (Freiwald_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Nearshore Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests

Sean Craig, Humboldt State University, sean.craig@humboldt.edu
Ryan Jenkinson, Humboldt State University
Adam Wagschal, H.T. Harvey & Associates

This project will use data collected by professional research divers to describe and assess ecological conditions within the region’s nearshore rocky reefs and kelp forests. Key metrics for assessing ecological status include documenting the density of macroinvertebrates, macroalgae, and benthic fishes; the size structure and density of red abalone and red sea urchins; the percent cover of sessile and colonial invertebrates and algae, and substrate type and reef structure. Except for the abalone and urchin focused surveys, the design and protocols for sampling and collecting data follow those established by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans for long-term MPA monitoring of kelp forests. The eight sites that will be surveyed during the project include four MPAs (Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), Double Cone SMCA, Ten Mile State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Pt. Cabrillo SMR) and four reference sites. This project is a collaboration with commercial urchin divers.

Work plan (Craig_Rocky_ Reefs_WorkPlan_.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Nearshore Fish Communities Associated with Rocky Reef Habitats

Timothy Mulligan, Humboldt State University, tjm2@humboldt.edu
Dave Hankin, Humboldt State University
Joe Tyburczy, California Sea Grant Extension, UC San Diego
Drew Barrett, Humboldt State University

In this collaborative fisheries research project, scientists will partner with charter boat fishing captains and volunteer anglers to characterize the baseline status of nearshore rocky reef fish assemblages in four of the region’s MPAs (Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area, South Cape Mendocino State Marine Reserve (SMR), Sea Lion Gulch SMR and Ten Mile SMR) and reference sites. This quantitative baseline data will describe the diversity, abundance, size structure and movement patterns of rocky reef fishes caught inside and outside of MPAs. The project will geographically expand upon an existing 2-year (2010-2011) data set on North Coast rocky reef fishes, enabling comparisons of fish communities before and after the MPAs went into effect in 2012. Unlike the earlier volunteer angler fish surveys, fish that are caught will be tagged and released at depth to enable studies of fish movement patterns across MPA boundaries. Researchers hope that by engaging local fishing communities in the research, they may establish a foundation for long-term collaborative monitoring and community involvement in marine resource management. Data from this project will complement other datasets collected by the other baseline monitoring projects to help evaluate placement, monitoring and overall effectiveness of the region’s MPAs.

Work plan (Mulligan_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Seabirds

Richard Golightly, Humboldt State University, Richard.Golightly@humboldt.edu
Daniel Barton, Humboldt State University
Phil Capitolo, Institute of Marine Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
W. Breck Tyler, Institute of Marine Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
Craig Strong, Crescent Coastal Research
Daniel Robinette, Point Blue Conservation Science
Jaime Jahnke, Point Blue Conservation Science

Seabirds are the focus of this project. Scientists will quantify their numbers and locations along the North Coast, as well as their reproductive rates, diet and related interannual variance at select colonies to identify how these important marine predators are being affected by the new MPAs, human disturbance and ever-changing ocean conditions. Species of interest include the common murre, Brandt’s cormorant, double-crested cormorant, pelagic cormorant, Western gull and pigeon guillemot. The project’s four main objectives are to: 1) provide a region-wide census of seabird breeding populations through aerial surveys of their breeding colonies; 2) document trends in seabird breeding population sizes at two sites using existing photographs of birds taken from 1996-2013; 3) assess seabird diets and reproductive success at Castle Rock, the largest seabird colony in the region; and 4) document foraging and roosting of key seabird species, as well as incidences of breeding and roosting seabirds being disturbed by human activities. The resulting baseline characterization will serve as a foundation for assessing initial and long-term responses of seabirds to their environment and the new MPAs. The project is a collaboration among academic scientists, federal wildlife officials, citizen scientists, a private research center and an environmental consulting company.

Work plan (Golightly_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Keystone Marine Species and Ecosystems

Megan Rocha, Smith River Rancheria, megan.m.rocha@gmail.com
Hawk Rosales, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council
Rachel Sundberg, Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria
Thomas Torma, Wiyot Tribe

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) can be defined as the cumulative body of scientific knowledge, passed through cultural transmission by indigenous people over many generations. TEK is what informs customary management of natural resources by indigenous people, and it can be a highly credible means of understanding ecological features and species, and identifying areas of concern and related threats. The main goal of this project is to draw on tribal knowledge to enhance the baseline characterizations of six species that are both ecologically and culturally important within the beach, intertidal, kelp and mid-depth rock ecosystems. To acquire this information, the lead scientist will review archival ethnographies and interview members of participating tribes who are culturally knowledgeable and/or active harvesters. Interviewees will be queried about their perceptions and knowledge of ecosystems and keystone species (such as sea lettuce, clams, abalone and mussels) that may be indicators of MPA performance. They will also be asked about their perceptions of the new “tribal take” state regulations. Interviews will include short, map-based interviews with focus groups and long, oral history interviews. Data collection will occur during the first two years of the project. In the project’s final year, the team will collaborate with marine consultants at Point 97 in Portland, Ore. to develop a data survey tool and perform data analyses. This project’s approach seeks to recognize and support the political and cultural sovereignty of each participating tribe and its community’s intellectual property, while maintaining consistency in the research methodology and data collection across the region. This project is being led by Smith River Rancheria in partnership with the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a consortium of ten federally recognized tribes, the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria and the Wiyot Tribe.

Work plan (Rocha_WorkPlan_Revised.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Human Uses and the Socioeconomic Dimensions of MPAs

Steven Hackett, Humboldt State University, Steven.Hackett@humboldt.edu
Laurie Richmond, Humboldt State University
Cheryl Chen, Point 97
Charles Steinback, Point 97

How have commercial fishermen been affected by the new MPAs? How have the no-fishing zones shifted their fishing effort? Have their catches gone up or down and can recent trends in species targeted and their landings be attributed to the new regulations? These are among the types of questions that will be addressed in this socioeconomic study, a collaboration with local fishermen and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The project’s main goals are to 1) establish a baseline characterization of commercial fishing patterns (where fishing is occurring) and related socioeconomic descriptions, and 2) assess where fishermen were fishing before and after the MPAs went into effect in 2012 and related socioeconomic implications of these shifts in fishing effort and resulting catches. The data for this analysis will come from logbook and landings records, as well as from responses of fishermen interviewed for the study. Among the outcomes from this project will be “heat maps” showing coastal areas of high importance to commercial fishermen before and after the MPAs’ implementation. The lead scientist and fishermen will also look to develop recommendations for long-term socioeconomic monitoring. Results of this study will provide a better understanding of the status of the region’s fishing communities against which future MPA impacts and benefits can be measured.

Work plan (Hackett_WorkPlanBudget.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Characterization and Indicators of Oceanographic Conditions

Eric Bjorkstedt, Humboldt State University and NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, eric.bjorkstedt@noaa.gov
Brian Tissot, Humboldt State University
John Largier, Bodega Marine Laboratory, UC Davis
William Sydeman, Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research
Marisol Garcia-Reyes, Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research

Spatial patterns and temporal variability in water temperatures, currents and other oceanographic conditions play an important role in the dynamics and structure of marine populations and ecosystems. This project seeks to assemble and synthesize a variety of in-situ and remote-sensing ocean and atmospheric data to depict ocean conditions along the North Coast relevant to understanding the processes that drive the region’s biological variability. The resulting data products will characterize ocean conditions for the 20-year period leading up to the implementation of the MPAs and will be updated as baseline field studies are conducted. Results from this work will provide context for comprehensive analyses of baseline and future MPA monitoring and are critically important for helping researchers determine whether observed biological patterns are due to differences in fishing pressure or natural variability in fish populations.

Work plan (Bjorkstedt_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2


Baseline Characterization of Soft and Rocky, Deep-water Ecosystems Using an ROV

Andy Lauermann, Marine Applied Research & Exploration, andy@maregroup.org

Scientists will use a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to take video and still images of bottom seafloor communities from 20- to 500-meters depth, with an emphasis on characterizing species and habitat features within mid-depth rock, soft-bottom subtidal and deep ecosystems, including submarine canyons. These ecosystem characterizations will be based primarily on counting and identifying fishes and large invertebrates and documenting key seafloor features from video and still images. Species assemblages in these ecosystems will also be noted and recorded. Data collected along "visual strip transects" will provide a permanent archival record of sea floor communities. All of the ROV surveys will be conducted in the first two years of the project, while the project's third year of work will focus on analyzing the data and completing recommendations for future ROV-based monitoring in the region.

Work plan (Lauermann_WorkPlan_v2.pdf)

Progress Report Year 1

Progress Report Year 2

About California Sea Grant

NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Our headquarters is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego; we are one of 33 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.