NOAA Reports Health of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

October 1, 2009

NOAA's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

A new NOAA report on the health of California’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary indicates that the overall condition of the sanctuary’s marine life and habitat ranges from good (highest rating) to fair (moderate rating), but identifies several threats to sanctuary resources, such as growing coastal populations, agricultural and urban runoff, vessel traffic and marine debris.

“The sanctuary was designated because of its extraordinary resources and qualities, and this report confirms its continued vitality,” said Paul Michel, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary superintendent. “But it also reveals that expanding human population and activities require adaptive management strategies to preserve the sanctuary today and into the future.”

Prepared by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report rates the current condition of three marine environments: offshore, nearshore and estuarine. Four resource categories were considered for each of those environments: water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources.

Offshore and nearshore environments are generally rated in the report as good (highest rating) to fair (moderate rating). In the nearshore, habitat-forming plants and animals, such as surfgrass, kelp and sponges, are healthy, according to the report. However, rockfish, salmon, and some seabird and marine mammal species have declined.

Proximity to dense population centers and agriculture is a factor in nearshore water quality. The boundary of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary reaches to the shoreline for 276 miles along California’s coast. Beach water quality issues that are common throughout California, such as elevated pollutant levels, are also observed within the sanctuary.

The report also reflects a fair to poor rating for water quality, habitat and living resources in the estuarine environment of Elkhorn Slough, a part of the sanctuary. The sanctuary has already partnered with multiple agencies to implement strategies to restore estuarine habitats and improve water quality and the health of plants and animals in Elkhorn Slough.

NOAA formally began its stewardship of these resources in 1992. The report notes that many management and regulatory programs aimed at protecting and restoring resources are already in place in an effort to improve conditions in the sanctuary. The sanctuary updated its management plan in November 2008 to emphasize collaboration among agencies and programs to build ecosystem-based approaches to marine area management.

Emerging or poorly understood threats present new challenges to sanctuary resources. Global climate change is already impacting ocean chemistry, which is expected to affect marine biodiversity and biological productivity. Habitat quality and living resource conditions are impacted by pollutants, marine debris, changing ocean conditions and disease. Rising population growth in adjacent cities and counties, vessel traffic, as well as air and water pollution from outside the sanctuary’s boundaries are also a concern. New management strategies will be necessary to meet some of these emerging resource threats.

NOAA prepared the condition report in consultation with outside experts from the scientific community. The full report is available online.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along the central California coast and encompasses more than 6,094 square miles of ocean area. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary supports one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, including 33 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, 345 species of fishes and thousands of marine invertebrates and plants.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.