Informing Decisions


The wealth of knowledge about this region produced through MPA monitoring is useful for supporting decisions across a wide range of ocean resource management issues. From tracking the effects of a changing climate to managing fisheries and water quality, MPA monitoring results are serving California broadly.

Baseline monitoring in the South Coast has produced novel scientific findings, strengthened partnerships, and contributed to a benchmark of ecological and socioeconomic conditions that will be used to evaluate future MPA performance, progress toward MLPA goals, and track changing ocean conditions.


Filling in the Gaps

The State’s investment in coastal and ocean ecosystem monitoring went a long way toward filling in key gaps in scientific knowledge. Through baseline monitoring, researchers were able to add new study sites to existing programs, collect data from previously unexplored ecosystems, and improve our understanding of ecologically and economically important species.


Changing Ocean Conditions

Tracking the Impacts of a Changing Climate

Climate change is having a profound impact on coastal and marine ecosystems in the South Coast, including rising sea levels, warming water temperatures, and changes in ocean chemistry. By reducing the pressure of fishing and harvesting on an ecosystem, MPAs may serve as refugia for species that are threatened by climate change. MPAs provide an important resource for understanding ocean health generally and as “living laboratories” to better understand the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems.

Building Coupled Ocean Acidification & MPA Monitoring Programs

In 2016, the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel (OAH Panel) released its major findings and recommendations report, which included guidance to:

  • Manage for resilience using approaches already in place, including protected areas
  • Couple ecological and ocean acidification monitoring to provide a crucial pathway to inform cross-jurisdictional adaptation and mitigation strategies

California Ocean Protection Council is leading efforts to develop an inventory of state and federal OAH monitoring that will draw on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) indicators of climate change, and supporting work to incorporate ocean acidification monitoring into existing ecological research programs.


Linking Natural Resource and Water Quality Management

The Bight ‘13 MPA/Rocky Reefs project was the first of its kind in the Bight Regional Monitoring Program coordinated by The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP). It was designed to assess the relative impacts of water quality and fishing pressure on the ecological health of rocky reefs. Findings suggest that rocky reef communities are sensitive to both fishing pressure and pollutants, and that these stressors can co-occur and cause cumulative effects, especially near urban centers. Researchers emphasized the importance of future work to increase alignment between MPA and water quality monitoring programs.

Looking Forward

Leveraging connections between MPA and water quality monitoring will continue to be a priority. For example, Ocean Science Trust and State Water Resources Control Board​ (SWRCB), together with the MPA Leadership Team, are working to identify opportunities to align monitoring programs for MPAs, water quality, and water quality protected areas like ASBSs to leverage resources, capacity, and expertise.


Helping Decision-Makers Understand Unexpected Events

Sea Star Wasting Rocky intertidal baseline monitoring researchers expanded their sampling to include new locations after observing diseased sea stars in early 2014. By May, sea star populations at many sites across the United States West Coast were at or near zero. Continued data collection has shown recruitment of juvenile sea stars in the South Coast, a hopeful sign that populations could recover.

Refugio Oil Spill In 2015, over 100,000 gallons of crude oil was released from a ruptured pipeline near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. Baseline data provided information about conditions at and near Refugio State Beach before the spill and are being used to help assess the impacts that occurred to marine ecosystems in the area. Continued monitoring will be key to tracking the recovery of coastal and ocean habitats in the area.


Leveraging Existing Capacity

The South Coast Monitoring Survey provides a detailed picture of the current monitoring capacity in the region. Results of the South Coast Monitoring Survey are publicly available in the interactive California Coastal Monitoring Dashboard, an online platform developed to share and connect the monitoring community.

Through the dashboard, you can:

  • Search for monitoring in specific ecosystems
  • Learn what metrics a project is monitoring
  • Access data

Results from the South Coast Monitoring Survey are helping OPC, CDFW, OST, and other partners design and implement cost-effective, long-term statewide MPA monitoring, which will be guided  by the Statewide MPA Monitoring Action Plan, to be led by CDFW and OPC.


Informing Management Resources


Photo credit: iStock/Ron Thomas