Sandy beaches are among the most intensely used coastal ecosystems for recreation and are critically important cultural and economic resources to coastal regions. Sandy beaches and adjacent surf zones are also important feeding areas for birds, wildlife and fish. Important linkages between sandy beaches and other nearshore ecosystems are being identified and measured by the project team. For example, the amount of wrack and plankton delivered to beaches is dynamically linked to adjacent ecosystem features and ocean conditions. The condition of beach ecosystems is also linked to the reproductive success of beach-nesting fishes and birds. Through measuring and monitoring these links on sandy beaches we can observe the direct and indirect effects of MPAs.
This project will produce the first comprehensive baseline characterization of sandy beach ecosystems in the North Cental Coast region. This information will be used to understand important linkages between sandy beach and other nearshore ecosystems. Five MPAs (Saunders Reef and Salt Point State Marine Conservation Areas, and Bodega Head and Montara Marine Reserves) and five reference sites are being surveyed. In addition, researchers are developing ecosystem indicators that will increase our understanding how sandy beaches can provide insight into the condition and functioning of MPAs in the North Central Coast MPA network. Researchers are also testing protocols for long-term monitoring of sandy beach ecosystem indicators involving citizen-scientists and collaborations with established volunteer groups in the region.