About the project

The Baseline Characterization of Kelp and Shallow Rock Ecosystems project is a collaboration between researchers at Vantuna Research Group at Occidental College and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of California Santa Barbara. In this project, researchers characterized kelp and shallow rock ecosystems inside and outside MPAs in the South Coast region. The baseline surveys, together with historical and future data, are enabling scientists to measure changes in species and communities over both short and long time scales.

From 2011-2013, SCUBA divers surveyed kelp forests and associated reference sites to estimate fish, kelp and benthic invertebrate densities, fish size distributions, and percent cover of invertebrates and algae to produce a quantitative baseline characterization of the structure of kelp and shallow rock ecosystems in the South Coast. Kelp and shallow rock ecosystems inside the MPAs were compared with associated reference areas outside MPAs.

Surveys were conducted using methods developed by PISCO and the Cooperative Research and Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) program, which allowed integration of historical, long-term datasets into this analysis. As part of this project, researchers also worked to develop easily interpretable ecosystem indicators for assessing the state of kelp forests and made recommendations for future monitoring.


Researchers described their findings from this project in a technical report, released in March 2015. Click below to read the report on California Sea Grant's website.

Final Report: Baseline Characterization of Kelp & Shallow Rock Ecosystems


Data from this project are listed below. You can also access the data through the OceanSpaces data archive, and learn more about each data package.

Project leaders

Dan Pondella / Vantuna Research Group
Jenn Caselle / University of CA Santa Barbara
Jeremy Claisse / Cal Poly Pomona, Vantuna Research Group

Project collaborators

Katie Davis / Marine Science Institute, UCSB
Jonathan Williams / Vantuna Research Group, Occidental College
Laurel Zahn (Fink) / Vantuna Research Group / Occidental College
Chelsea Williams / Vantuna Research Group, Occidental College