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Marine Biogeographic Assessment of Three National Marine Sanctuaries off North Central California

This project began in January 2001 and was completed in December 2008

We assessed the distribution and abundance of selected marine species and habitats off the north central California coast on behalf of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, who used our data to revise the management plans for three national marine sanctuaries. The products also supported California’s Marine Life Protection Act, which evaluated and redesigned marine protected areas in California waters.

Why We Care
The California Current, which runs south along the west coast of North America, is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. The three national marine sanctuaries (Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay) located off the north central California coast support a rich array of habitats, from rugged rocky shores and lush kelp forests to one of the largest underwater canyons in North America. They also support recreation and commerce for many of the three million people living nearby. Compiling habitat data is a key step in improving conservation and management of these three eminent marine sanctuaries.

What We Did
We conducted a marine biogeographic assessment in the ocean waters off north/central California. Our study area encompassed the borders of three national marine sanctuaries along the north central California coast and extended from approximately 35°N to 39°N (Point Sal to Point Arena), and offshore to the extent of available data (usually within the U.S. exclusive economic zone). We completed this work in two phases: in the first phase (2001–2005) we focused on species and in phase 2 (2006–2008) we added an envrionmental settings chapter and updated some of hte bird and mammal information. To complete the biogeographic assessments of Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay. We:

  • identified, compiled, and analyzed priority biological (fishes, seabirds, marine mammals) and environmental data sets in and around the Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries;
  • identified significant biological areas (hot spots) and time periods, based on a biogeographic assessment of species distributions, abundance, habitats, life history functions, and community metrics (species richness, diversity);
  • described the ecological components and linkages of the estuarine, coastal, and marine ecosystems along the north central California coast in a series of peer-reviewed reports, maps, data tables, and other products;
  • developed species distribution maps and environmental data layers by organizing relevant information and analyses in GIS maps and data tables; and
  • developed ecological metrics and habitat suitability models for assessment of management strategies and modification of sanctuary boundaries.

With out partners we condcuted two workshops, and devleoped three reports and hundreds of maps and descriptions on selected marine species, their habitats, and the marine environment off north/central California.

Next Steps
The work is complete and we continue to work with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to develop information to support regional research and resource management issues.

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