Benthic Habitat Characterization and Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of West Coast Sanctuaries
Project Status: This project began in April 2014 and was completed in September 2015
Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) harbor diverse communities of deep-water fish and coral. These species and habitats face many threats, including bottom fishing, hypoxia, and climate change. We will provide a baseline characterization of deep-water benthic habitats in proposed expansion areas near Cordell Bank NMS and Gulf of Farallones NMS and assess the vulnerability of sensitive benthic resources in the Channel Islands NMS.
Why We Care
Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) currently protect a combined area of 3,281 square miles off the California coast. The corals and sponges of the Channel Islands NMS in particular, form structural habitat for a high diversity of rockfish species, including many whose stocks are rebuilding from overfishing. These sanctuary habitats face a variety of threats—including, bottom fishing, pollution, ocean acidification, and hypoxia—for which vulnerability assessments are needed to support future management efforts and decisions. Proposed expansions for the boundaries of the Cordell Bank NMS and the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, would add protection for over 2,700 more square miles. Establishing a baseline understanding of the habitats and species is critical to managing this new area and gauging the extent of future impacts.
What We Are Doing
We will conduct remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys of living marine resources in the proposed expansion areas of the Cordell Bank NMS and the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, focusing on abundance and diversity of groundfish, deep sea coral, and sponges. Following field surveys, we will analyze geo-referenced video and still imagery to create spatial data sets of groundfish, deep sea corals, habitat-forming sponges, and physical habitat. We will examine deep sea coral, sponge, and groundfish abundance data for empirical relationships to habitat variables. The surveys will also “ground truth” unsupervised classifications of geology and help validate habitat suitability models.
In the Channel Islands NMS, we will assess vulnerability of deep sea corals and sponges to climate and overfishing impacts. This project will establish long-term monitoring of the vulnerable, deep-water coral Lophelia pertusa to contribute to a systematic assessment of climate change vulnerability. It will also contribute deep-water ROV video and water chemistry information to outreach and education programs. This work will also support improvement of future habitat and species distribution models important for evaluating resource distributions and potential threats in existing and proposed sanctuary areas.
The objectives of the research are:
Provide a baseline characterization of deep-water benthic habitats in proposed expansion areas near Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries, including groundfish, coral, sponges, and physical habitat.
Assess vulnerability of sensitive benthic resources—including, Lophelia coral and habitat-forming sponges—to ocean acidification and other possible climate change impacts in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
Contribute to outreach, education, and public awareness of deep-water habitats.
The project team includes NOAA partners from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary), the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, and the Office of Response and Restoration.
Regions of Study: Pacific Ocean - Eastern, California
Primary Contacts: Peter Etnoyer, Charles Menza
Climate Impacts (Impacts of Ocean Acidification, Vulnerability Assessments)
Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Biogeographic Assessment, Protected Species, Coral)
Related NCCOS Centers: CCEHBR, CCMA
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