This year we plan to return to these sites to measure any changes in marine life, to ascertain what trends are occurring and to determine what steps need to be taken to protect these remote ecosystems. We will lead two teams of trained volunteer citizen scientists to scuba dive and survey the marine life using scientific protocols that are integrated with studies being done throughout the rest of California. The Channel Islands and Big Sur coast together represent 275 miles of some of the most undeveloped areas of coastline in the state. These areas are located where cool nutrient-rich waters provide an environment for a variety of endangered species, thriving kelp forests and sensitive habitats not found anywhere else along the California coast. The remoteness of these areas puts them out of reach of polluting industries and human population centers, but also makes it difficult for scientists to study and manage.
In this era of global environmental stressors like ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures and the vast reach of plastics pollution, the knowledge of what changes are occurring is key to successfully adapting management and conservation actions to protect these rich habitats. In 2015 and 2016, we documented trends that where both alarming and encouraging. The Big Sur coastline saw decreases in purple urchin populations from 2015 to 2016, while purple urchin populations increased to the north in Monterey and to the south in San Luis Obispo. At Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, which has been an MPA since 2003, we found giant kelp had returned and the urchin barren that had been there since we first started monitoring in 2008 was gone.
Our goal for this survey season is to go back and document what further changes have occurred in the past year. At each place we anchor, a team of roughly two dozen volunteer scientific divers will enter the water. Using well established scientific protocols, they will count fish, invertebrates and kelp to develop a comprehensive picture of the status of marine life in these remote areas.
Kelp forests are critical ecosystems along California's coastlines and provide food, shelter and oxygen for hundreds of species, including humans. These ecosystems are changing due to rising ocean temperatures, invasive species, marine diseases and other environmental stressors. This project aims to address these issues by collecting data that will be added to previous years' information so that fisheries managers, researchers and the public can have the scientific information they need to protect these precious habitats.
Risks and challenges
There are many challenges such as weather, ocean conditions and boat logistics associated with these expeditions as there is with any trip of this size and scope on the ocean. Our experience conducting trips along California’s mainland coast as well as the four successful expeditions that we have completed over the last two years, makes us uniquely qualified to address these challenges. In the event a trip is canceled due to weather or other logistical issues, it will be rescheduled for another date.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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