Summaries of Projects Selected for Funding through the South Coast MPA Baseline Program


Shauna Oh
Associate Director
California Sea Grant College Program
La Jolla, CA
T.: (858) 822-2708


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October 9, 2012

Scientists count organisms within the white rectangles along set transects (the white lines).

Scientists count organisms within the white rectangles along set transects (the white lines). It is tedious, back-breaking work but the end result is a scientifically defensible data set.
Photo: P. Raimondi/UCSC

October 4, 2011

Contact: Christina S. Johnson,, 858-822-5334

LA JOLLA – The South Coast MPA Baseline Program is a collaboration of California Sea Grant, Ocean Protection Council, Department of Fish and Game, Ocean Science Trust and MPA Monitoring Enterprise to establish an integrated snapshot of marine ecosystems and human activities along the South Coast around the time of the establishment of the new MPAs and to document initial socioeconomic and ecological changes after the MPAs take effect.

The projects and scientists selected for funding through the South Coast MPA Baseline Program are described below.

Sandy-Beach Ecosystems: Baseline Characterization and Evaluation of Monitoring Metrics along the South Coast

Jenifer E. Dugan and Henry Page, UC Santa Barbara, Karina J. Nielsen, Sonoma State University and Julie Bursek, NOAA's Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Leo Carrillo State Beach in Ventura County,

Leo Carrillo State Beach in Ventura County, a natural beach with intertidal wrack brought ashore by waves and tides.
Photo: J. Dugan/UCSB

This project will produce a comprehensive baseline of the biodiversity of sandy beach ecosystems along the South Coast. Metrics for this include kelp-wrack coverage and composition; abundances and species diversities of marine birds, pinnipeds and macroinvertebrates, and population abundances, biomasses and sizes of target species, including sand crabs, Pismo clams, talitrid amphipods and wrack-associated invertebrates, which preliminary investigations show may be rare or absent on groomed beaches. Human activities at the beach will also be documented, and scientists will partner with citizen-science groups to develop and test protocols for long-term beach monitoring by trained volunteers. In addition to the survey work, researchers plan to document the ecological linkages between beaches and other coastal and nearshore ecosystems.

Work plan (24ABC_Dugan_Nielsen_Bursek.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-24-Dugan.-Yr1.pdf)

Rocky-Intertidal Ecosystems: Baseline Characterization and Monitoring along the South Coast

Carol Blanchette, UC Santa Barbara, Pete Raimondi, UC Santa Cruz, Jennifer Burnaford and Jayson Smith, Cal State Fullerton and Julie Bursek, NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Sea anemone in a tidepool.

Sea anemone in a tidepool.
Photo: C. Blanchette/UCSB

Researchers will construct a baseline snapshot of rocky-intertidal habitats within the South Coast MPAs and associated reference sites to evaluate ecosystem change over time. The biodiversity component of the sampling program will characterize sessile and mobile invertebrates and algae, based on the protocols developed by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) for its West Coast coastal monitoring program. In addition to the biodiversity studies, sites will be surveyed for specific species believed to be of relevance to key biogenic or trophic attributes and of potential utility as indices for long-term monitoring. Details on the protocols for the biodiversity and target-species surveys are available at the SWAT Coastal Biodiversity Survey webpage ( and MARINe webpage (, respectively.

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-22AB-Blanchette-Raimondi-Yr1.pdf)

Kelp and Shallow-Reef Ecosystems: Baseline Data and Long-Term Trends Using Historical Data for the South Coast

Daniel J. Pondella, Vantuna Research Group, Occidental College and Jennifer Caselle, UC Santa Barbara

Giant kelp and the blue fins of undergraduate research diver Drew Hanson of Occidental College.

Giant kelp and the blue fins of undergraduate research diver Drew Hanson of Occidental College. Photo: J. Williams/Occidental

The goal of this project is to produce a baseline characterization of kelp and shallow (< 30-meters depth) ecosystems inside and outside the South Coast MPAs. To do this, scuba divers will survey kelp forests and associated reference sites for two years beginning in 2011. From the survey data, scientists will estimate fish, kelp and benthic invertebrate densities, fish-size distributions and percent cover of smaller invertebrates and algae. They will also document substrate type (e.g., sand, cobble, bedrock and boulder) and vertical relief to establish species-habitat relationships. From these, they will calculate a variety of population-level (e.g., density, percent cover and biomass) and community-level (e.g., species composition and trophic-guild biomass) metrics. These will be compared across the MPAs and reference sites. The sampling design and protocols are based on the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) survey program, employed for baseline monitoring of the Central Coast and North Central Coast MPAs.

Work plan (27AB_Pondella_and_Casellle.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-27A-Pondella-Yr1.pdf, RMPA-27B-Caselle-Yr1.pdf, RMPA-27B-Part-A-Figures-Yr1.pdf, RMPA-27B-Part-B-Mapbook-Yr1.pdf)

Citizen-Scientist Monitoring of Rocky Reefs and Kelp Forests: Creating a Baseline for the South Coast MPAs

Jan Freiwald and Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check California Program

Volunteers with Reef Check California are taught to identify 73 reef-associated indicator species.

Volunteers with Reef Check California are taught to identify 73 reef-associated indicator species. Photo: C. Wisniewski/Reef Check California (

Through the Reef Check California Program, citizen scientists and Reef Check staff will conduct scuba-based surveys of the South Coast MPAs and reference sites. Surveys consist of eighteen 30-meter transects to count and estimate the lengths of key fishes (35 species), invertebrates (32 species) and algae (9 species) and to characterize the physical habitat in rocky-reef ecosystems from depths of 5 meters to 20 meters. Reef Check and its trained, volunteer divers have been monitoring reefs in Southern California for five years and are currently collecting monitoring data for the North Central Coast MPAs. As part of this project, Reef Check scientists will analyze their pre-MPA monitoring data for the South Coast to extend the time series of kelp-forest monitoring and potentially identify appropriate, meaningful ecosystem indicators. The citizen divers who will be trained during this project, as well as the existing volunteer network, will establish human capital for cost-effective, long-term MPA monitoring and lead to greater public support for science-based coastal management.

Work plan (21_Freiwald.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-21-Freiwald-Yr1.pdf)

California Spiny Lobsters: A Partnership to Quantify Baseline Levels of Abundance, Size Structure, Habitat Use and Movement along the South Coast

Kevin Hovel, San Diego State University, Ed Parnell, UC San Diego and Doug Neilson, California Department of Fish and Game

A California spiny lobster finds shelter in a rock crevice.

A California spiny lobster finds shelter in a rock crevice. Large lobsters (>3 pounds) are virtually absent along the Southern California coast, though the new MPAs may change that. Photo: K. Hovel/SDSU

In this project, researchers will attempt to quantify spiny lobster densities within six South Coast MPAs and adjacent reference sites. The lobster-density estimates will be evaluated in relation to various bottom features. Commercial lobster fishermen will help tag and recapture lobsters (in their traps) to assess "spillover" from closed to open areas; lobster movement patterns, and home range sizes. Spatially explicit landings data will be compiled to calculate catch-per-unit effort inside and outside the MPAs prior to and immediately following their implementation. The following six MPAs and adjacent reference sites will be monitored: (1) Point Vicente State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA); (2) Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve (SMR); (3) Swami's SMCA; (4) Matlahuayl SMR; (5) South La Jolla SMR; and (6) Cabrillo SMR. Spiny lobsters are a priority species for protection in Southern California, as the region is the center of the state’s $8-million-a-year (ex-vessel) commercial fishery. Results from this project will help assess the stability of the fishery to current harvesting practices to both natural variability and fishing pressure.

Work plan (25AB_Hovel_Valencia.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-25AB-SDSU-SDOF-Yr1.pdf)

ROV Surveys of Subtidal and Deep-Sea Ecosystems: Baseline Characterization and Monitoring along the South Coast

James Lindholm, Cal State Monterey Bay and Dirk Rosen, Marine Applied Research and Exploration

Two deep-sea anemones,

Two deep-sea anemones, an example of the imagery to be collected via ROV.
Photo: ifAME MARE Inc. (

A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) will be “flown” half a meter above the seafloor at depths ranging from 20 meters to 500 meters. The slowly moving ROV will take video and still images of soft-and hard-bottom biological communities in two annual surveys, each lasting about 20 days. This imagery, collected along fully geo-referenced transects, will characterize the region's bathymetry and the species associated with different seafloor features. Researchers will identify and count fishes and larger invertebrates captured on film. Four study sites will be surveyed during the project, from north to south: (1) Point Conception State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA); (2) Point Vicente SMCA and Abalone Cove State Marine Reserve (SMR); (3) the two Farnsworth Bank SMCAs; and (4) San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA and Matlahuayl SMR. The final baseline characterization will include summary descriptions of benthic ecosystems, habitat characteristics and species assemblages in the South Coast MPAs and reference sites.

Work plan (26AB_Lindholm_Rosen.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-26AB-CSUMB-MARE-Yr1.pdf)

Seabirds: Estuarine, Intertidal and Subtidal Habitat Use along the South Coast

Dan Robinette and Jaime Jahncke, PRBO Conservation Science

A pigeon Guillemot emerges from its nest.

A pigeon Guillemot emerges from its nest. The water bird breeds on rocky shores and cliffs along the Pacific coast and is one of several seabirds that stands to benefit from the MPAs.
Photo: Kevin Cole/Wikipedia Commons

In this project, ornithologists will evaluate whether the new MPAs are adequately protecting key seabird species – pelagic cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants, Western gulls, black oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots, California least terns and California brown pelicans – and if not, how to fix this. Researchers plan to identify trends and/or patterns in the annual sizes of seabird breeding populations (and subsequent chicks) as documented in existing reports in the years prior to the MPAs. In addition, new fieldwork will be conducted along the South Coast to establish rates of seabird foraging and roosting in various nearshore habitats inside and outside the MPAs. The MPAs and special closures have been established, in part, to protect roosting and breeding seabirds from disturbances from passing ships, fishing lines and other human activities. Scientists will study the effectiveness of these activities in reducing seabird behaviors that suggest disturbance, such as nest abandonment.

Work plan (28_Robinette.pdf)

Consumptive and Nonconsumptive Human-Use Baseline Indicators for the South Coast MPAs

Astrid Scholz and Charles S. Steinback, Ecotrust and Chris LaFranchi, NaturalEquity

The overarching goal of this project is to document changes in how people use the ocean in response to the new South Coast MPAs, focusing on three sectors of the coastal economy: (1) private recreation, consumptive and nonconsumptive activities such as clamming and surfing; (2) commercial fishing, and (3) commercial charter boat for activities such as sport fishing and whale watching. The core outcome of the project will be a series of standardized, fully documented, geo-referenced, quantitative socioeconomic data sets that will be used to assess the initial impacts of the MPAs on the spatial distribution of human activities and the associated economic implications. These changes will be related, if possible, to ecological indicators of MPA performance. Scientists will also attempt to identify key socioeconomic metrics and a modeling framework for understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between ecosystem features, human-use patterns and MPAs.

Work plan (29_Sheeran_(former_PI_Scholz).pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-29-Ecotrust-Yr1.pdf)

Nearshore Substrate Mapping and Change Analysis Using Historical and Contemporary Multi-Spectral Aerial Imagery

Jan Svejkovsky, Ocean Imaging Corp.

Bottom substrate off Encinitas in San Diego County derived from remote-sensing data.

Bottom substrate off Encinitas in San Diego County derived from remote-sensing data.
Credit: Ocean Imaging (

The San Diego County-based remote sensing company Ocean Imaging Corp. will produce benthic habitat maps for the South Coast's shallow subtidal and intertidal zones. The maps will depict features such as surf-grass meadows, kelp canopy, algae-covered rock and bare-rock habitats at very high spatial resolution (40 centimeters to 1 meter). Substrate classifications derived from aerial and multispectral imaging will be validated with field data. Raw image data files (calibrated and mosaicked) and GIS-compatible substrate classification files, among other metadata packages, will be available for distribution on DVD media and eventually will be downloadable from the currently under-construction Monitoring Enterprise’s data server.

Work plan (30_Svejkovsky.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-30-Ocean-Imaging-Yr1.pdf)

Integrative Assessment of Baseline Ecological and Socioeconomic Conditions and Initial Changes within the South Coast MPAs

Jennifer Caselle and Carol Blanchette, UC Santa Barbara

Researchers will combine survey data from the nine other baseline monitoring projects into integrated and standardized data sets. Of particular interest is to combine survey data from the beach, intertidal, shallow-reef and deep-sea habitats so that they can be analyzed cohesively to assess ecosystem-level effects. This packaging of the monitoring data into an integrated, consistent, standardized unit will enable a more meaningful and comprehensive analysis of the monitoring results by the other South Coast investigators. The researchers will also spend time administering the other monitoring projects, to make sure the researchers are coordinating field activities (for example, by co-locating field sites) and working collaboratively when practicable. Administrative duties will include organizing and hosting two data analysis workshops for the other investigators.

Work plan (23_Caselle_Blanchette.pdf)

Progress Reports Year 1 (RMPA-23-Caselle-Yr1.pdf)