Monterey Bay’s Seafloor Importance Corals, Sponges, Fish Protect West Coast Special Places

MONTEREY, CA- Today, Oceana released a new report about the importance of Monterey Bay’s seafloor habitat. In 2010, Oceana partnered with SeaLife Conservation aboard the 65 foot eco-research sailboat, the Derek M. Baylis, to explore and document Monterey Bay’s incredibly unique ocean habitats and associated fish species. Working with scientists from CSU Monterey Bay, the ROV footage was analyzed and reviewed and the important findings have been compiled into a report that will be submitted to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) as it considers changes to federally protected areas off the U.S. west coast at its meeting this weekend.

“From massive pinnacles to deep canyon walls, Monterey Bay’s seafloor habitats rival the visual beauty and ecological importance of tropical coral reefs,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California Program Director, who led the expedition and scientific analysis.

“Our video confirms that current management protections were put in place for good reason and should be maintained.” Oceana’s expedition explored 17 sites from Davenport to Point Lobos ranging from 70 to 620 feet deep, documenting a total of 2,130 coldwater coral colonies, 1,660 sponges, and 1,658 fish representing 30 different state and federally managed groundfish species. The study aimed to ground-truth existing data and confirmed that there are important, vulnerable habitats within existing protected areas. Some recently closed areas in Monterey Bay appear to be recovering from past trawl impacts. In particular, in northern Monterey Bay (extending from Moss Landing to Davenport) there is important habitat that could be adversely impacted if trawling were to resume in the area.

“A healthy ocean depends on healthy diverse habitats,” said Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator for Oceana. “With advances in technology we are now better equipped to explore and protect these special places. The ocean seafloor is alive and important for the long-term health of the ocean and fisheries.”

Bottom trawling is a fishing practice in which boats drag large, weighted nets along the ocean bottom, ripping up everything in their path. It is recognized as the most destructive method of fishing. Following a statewide trawl ban put in place by the California legislature in 2004, the federal PFMC implemented a series of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Conservation Areas in 2006 to protect habitat for commercial and recreational fish. Every 5 years, the PFMC reviews these EFH areas to consider changes to the suite of protective measures in place to minimize adverse impacts from fishing. The full study report and highlights of the video footage are available at http://oceana.org/en/our-work/oceana-on-the-water/monterey-bay/

Oceana expanded this pilot project in 2011 documenting additional habitats in Monterey Bay in addition to capturing valuable footage off the coast of Oregon and within Puget Sound. Analysis of video from these expeditions will be available and presented in the near future. Oceana created a newly released short film titled Fathoms Deep: Protecting the Seafloor, narrated by explorer Alexandra Cousteau. The film uses footage from Oceana’s 2010 and 2011 expeditions and allows viewers to see what lies beneath the waves off the West Coast and the devastating effects bottom trawlers can bring to an ecosystem. The film showcases Monterey’s shale-bed habitat and Carmel Pinnacles.