Researchers this week issued a sort of almanac of the ocean off Southern California in wide-ranging report on the the region’s marine protected areas established in 2012.
(From The San Diego Union Tribune / By Deborah Brennan)– San Diego’s coast includes 11 of those marine protected areas, from Batiquitos Lagoon in North County to the Tijuana River Mouth.
The report — “State of the Southern California South Coast” — cataloged the species found in habitats from sandy beaches and intertidal zones to deep water canyon, tallying both the diversity of marine creatures and their abundance.
Among the findings: sea stars may be slowly bouncing back from a catastrophic die-off several years ago, and marine life appears to be increasing in older protected areas around the Channel Islands.
“It’s really giving a deeper understanding of this wonderful asset that we all identify with as Californians, which is our ocean,” said Tom Maloney, executive director of the California Ocean Science Trust. “MPAs and monitoring of MPAs represent a globally important commitment to our ocean.”
The report examined ocean areas in and around marine protected areas, and measured baseline levels for the types and numbers of sea creatures in those waters. They’ll check those in future years to see if the new protections are working to boost populations of fish and other species.
Researchers used various methods ranging from tagging and recapturing lobsters, to aerial surveys and scuba dives, to observe and count species.
In La Jolla Canyon, researchers conducted special “elevator” transects straight up the canyon walls, where they identified 37 fish species including 15 rockfish species. The more rugged the canyon walls, the more life there was. But the deepest portions of the canyon, below 650 feet, had the most diverse species.
It’s too early to know how well the protected areas are working, but figures from the Channel Islands showed that older MPAs had increased density and biomass — the total mass of living organisms — compared to surrounding areas. In those areas, most of which were established in 2003, the biomass of targeted species increased by more than twice the rate that it did outside the MPA boundaries.
In another hopeful sign the report noted that sea stars, which perished from a wasting syndrome across the West Coast in 2013 and 2014, may be starting to recover. Scientists identified a virus as the likely culprit in the sea star die-off, but believe that exceptionally warm water that persisted until last year may have also contributed to the deaths.
Since then, researchers have found an abundance of baby sea stars in the waters where the species collapsed, said Pete Raimondi, a marine ecologist from UC Santa Cruz. Researchers will follow whether those juvenile sea stars make it to maturity, or succumb to the same disease that wiped out the previous generation.
Read the full article here: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/north-county/sd-me-marine-areas-20170315-story.html