Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Condition Report Partial Update: A New Assessment of the State of the Sanctuary Resources 2015

photo of kelp forest and anemone

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

  • 6,094 square miles (15,783 square kilometers)
  • Congressionally designated in 1992 as a National Marine Sanctuary for the purpose of resource protection, research, education, and public use
  • Includes bays, estuaries, coastal and oceanic waters
  • High diversity of flora and fauna including 34 species of marine mammals, more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, at least 525 species of fishes, and an abundance of invertebrates and algae
  • Contains the Monterey Canyon, a submarine canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in size
  • Contains an estimated 225 documented shipwrecks or lost aircraft and 718 historic sites
  • The Davidson Seamount is an undersea mountain habitat and is the first seamount to be protected within a United States national marine sanctuary

This document provides a partial update to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s 2009 Condition Report. The 2009 report provided a summary of resources in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS or sanctuary), pressures on those resources, current conditions and trends, and management responses to reduce or mitigate human pressures. Specifically, the State of Sanctuary Resources section of the 2009 Condition Report presented responses to a set of 17 questions posed to all sanctuaries (see Appendix A). These responses provided information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources, and the human activities that affect them. These 17 questions were completed for three marine environments: (1.) estuarine, (2.) nearshore and (3.) offshore. The 2009 report can be downloaded from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries website1

This report provides an updated assessment of the health of the sanctuary in the State of Sanctuary Resources section.  Sanctuary staff, with input from regional scientific experts, re-evaluated status and trend ratings for 162 of the questions.  Each question was re-evaluated for accuracy and completeness, given new data sets, published literature and expert opinion that have become available since 2009. In most cases, new information and updated narratives are provided for each question, and many include new status and trend ratings. Trend ratings are generally based on trends since 2009. This re-evaluation was completed for the three aforementioned marine environments: (1.) estuarine, (2.) nearshore and (3.) offshore. Furthermore, a fourth marine environment, seamount, was evaluated for the first time in this update due to the addition of Davidson Seamount Management Zone to the sanctuary in November 2008 (Figure 1).

In order to address the set of 16 questions, sanctuary staff consulted with outside experts familiar with the resources and with knowledge of previous and current scientific investigations in the sanctuary. Evaluations of status and trends are based on interpretation of quantitative and, when necessary, qualitative assessments, and the observations of scientists, managers and users. The ratings reflect the collective interpretation of the status of local issues of concern among sanctuary system staff and outside experts based on their knowledge and perception of local problems. The final ratings were determined by sanctuary staff. This report has been peer reviewed and complies with the White House Office of Management and Budget’s peer review standards, as outlined in the Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.

This is the second effort to comprehensively describe the status and trends of resources at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The report helps identify gaps in current monitoring efforts, as well as causal factors that may require monitoring and potential remediation in the years to come. The data discussed will not only enable resource managers and stakeholders to acknowledge prior changes in resource status, but will also provide guidance for future management challenges imposed by issues such as increasing coastal populations and climate change. This updated condition report also serves as a supporting document for the revision of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Management Plan and will help inform constituents who wish to participate in that process.

map of monterey bay showing different environments
Figure 1: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was subdivided into estuarine, nearshore (shoreline to 30 meters depth) and offshore (30 meters depth to seaward boundary) environments for the purpose of assessment in the 2009 MBNMS Condition Report due to the considerable differences in these environments. All 17 standardized questions were assessed separately for each of these environments. In the 2015 Condition Report, a fourth environment, seamount, has been assessed for the first time. The seamount environment is defined by the boundaries of the Davidson Seamount Management Zone, which was added to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in November 2008. Credit: S. De Beukelaer, MBNMS


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1Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. (last updated Sept. 29, 2015). Condition Reports. National Marine Sanctuaries.

2 In 2012, the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries led an effort to review and revise the set of questions and their possible responses posed in the condition reports. As part of this effort, some questions were combined, new questions were added and other questions were removed. Question 10, “What is the status of environmentally sustainable fishing and how is it changing?” was removed from the set of questions. This decision was made because of all the questions, it was the only one that focused on a single human activity. The issue of fishing is sufficiently addressed in other questions found in the report, including those related to biodiversity, the status and health of key species, and the status of human activities. For a complete list of the new, revised set of questions, see ONMS 2015. Note that the revised questions are not reflected in the 2015 Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report Update; however, because of the aforementioned reasons, question 10 was not answered. The new set of questions will be addressed when the condition report is revised in its entirety in the future.