Protecting the countless numbers of whales, seals, fish, seabirds and thousands of other marine species is fundamental to what national marine sanctuaries are all about. By protecting the sanctuary's animals and habitats, we are also protecting America's natural and cultural heritage and our economic well-being.
So how is all this done? We cannot over stress the importance of our partners. The program cannot survive without them. To do this, we work with federal and state agencies, Indian tribes, national and international organizations and numerous public and private interests, all in an ongoing effort to protect and manage our nation's treasured marine life and habitats.
Throughout the sanctuaries, joint efforts are held in things like mock oil spill drills that test the readiness and capabilities in responding to natural or human-caused disasters and accidents in a sanctuary. Turning to wildlife protection, numerous efforts are underway to address issues that might hurt the status of endangered animals like sea otters or providing safe havens for marine life. Substantial work is also done to protect and restore sensitive habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass meadows and rocky reefs that provide homes and food for sanctuary animals.
Following are some highlights of our resource protection efforts. You can also turn to each sanctuary page or visit our expanded accomplishments Web site for additional information.
No-Take Reserve Contains More and Bigger Lobster
Within the Florida Keys sanctuary, different types of marine zones have been established to protect marine life and provide areas for recreation. To determine how effective the zones are at protecting marine life, a monitoring program was established as part of a comprehensive effort to gauge the effects of the sanctuary network of 24 no-take areas.
As part of the monitoring effort, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scientists are documenting the success of the Western Sambo Ecological Reserve in protecting spiny lobster since the reserve was established in 1997. Spiny lobster are one of the most commercially and recreationally important species in Florida. Scientists have observed a steady increase in the numbers of large males and adult females inside the reserve, increasing the success of lobster reproduction. The number of eggs produced by lobster increases exponentially with size so the larger lobsters are producing significantly more eggs than their counterparts outside the reserve. There are also indications that lobsters are “spilling over” from the Western Sambo reserve into adjacent fished areas. Ongoing mark-recapture and sonic tagging studies will help to determine whether fished areas are also benefiting from the reserve. Click here for more.
Rare Seabird Showing Signs of Recovery
Xantus's murrelets are one of the rarest seabirds in the world and are considered one of the seabirds most vulnerable to imminent extinction. Anacapa Island is one of only 12 islands where Xantus's murrelets are known to breed but the survival of this important colony had been threatened by predatory non-native black rats. Rats were eradicated in 2002 as part of the Anacapa Island Restoration Program and scientists with the sanctuary, Channel Islands National Park and California Institute of Environmental Studies are hopeful that the Xantus's murrelets populations will increase.
In 2005, seabird biologists completed the sixth year of Xantus's murrelet nest monitoring on Anacapa. Biologists measured the number of nests and breeding success prior to (2000-02) and after (2003-05) the eradication of rats. The murrelets' difficult nesting habitats made these studies quite challenging (nests are hidden in small crevices in steep, rocky cliffs or sea caves), but the monitoring has clearly demonstrated the benefits of rat removal. Overall, the number of murrelet nests found increased 81% in 2003-05. Most notably, no murrelet nests have been destroyed by rats since 2002. In previous years, more than half of all nests were destroyed by rats. Rat eradication has greatly improved the prospects for survival of this colony but ongoing monitoring is needed to document the continued recovery of Xantus's murrelets at Anacapa Island.
Invasive Asian Kelp Removed from Sanctuary
The introduction of non-native species is a serious threat to marine ecosystems. In Monterey Bay, sanctuary, staff removed an invasive Asian kelp from within a marina in Monterey Bay harbor. Over 100 pounds of kelp were removed. Later in the year, staff completed a reconnaissance in the marina and found only a few kelps remaining. However, they were surprised to see the tremendous growth of an Asian sea anemone species on the pier pilings. Scientists are currently devising a plan to rid the bay of this new invader.
Proposed Shifting of Shipping Lanes to Protect Whales
The Boston shipping lanes cross the southern half of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in an area where endangered humpback finback and right whales are often observed. NOAA has recommended a 10-degree northward rotation of the shipping lanes, which would dramatically reduce the threat of ship strikes to whales in the sanctuary by an estimated 68 percent. This proposal is supported by local shipping companies.
Sanctuary scientists have analyzed more than 20 years of whale sightings data collected primarily by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the Whale Center of New England to determine the areas in which the highest concentrations of whales are regularly found. The northward adjustment would place the lanes over a more gravelly sea floor, as opposed to the sandy areas where the whales like to feed. Sand lance, the prey fish of choice for many whales, prefers environments where they can bury themselves in the sand for protection. Humpback whales tend to congregate where these fish find shelter. Right whales also feed in these productive waters. This simple step will hopefully provide one more safeguard for these endangered species that thrill thousands of whale watchers each year.