Sanctuaries as Responders

With monitoring programs in place, national marine sanctuaries are ideally positioned to respond to unusual events and emergencies.

dying coral covered in a white substance
In 2016, sport divers in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary reported hazy water, decomposing corals and sponges, and dead animals at their dive site. They alerted sanctuary scientists who were working nearby, unaware of the very localized event. The group quickly documented the die-off and alerted the global scientific community, receiving many suggestions and offers of help. To date, no definitive cause has been found. Based on conditions at the time, it may be tied to a combination of stressors, including high temperatures, heavy coastal rains that reduced salinity, and low oxygen—or something not yet considered. The initial mortality was extremely localized, affecting just one percent of the sanctuary’s coral reef. It was sudden, and ended quickly, but the scientists have not given up on figuring out what happened. Photo: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA
a dead bird found on the beach
When hundreds of Cassin’s auklets showed up dead on the shores of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in 2014 and 2015, Beach Watch volunteers were on the scene. Through this citizen science program, the sanctuary trains volunteers to monitor stretches of shoreline on a monthly basis. This long-term data set is crucial to establishing baseline conditions that can in turn help researchers understand and respond to changes and crises. Beach Watch citizen scientists recorded data for what turned out to be the largest Cassin’s auklet die-off that has ever been documented on the West Coast. Today, their data are helping scientists understand what happened: they believe it was highly correlated with sudden shifts in food availability due to the presence of unusually warm water. Photo: NOAA