Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
2009 Condition Report

Photo of fish and coral

Response to Pressures

Regulatory Setting

Photo of RV Shearwater
RV Shearwater. (Photo: Channel Islands sanctuary)

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is an area of complex jurisdiction and management. The sanctuary boundary extends from mean high tide at the islands out to six nautical miles. State jurisdiction extends from mean high tide to three nautical miles. Channel Islands National Park property includes most of the land of the islands offshore to one nautical mile. The military owns San Miguel Island, although it is actively managed by the National Park Service, and the non-profit organization The Nature Conservancy also owns the western three-quarters of Santa Cruz Island. Other government agencies that operate in the sanctuary and exercise authority over portions of the resources include: NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), U.S. Coast Guard, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California State Lands Commission, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Game, California Fish and Game Commission, California Department of Boating and Waterways, California State Water Resources Control Board, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board, Santa Barbara and Ventura County government, and Santa Barbara and Ventura counties' Air Pollution Control Districts. The sanctuary works in cooperation with all of these organizations. Sanctuary regulations can be found on the sanctuary Web site and in the sanctuary's management plan. The management plan was revised in 2009 and includes updates to management and operational strategies and regulations.

Commercial and Recreational Fishing

Although living marine resources have been historically depleted, current regulations and oversight aim to improve their status.  NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service regulates commercial and recreational fishing in federal waters, and California Department of Fish and Game regulates fishing in state waters.  Current regulations include a Rockfish Conservation Area and a Cowcod Conservation Area that prohibits bottom fishing.  In addition, there is a network of 13 marine zones which include 11 no-fishing reserves and two conservation areas that allow some forms of fishing (see Figure 21, Question 5).  The first phase of implementation for these marine zones promulgated by the state established marine reserves and marine conservation areas in 2003 under state law (the California Marine Life Protection Act) that extend from mean high water to the state waters boundary at three miles. In July 2007, under a combination of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and Magnuson Stevens Act, some of these zones were extended to the federal boundary at six nautical miles, and one new zone was established (the “Footprint” marine reserve south of the Anacapa Passage between Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands).  
In addition to spatial closures, gear restrictions have also been implemented.  Over the last decade, bottom-trawling activities were restricted in sanctuary waters.  The California state legislature passed a bill in the 1990s prohibiting bottom-trawling in most state waters out to three nautical miles (5.5 km) offshore.  Revision of this legislation in 2006 extended the prohibition to all state waters with some exemptions for areas and fisheries.  Since some of this trawling had occurred on hard bottom, this action resulted in protection of sensitive benthic habitat.  

The PFMC together with the NOAA Fisheries has prohibited bottom trawling in two types of zones – a Trawl Rockfish Conservation Area (Figure 28) and Essential Fish Habitat. The Trawl Rockfish Conservation Area was closed beginning in 2002 to prevent bycatch of depleted rockfish species.  The upper and lower boundaries of this closure have changed slightly over time, but generally encompass the seafloor between 100 and 150 fathoms (180 and 275 meters).  NOAA Fisheries identified the Essential Fish Habitat trawl closure areas in consultation with the trawling industry and they were implemented in June of 2006.  A Cowcod Conservation Area encompasses Santa Barbara Island and prohibits bottom fishing in this area (Figure 28). 

map of fishing regulations
Figure 28. wo of the major fishing regulations in the sanctuary are the Cowcod Conservation Area and the Trawl Rockfish Conservation Area. (Photo: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary)

The sanctuary’s response to pressures on living marine resources has been to work cooperatively on regulations, enforcement, and monitoring.  Implementation of the network of marine protected areas within the sanctuary was accomplished by working closely with public stakeholders, the state, and NOAA Fisheries.  To ensure compliance with regulations, the Channel Islands sanctuary has cooperative agreements with the U.S. Coast Guard, Channel Islands National Park, and the CA Department of Fish and Game for enforcement through surveillance and patrols.  This cooperative effort ensures what is believed to be a high level of compliance. 

Continuing to monitor living marine resources in terms of marine reserve effectiveness and developing comprehensive monitoring to address some of the issues in this report is a priority. Scientists at universities, government agencies, and non-profit organizations work in partnership with the sanctuary to monitor the effectiveness of the reserves.  In addition, the sanctuary has a socioeconomic monitoring plan in place.  The first five-year evaluation of these marine reserves occurred in 2008 (CDFG et al. 2008).  Preliminary results suggest the reserves may have higher abundance and higher biomass of targeted species, but that more time is needed to confirm trends.  Looking towards the future, the sanctuary aims to focus monitoring efforts on continuing long-term data sets and filling gaps in monitoring efforts. 

Shipping and Boating

Shipping presents two major concerns: marine noise and whale strikes.  The U.S. Coast Guard enforces federal shipping and boating regulations.  In addition, the sanctuary and the state regulate discharge of sewage and graywater.  The sanctuary also monitors patterns of use by vessels through the Sanctuary Aerial Monitoring Program Spatial Analysis Program (SAMSAP).  This program monitors and records all locations, types of vessels, and activities during periodic overflights, which allows an analysis of vessel distribution and use of the sanctuary.  

In 2004, the sanctuary advisory council addressed concerns about anthropogenic noise by unanimously adopting and forwarding a report created by the conservation working group on anthropogenic noise in the sanctuary to the sanctuary superintendent. The report focused on noise from ships and other sources such as military activities, construction, oil and gas production, and smaller boats (Polefka 2004).  Sanctuary staff took this report under advisement and began implementing some of its recommendations, including developing research partnerships.  The sanctuary has partnered with Dr. John Hildebrand and researchers in his lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who monitor ship traffic using the Automated Identification System (AIS).  In addition, the researchers monitor marine mammal noise and marine mammal response to noise in the sanctuary.  Using the AIS information and noise recordings from the Santa Barbara Channel, the researchers can begin to understand the noise in the channel from both marine mammals and ships, and ultimately plan to study the animals’ behavioral response to noise.  

In response to a number of blue whale deaths in 2007 – several of which were confirmed ship strikes – the sanctuary began work to protect large cetaceans in the sanctuary and Santa Barbara Channel.  Sanctuary staff engaged the sanctuary advisory council, and created a subcommittee of council members to address the issue.  The subcommittee drafted a prevention and response plan and, through the U.S. Coast Guard, implemented a Notice to Mariners in 2008 advising ships to slow down voluntarily while in the Santa Barbara Channel during periods when whales were believed to be present.  Sanctuary staff flew weekly or biweekly survey flights of the shipping lanes to record the presence of whales.  The sanctuary education team, a working group of the sanctuary advisory council, is exploring ways to improve outreach to ship operators and crews.  Analysis of the effectiveness of these protective actions and plans for future measures are being evaluated.  

In addition, Dr. John Calambokidis with Cascadia Research tags whales to obtain information about their short term movements, diving behavior, and acoustic behavior and environment.  In light of recent events, he is focusing on whales in and around the shipping lanes and works closely with the Hildebrand lab and the sanctuary.  Dr. Bruce Mate of Oregon State University uses tags that stay attached to blue whales over long periods, and provides information about long-range movements.  Many questions remain about ships and whales, such as understanding the biological and physical conditions in the ocean that determine the distribution and behavior of large whales with respect to coastal shipping lanes, and understanding how large whales respond to ship presence and noise. 

Offshore Oil and Gas Industry

The Minerals Management Service regulates oil and gas activities in federal waters. Sanctuary regulations prohibit new oil and gas exploration within the sanctuary. There are 39 federal leases in the Channel Islands region, two of which pre-date sanctuary designation and overlap the sanctuary at its eastern boundary. To minimize the effects of a spill, oil companies and responding agencies have contingency plans in place. The sanctuary participates in oil spill response readiness training and coordinates closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and the state of California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. The sanctuary’s response readiness includes training sanctuary staff, development of a response manual, and use of two databases called SHIELDS (Sanctuary Hazardous Incident Emergency Logistics Database Systems) and RUST (Resources and Under Sea Threats). SHIELDS provides national marine sanctuary superintendents and staff with a Web-based hazards contingency plan and set of response tools to identify resources at risk, additional threats, available response and information assets, notification contacts, maps and jurisdictional information. It includes GIS maps, environmental sensitivity indexes, resources at risk information, and various coastal observation systems. RUST stores information on undersea threats associated with cultural resources and hazards. This may include lost cargo, dumpsites, ordnance, shipwrecks, and aircraft wrecks.

Climate Change

The impacts of global-scale climate change are already significant, and local-scale effects will be profoundly transformative. However, uncertainty still remains as to the eventual magnitude of climate alteration on local ecosystem condition. Consequently, precise local-scale forecasts of global climate change are not possible. Uncertainty results from both our limited ability to forecast climate change drivers and an incomplete understanding of the local ecosystem and how it is coupled to the global climate system. This forecast uncertainty makes it difficult to prioritize responses to climate change at the sanctuary scale. What little is known about climate change is that almost all driving processes and many responses operate on larger scales far beyond the sanctuary's jurisdiction, significantly limiting the ability of the sanctuary to develop climate change response or management strategies.

Current sanctuary responses to this pressure are to develop a synthetic and comprehensive monitoring program that is designed to inform 1) a more mature understanding of how local-scale ecosystem processes are coupled to global-scale climate and 2) how the local-scale ecosystem is responding to climate alteration. Deployment of such a monitoring effort is dependent on funding availability. However, sanctuary staff has significant expertise in climate process impacts on local ecosystems, and can leverage this expertise with local academic and agency partners to increase the likelihood of successful monitoring program development. In addition, concerned members of the sanctuary advisory council are working with staff to characterize the carbon budget of the sanctuary. It is anticipated that improved climate impact monitoring will inform the development of management tools for mitigation and response to climate alteration. There is no guarantee however, that local scale management alternatives exist; the scales of the pressure may exceed our ability to manage. One thing we can be certain about however, is if we fail to improve our understanding of climate process in the sanctuary through research we will surely fail to identify potential mitigation alternatives.

Pollutants and Marine Debris

Numerous state and federal statutes relate to water quality.  The U.S. EPA regulates water quality and discharges in federal waters, and the State Water Resources Control Board regulates state water.  Notable federal statutes include the Clean Water Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Oil Pollution Control Act of 1990, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act.  State statutes include the Porter Cologne Water Quality Control Act, the California Coastal Act, and the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act of 1990. 

Sanctuary regulations prohibit discharge of any material into the sanctuary, with some exceptions for routine vessel operations and lawful fishing activities.  Discharge of untreated sewage is prohibited throughout the sanctuary (and within the three-mile boundary of all state waters).  In sanctuary waters, vessels under 300 gross registered tons may discharge waste that has been treated with a type I or type II marine sanitation device.  Large ships (300 gross tons or larger) are prohibited from discharging in the sanctuary, regardless of treatment.  However, this does not preclude pollution or marine debris released outside sanctuary boundaries from entering. 

Toxic algal blooms in response to changes in ocean conditions can result in the periodic toxicity of shellfish.  The state Department of Public Health maintains a monitoring program to track blooms and disseminate information (CA Dept. of Public Health Web site, Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Reports)

In response to a recognition that more information is needed about the water quality of the sanctuary, the conservation working group of the sanctuary advisory council developed a water quality needs assessment that was subsequently unanimously adopted by the council in 2005 ( Polger et al. 2005).  The assessment includes recommendations for development of a water quality program.  As part of a response to this assessment, a water quality characterization is being developed to document the known sources of water quality impairments, research activities, and data sets.  This document will be followed by water quality actions and implementation.  The sanctuary also participates in and supports several water quality monitoring and research programs, including bacteria monitoring at popular island anchorages, and monitoring through the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.  The available data is good, but is temporally and spatially limited.  Although the water quality at the sanctuary is believed to be good, a more rigorous monitoring plan is desired.  An ideal plan would cover more area of the sanctuary, sample at regular intervals, and would provide information on standard environmental parameters such as salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, currents, and other parameters.  This data would not only inform an assessment of water quality, but would provide a link between physical, chemical, and biological processes.  In addition, this information could be used in analysis of other pressures mentioned in this report, such as climate change and threats to living marine resources.   

In 2006, the SeaDoc Society at UC Davis, in partnership with NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, initiated a lost fishing gear removal project that recovered 10 tons of fishing gear from the sanctuary – mainly lobster traps and some seine nets.  The SeaDoc Society continues to work on this project.  The sanctuary welcomes this and other marine debris removal partnerships. 

Visitor Use

Figure 29. Recreational boaters at Pelican Bay Santa Cruz Island. (Photo: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA)

There are no prohibitions on entry into the sanctuary except for large ships within one nautical mile of the islands. However, the offshore location of the sanctuary limits access to visitors with private boats (Figure 29), or those on charter cruises and concessionaire boats. Although increased visitor use creates increased pressure on sanctuary resources, it is also an opportunity to inform users and build support for the public resource. To balance visitor use with resource protection, sanctuary education and outreach programs inform users about the special resources found in the sanctuary and ways that they can protect them. Staff and volunteers distribute educational brochures at public events and to businesses. The sanctuary's main outreach brochure, "Protecting Your Channel Islands" has been distributed to thousands of users and continues to be updated and reprinted. Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers are present on whale watching trips, island transportation vessels, and island hikes to interpret sanctuary rules and resource information.

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Figure 30. Channel Islands Naturalist Corps volunteers interpret the resources of the Channel Islands Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park to the public. (Photo: Channel Islands sanctuary)

In 2008, 150 members of the Naturalist Corps volunteered over 30,000 hours interpreting the resources in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Channel Islands National Park, and Santa Barbara Channel to visitors (Figure 30). Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the sanctuary advisory council, and the sanctuary education team (a working group of the council) continue to look for opportunities to reach visitors. To reach more visitors from diverse audiences, sanctuary staff is working to develop new outreach materials such as signs at boat ramps, films, brochures, educational programs, and interactive electronic kiosks.