Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
2010 Condition Report

Photo of a green anemone

Summary and Findings

Located off the Central California coast and encompassing 966 square nautical miles, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects a diversity of highly productive marine habitats and supports an abundance of species. It is a complex system of bays, estuaries, mudflats, marsh and intertidal, coastal and oceanic waters, and is influenced by the highly urbanized San Francisco Bay area populated by nearly 8 million people. The sanctuary has one of the world's most significant populations of white sharks, in addition to one of the largest concentrations of breeding seabirds. It is a destination feeding ground for endangered blue and humpback whales, and is one of the most important areas along the West Coast for marine commerce such as fishing, shipping, whale watching and tourism.

Because of the considerable differences in environmental pressures and responses between the coastal/offshore and estuarine/lagoon zones, this document addresses status and trends to represent these two environment types separately. The following is a brief summary of findings for each zone.

Coastal and Offshore Environment

Based on available data and observations, overall, the resources of the sanctuary's outer coastal and offshore areas appear to be in relatively good condition. However, water quality parameters are of some concern, primarily due to impacts of outflow from San Francisco Bay and agricultural runoff from surrounding rural areas. Little is known about the eutrophic conditions of the sanctuary; however, new data may reveal improving water quality. Pressures that threaten the integrity of coastal and offshore habitat include trampling, extraction along the intertidal areas, and bottom trawling, yet overall the outer coast and offshore habitats are improving due to increased management actions. Living resources have experienced some loss of biodiversity and increased extraction: however, the sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where endangered blue and humpback whale populations are increasing. Information gaps exist for maritime archaeological resources. Based on available information, there may be some threats to maritime archaeological resources that could reduce their historical, scientific or educational value and may affect eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Estuarine and Lagoon Environment

Overall, resources of the sanctuary's estuarine and lagoon areas appear to be in good/fair to fair/poor condition. Land use pressures have caused changes to sediment and freshwater regimes. However, water quality may possibly improve due to implementation of best management practices, cleanup of mining pollutants, and removal of derelict vessels. Pressures on habitat that have caused key habitat loss or alteration include decades of poor watershed practices resulting in water diversion, in-flow of heavy metals from abandoned mines, pollutants from dairy ranches, and increased sedimentation resulting in loss of ecologically important eelgrass beds (a key species of the sanctuary). Living resources have experienced a loss of biodiversity, causing declines in some, but not all, ecosystem components. Non-indigenous species are a threat to the health of the sanctuary, but while most of these 143 species are located in the estuarine and lagoon environment, there is little data on their abundance and distribution. Little is known about the integrity of maritime archaeological resources in the estuarine and lagoon zone; however, based on available information, there are no known threats at this time. More data collection and targeted data analyses are needed for determining status and trends in water quality, living resources (particularly non-indigenous species), and especially maritime archaeological resources. More information is also needed regarding the effects that restoration actions have had on sanctuary resources.

In November 2008, the sanctuary completed a final draft of its newest management plan. This plan was developed as a joint plan in conjunction with the contiguous Cordell Bank and Monterey Bay sanctuaries. The new management plan considers the ecological linkages and uses ecosystem based-management actions to protect the sanctuary from human pressures including vessel traffic, marine debris, radioactive waste, dredged material, non-indigenous species, activities from fishing, nonpoint source pollution, and wildlife disturbance. The plan outlines strategies to fill data gaps through monitoring water quality, eutrophic conditions, key species and habitats, and conducting complete site characterization. Monitoring will be increased to identify areas of ecological significance, areas of highest and most persistent biological densities and areas of greatest productivity, effectiveness of marine zones, early detection of non-indigenous species, and detection of wildlife disturbance. Increased stewardship is also planned to help decrease disturbance events.