Water Quality
Channel Islands

photo of a student performing a water quality test
The sanctuary supports several water quality monitoring programs. This photo shows a student conducting water quality tests in the Santa Barbara Channel. Credit: Claire Fackler, ONMS, NOAA

Why is it a concern?

Water quality can be impacted by the presence of contaminants (for example pesticides, hydrocarbons (e.g., oil), and heavy metals), excessive sedimentation, and elevated nutrient loads.There are several potential sources of contaminants in the Channel Islands including oil spills, natural hydrocarbon seeps, and land based sources of pollution. Oil and chemical spills in the sanctuary region can result from accidents associated with oil production and could range from small, localized spills to large events that span hundreds of kilometers of coastline. A large spill could have a major impact on foraging birds, marine mammals, fishes, and kelp, as well as wetlands and rocky shores, and on tourism and the coastal economy.

The region is also known for natural hydrocarbon seeps. Natural oil seeps at Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel are estimated to discharge approximately 150-170 barrels (6,300-7,140 gallons) of oil per day. Some of this hydrocarbon discharge enters the sanctuary and affects water quality.

Land based pollution can introduce sediment, bacteria, and agricultural-based chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides into the water and vessel discharges can bring sewage, bacteria, and marine debris and contribute to poor water quality. Reduced water quality can cause illness or disease, impair condition and reproductive capacity, and decrease productivity in marine organisms. It can also endanger human users of the sanctuary. Agricultural and urban runoff, as well as effluent from municipal wastewater treatment plants, may be some of the sources of pollution from the mainland that reach the sanctuary. Because pollutants can be carried to the sanctuary by ocean currents, or transported through the food chain, the spatial extent of water quality threats is much larger than the sanctuary itself.


Overview of Research

Project Name PI and contacts Links

Santa Barbara Island Nutrient Subsidies

Dr. Hannah Stewart, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
Dr. Jennifer Smith, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Dr. Steve Katz, University of Washington


Science Needs and Questions

  • What are the status and trends of water quality in the Sanctuary?
  • What are the sources and levels of eutrophication and how are they changing?
  • What toxins, contaminants, pollutants, particulates are present?
  • How do vessel discharges affect water quality in the Sanctuary?
  • How persistent are legacy toxins (e.g., DDT) in the Sanctuary?
  • What are the levels and sources of these contaminants?
  • Are Harmful Algal Blooms occurring in the Sanctuary?

Education and Outreach Material

Keep Oceans Clean - No matter where you live. Life in the ocean depends on you. Learn how to protect our ocean with the Little Mermaid.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Boating and Safety Brochure

photo of an oil rig
Spills from oil platforms operating close to sanctuary boundaries and effects of oil production on water quality are of concern. Credit: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA


Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 2009. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report 2009. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD. 60pp.

Cavanaugh, K.C., D.A Siegel, D.C. Reed, P.E. Dennison, 2011. Environmental controls of giant-kelp biomass in the Santa Barbara Channel, California. Mar Ecol Prog Ser Vol 429: 1-17.

Engle, D.L. 2006. Assessment of coast water resources and watershed conditions at Channel Islands National Park, California. Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-2006/354.

Hornafius, J.S., D.C. Quigley, B.P. Luyendyk. 1999. The worlds most spectacular marine hydrocarbons seeps (Coal Oil Point, Santa Barbara Channel, California): quantification of emissions. Journal Geophysical Research 104(C9): 20703-20711.