PISCO research contributes to 5-year evaluation of Channel Island Marine Protected Areas

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) was established in 1980 to protect an area of national significance because of its exceptional natural beauty and resources. In 2003, the California Fish and Game Commission established a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) within the state waters of the CINMS. In 2006 and 2007 these MPAs were expanded by NOAA into deeper federal waters of the sanctuary. The Channel Islands MPA network is designed to:

  • Protect and restore habitats and ecosystems.
  • Provide a refuge for all sea life.
  • Provide reference areas for research and educational opportunities.
  • Protect marine natural heritage for future generations.

The Channel Island MPAs have been studied by PISCO researchers since their inception, in close collaboration with our partners, using a monitoring and research program developed over the years. PISCO’s long-term monitoring program initiated in the Channel Islands in 1999, developed the sampling design and protocols that were refined for MPA monitoring to provide necessary information to guide policy and management decisions in a cost-effective way.

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Fig 1. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, State and Federal MPAs

This map represents accurate regulations at the time of construction, please check with California Dept. of Fish and Game for current rules  and regulations

Data Analysis

PISCO’s analysis of the kelp forest monitoring data involved comparisons of population attributes (density, biomass, size structure, larval production) and community structure (i.e. species diversity, relative abundance of species, including those targeted and non-targeted by fisheries) inside MPAs and comparable reference sites. These results show that fish species targeted by fishermen were larger and more abundant on average inside marine reserves than in fished waters nearby. Of 14 fish species that are targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen (e.g., rockfish, kelp bass, and lingcod), 12 had greater biomass inside reserves relative to outside (average response ratio = 1.70). Biomass of ocean whitefish and lingcod, both of which are fished, was more than 3-times greater inside reserves. For the 20 surveyed fish species that are not targeted (e.g., bat rays, garibaldi, surfperch), the response ratios for biomass were variable (average response ratio = 0.87). On average, invertebrates targeted by fishing were more abundant in reserves, while responses of non-targeted species varied.

Accounting for environmental differences across the Channel Islands, evaluations found that marine reserves tend to host a different community of fishes, invertebrates, and algae than areas that are open to fishing, but the differences take years to develop. For long-established marine reserves in the Channel Islands, lobsters, turban snails, and sponges are abundant in reserves, while purple urchins, sunflower stars, and Kellet’s whelk are more abundant outside. In a marine reserve established in 1978 at Anacapa Island, lobsters, rock scallops and sea cucumbers have become plentiful, different fish species dominate, and the reserve’s lush kelp forest and understory algae are more stable than those in fished areas. In the new reserves, PISCO monitoring programs are detecting ecological changes, including greater diversity of fishes in reserves than in non-reserve areas. The monitoring programs have also shown that marine reserves at the Channel Islands have more predatory fish (which are more likely to be targeted by fishing) compared to herbivorous fish.

Evaluation results were summarized in a booklet created by the California Department of Fish and Game, PISCO, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Channel Islands National Park entitled Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas: First Five Years of Monitoring.” This booklet was designed to communicate results from the first 5 years of biophysical and socioeconomic monitoring to policymakers, managers, educators, and the public. The booklet was delivered to the California Fish and Game Commission and released to the public in December 2008 at the same time as the Commission's 5 year review of the Channel Islands MPAs. Scientific publications from this work are in progress.

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