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NOAA Cites Threats to Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary

A report indicates that the sanctuary's marine life and habitats are in fair to good condition

A new NOAA report on the health of California’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary indicates that the overall condition of the sanctuary’s marine life and habitats is fair to good, but identifies several threats to sanctuary resources, such as growing coastal populations, shipping and climate change.

“The potential impact of global climate change on fragile sanctuary resources and habitats, and increased coastal growth, are issues of concern,” said Chris Mobley, sanctuary superintendent.

Prepared by the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Condition Report, reviewed by outside experts, indicates that water quality is generally good because of the sanctuary’s offshore location and distance from major urban population centers. However, over time, habitat quality and living resource conditions have deteriorated because of human encroachment, as well as changing ocean conditions and disease.

The sanctuary’s maritime archaeological resources, such as shipwrecks, also face risks from looting, natural degradation, and damage from fishing gear and anchors.

The NOAA formally began its stewardship of these resources in 1980. The report notes that many management and regulatory programs aimed at protecting and restoring resources are already in place and seek to improve conditions in the sanctuary.

For example, the sanctuary contains a network of 13 marine zones made up of 11 “no-take” marine reserves. There are two marine conservation areas where some fishing is allowed. These zones were established in state waters in 2003 and extended to the sanctuary’s federal waters in 2007. Additionally, the sanctuary updated its management plan in January 2009, emphasizing ecosystem-based approaches to improving water quality, reducing vessel discharges, and focusing research on emerging threats to ocean ecosystem health.

Emerging or poorly understood threats present new challenges in assessing their impact on sanctuary resources. Global climate change is already impacting ocean chemistry, which is expected to affect marine biodiversity and biological productivity. Climate change is also resulting in increased seawater temperatures, changes in currents, and sea level rise all of which are showing signs of impacting fundamental changes in marine and coastal ecosystems. Rising population growth in adjacent cities and counties, vessel traffic, as well as air and water polluting activities outside the sanctuary’s boundaries, are also a concern.

The NOAA prepared the condition report based on consultations from outside experts that occurred in 2007. Click here to view the full report.

— Shauna Bingham is a volunteer and outreach coordinator for the NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

 
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