PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 163, Winter 2011: PRBO Partnerships


A Partnership for the Ocean

Dan Howard

Ocean Partnership
Keeping Nature’s Connections Unbroken
Why Partnerships
Climate Consortium
Farming Habitat
Antarctica International
Students and Teachers
River Partners
PRBO Highlight Species
Capital Campaign Completed!
Board Leadership

Twenty miles west of the Point Reyes headlands, on a calm September day, the ocean suddenly explodes with life. Biologists on the NOAA research vessel Fulmar scan the ocean surface and rapidly call out observations; the person responsible for recording frantically enters the data. This is a challenge, as lunging humpbacks and rolling blue whales are accompanied by cavorting herds of California sea lions. On the perimeter, mixed feeding flocks of Sabine’s Gulls, Pink-footed Shearwaters, and an assortment of other seabirds create a shrieking avian aggregation as they hop, bob, and flop on the ocean’s surface. The magnet for all this wildlife is apparent: the display on the echo sounder indicates a large layer of krill in the upper portion of the water column.
Humpback whale. Photo by Sophie Webb, PRBO/NOAA-ONMS.

Fifteen minutes later, as we continue west along our transect, the ocean is quiet. Observers call out an occasional soaring Black-footed Albatross; the recorder has time to scan the horizon and breathe the salt air. On the surface it all looks the same, but what is it in this liquid world that makes one area so different from another?

Information from the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) indicates that the location of these “wildlife hotspots” can change seasonally and from one year to the next. Since 2004, scientists from PRBO Conservation Science and NOAA’s Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries have partnered to investigate the coastal and ocean ecosystem from Half Moon Bay to Bodega Bay. The persistence of wildlife hotspots is just one of several ecological questions that we are striving to address.

Coordinating and executing this offshore program, and analyzing the data to inform management, requires a range of resources and expertise. By combining contributions from each of the partners, ACCESS produces results and an understanding that would not be possible otherwise. Scientists from PRBO Conservation Science, among their several key roles, have responsiblity for analyzing and interpreting the data. This is the work that translates scientific information for management, supporting decisions that protect the sanctuary and ocean wildlife.
Marine scientists from PRBO and NOAA aboard the Fulmar near Southeast Farallon Island. Photo by Dru Devlin/NOAA-ONMS.

For example, results from ACCESS about the distribution and abundance of whales are currently being used in conversations with the U.S. Coast Guard about vessel traffic lanes into and out of San Francisco Bay. A sanctuary working group that will develop recommendations to minimize ship strikes on whales will use these data, as well.

Climate change and its effects on vital ocean processes represent a foremost concern for scientists and managers today. As coastal and marine spatial planning efforts evolve, it will be critical to understand how wildlife hotspots in the ocean vary in time and space, and how climate change may affect upwelling and other ocean processes. As new planning initiatives move forward, information provided through the ACCESS partnership will maximize protection for ocean wildlife.

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