PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 169, Summer 2012: At-Sea Research With NOAA Marine Sanctuaries


Eyes Upon Our Marine Sanctuaries

by Dan Howard and Maria Brown

A Whale’s World
New Protection For Whales
Eyes Upon Our Marine Sanctuaries
Aboard a Research Cruise

For the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries, our Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) partnership with PRBO is the primary connection we have with the sanctuaries’ coastal and offshore ecosystems. Information collected during ACCESS cruises can be linked to many sanctuary management issues.

The sanctuaries’ advisory councils recently completed a working-group process with stakeholders to develop recommendations for reducing the risk of large vessels hitting endangered whales, and to evaluate acoustic impacts on whales in the sanctuaries. ACCESS data were pivotal for informing many stages of this decision-making process.

For example:

ACCESS findings on whale distribution and abundance helped show that blue whales regularly occur along the sloping edge of the continental shelf. This was the basis for recommending that the U.S. Coast Guard pursue modification of shipping lanes to avoid areas where whales consistently aggregate.

Our coastal waters are an internationally important feeding destination for whales (including endangered species), as also shown by ACCESS. Such knowledge is essential for targeting efforts to understand the impact of vessel sound on whales through new, recommended acoustic monitoring. p>ACCESS contributes in other important ways to ocean protection in the sanctuaries. Data from ACCESS have been entered into an online tool for oil spill response, designed to help emergency responders and environmental resources managers understand more precisely which biological resources are at risk.

Several years ago ACCESS began regularly monitoring marine debris. Now, as NOAA is ramping up West Coast efforts to monitor debris resulting from the Japanese tsunami, ACCESS has baseline information on marine debris prior to the tsunami and will be surveying coastal and offshore areas for tsunami-generated debris this year.

Long-term, systematic surveys are invaluable for understanding variability in marine systems and informing management. ACCESS provides critical information that supports our best decisions for protecting magnificent ocean areas.

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