The California Current System along the U.S. west coast is among the richest ecosystems in the world, driven by nutrient input from coastal upwelling and supporting a great diversity of marine life. Like coastal regions in general, it is also heavily impacted by human activities. A new study led by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, reveals areas along the west coast where human impacts are highest on marine predators such as whales, seals, seabirds, and turtles.
The study, published October 28 in Nature Communications, found that many of the high impact areas are within the boundaries of National Marine Sanctuaries. This means there are good opportunities for improving management strategies, according to first author Sara Maxwell, who led the study as a graduate student in ocean sciences at UC Santa Cruz and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station.
"The sanctuaries are located close to the coast in areas where there are a lot of human activities and a lot of marine life, so it's not surprising that we see a lot of impacts there," Maxwell said, noting that oil spills were a big concern when the sanctuaries were established, and many do not limit activities such as fishing, although they are actively engaged in managing industries such as shipping.
"With the sanctuaries already in place, we have an opportunity to increase protections. The results of this study allow us to be more specific in where we focus management efforts so that we can minimize the economic impact on people," she said.
There are five National Marine Sanctuaries along the west coast, covering nearly 15,000 square miles. A proposed expansion of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries would extend protections north to Point Arena, a key area identified in the study. More....