Scientists Catalog Life In The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Jun 12, 2014

Megan Bassett and the ROV Beagle named for the ship that carried Charles Darwin to the Galápagos Islands.
Credit Ifame Lab & Megan Bassett
Dr. James Lindholm in a lab at the Institute for Applied Marine Ecology, CSUMB
Credit Doug McKnight
Dr. Andrew DeVogelaere, NOAA Research Coordinator/SIMoN Program Director at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Credit Doug McKnight


Using the first ever sea floor maps of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, marine biologists are now cataloging what lives there, and in the process helping those who manage the preserve. 

Dr. James Lindholm points to a video monitor in a research lab at Institute for Applied Marine Ecology at CSU Monterey Bay, KAZU’s parent institution, and says, “We are going over a rocky reef.”

Lindholm is viewing video of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary sea floor shot by cameras mounted on a remote operated vehicle or R-O-V.

He says, “Literally fly that ROV along the sea floor taking video and still photos of fishes and inverts and anything else we see along the sea floor. And in precisely the habitats we want to sample.”

The sanctuary is huge, larger than the state of Connecticut, running from Marin County to Cambria.  Although the area is protected marine scientists know very little about it.

It wasn’t until recently that the sea floor was mapped by Lindholm’s colleague Dr. Rikk Kvitek -- uncovering where the floor is rocky or sandy and hilly or flat.  Those maps open the door for researchers like Lindholm to begin identifying where different fish live and what sort of environment they prefer.

“For example flatfish…many people like to eat flatfish, like sand dabs or sole or halibut, they live in soft sediment. A lot of rock fishes but not all and other tasty organisms like to live in the high relief rocks where there are nooks and crannies for them to hide,” says Lindholm

His research focuses the habitats and sea life in California’s Marine Sanctuaries.

And that’s important to people like Andrew DeVogelaere’s. He’s with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the national marine sanctuaries.

“And without having a sense of what is living there and what it looks like our decisions would be a lot more guess work than they are now,” says DeVogelaere.

NOAA helps inform decisions like where should people be fishing, where a cable or pipes of a desalination plant be located and what to do with dirt from a coastal landslide.

DeVogelaere says, “And without having a sense of what is living there and what it looks like our decisions would be a lot more guess work than they are now.”

Taking the guesswork out of these decisions is a slow tedious process because of the large size of the sanctuary and because marine life has to be cataloged one habitat and one species at a time.  

Masters student Megan Bassett works in Lindholm’s lab and is about to head out kayaking on the Monterey Bay.  She’s looking for some fish. “Maybe a Ling Cod, if I am lucky,” she says

Bassett hopes her thesis on Ling Cod will help inform fisheries management on the state and national level.

“So if we have a better understanding of where Ling Cod are then we have you know the capability of a better understanding of how to manage, you know, closed areas for them,” says Bassett.

So far the Institute has surveyed habitats off the Channel Islands and San Diego and in the Monterey Bay.

“In many places we’ve been it is the first time any person has seen that, you know, that piece of the sea floor. And, yea, it is remarkable to go out and see things that nobody has ever seen and find species that no one has ever found before,” says Bassett.

The next survey begins this summer.