NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 19-27, 2019
Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast
Date: July 24, 2019
Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS) is a joint research project conducted by NOAA (Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary) and Point Blue Conservation Science.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries manages 13 sanctuaries and two marine national monuments, protecting a total of 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters within the United States. Four of the sanctuaries are in California. Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS) is a large sanctuary that protects over 3,000 square miles of California coast and offshore marine habitat from San Francisco to Point Arena. There are numerous beaches and costal habitats included in this sanctuary, as well as the Farallon Islands. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (CBNMS) is a smaller sanctuary around Cordell Bank, a large offshore seamount approximately 22 miles from the coast. Sitting at the edge of the continental shelf, Cordell Bank is approximately 26 square miles in size, and while you cannot tell it is there from the surface, it supports a huge diversity of brightly colored sponges, corals, anemones, and other invertebrates. Both sanctuaries protect a wide variety of living organisms across the food chain, from phytoplankton to blue whales.
Point Blue Conservation Science is a non-profit organization that is working to combat climate change, habitat loss, and other environmental threats by helping to develop solutions that benefit wildlife and people. They work with local natural resource managers (like National Marine Sanctuaries) to help monitor and improve the health of the planet.
Scientists from each of these organizations have come together to work on ACCESS. This project, started back in 2004, collects data on the physical conditions and living things within GFNMS and CBNMS. Scientists use this data to document wildlife abundance, monitor changes over time, and help inform decisions about conservation efforts. For example, data collected on the location of whales can help create policies to reduce threats to whales, like ship strikes and entanglements. There are many huge ships that come in and out of San Francisco Bay on a daily basis. Scientists are currently working with the industry to support a reduction in ship speed, which can reduce the likelihood of whales coming into dangerous contact with ship hulls. Another threat to whales are entanglement in fishing gear. Legal commercial crab fishing using crab pots occurs within the sanctuaries. In recent years there have been greater incidents of whales being entangled in the buoy lines that fisherman use to help them collect the crab pots from the bottom of the ocean. As the result of a recent lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the commercial crab season ended early this year to try to help protect the whales.
An interesting, and possibly concerning, phenomenon is being observed on our cruise. Kirsten Lindquist, the seabird expert on this cruise, has seen a great number of Common Murres on the water during our data collection observations. However, she has noticed a lack of chicks. Common Murres nest on rocky outcroppings and the chicks leave the nest 15-25 days after they hatch, before they are able to fly. The chicks then float on the water are fed by their parents for several weeks until they can feed themselves. Generally, at this time of year she would expect to see a large number of adult and chick pairings floating on the surface of the water together. Today we saw quite a few chicks floating with an adult, but this has not been the case during the other days on this cruise. It is unclear why there are fewer Common Murre chicks than are typically seen.
Did You Know?
Scientists use “conductivity” as a measure of how salty the ocean water is. If the water is relatively cold and salty that is a sign of “good” upwelling conditions, meaning that the cold water from the deep ocean is moving up over the continental shelf, bringing a high concentration of nutrients with it. The upwelling along the California coast is a main reason why there is such a diversity of ocean life here.