Brian Nelson: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

  • Earth Is Blue

By Alan Throop

At our August 2 General Meeting, Brian Nelson presented an interesting and informative program on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), where he talked about what it is, how it’s organized, how decisions get made, what projects they work on, how divers and other groups provide input, and clarified a lot of questions and misconceptions about the Sanctuary.

Brain is the Diving Safety Officer at the Monterey Harbormaster’s office, a US Coast Guard Licensed Mariner, and a Course Director with PADI. But he spends a lot of time and energy serving the on MBNMS Advisory Council – a 20 member group representing those impacted by the sanctuary – and of which he is both the diving community representative as well Chairman of the Council. He also chairs the Sanctuary Tourism and Recreation (STAR) Working Group, so Brian is well-qualified to represent us as divers and to speak about the Sanctuary. Brain’s wife Mary Jo Nelson is the captain of the Beachhopper II dive boat, and she also attended the meeting and brought a nice collection of raffle items (thank you, Mary Jo).

Brian first showed a short video that introduced what the National Marine Sanctuaries are. The time was about 1970 when the Apollo missions first got large distances away from our planet earth and dramatically revealed the first images of our earth as a small blue planet, alone in space, and dominated by the oceans. It was also the time when scientists and people in general began to recognize the damage that was being done to the earth’s environment – and to our oceans in particular. The Santa Barbara oil spill occurred in 1969 and it drew attention to the plight of our oceans and how important our oceans are to the overall health of our planet and the life on it. In response, in 1972, Congress passed the National Marine Sanctuaries Act that allowed for the creation of marine sanctuaries with a mission to “protect, research, and educate” ocean areas with “special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, cultural, archeological, scientific, educational, or aesthetic qualities”. There are currently 14 National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) that together encompass 783,000 square miles of ocean.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary MapThe Monterey Bay NMS was designated on September 18, 1992. It extends along the central coast, from San Francisco in the north, to Cambria in the south, and from the shoreline (mean high tide) to about 26 statute miles out to sea. It encompasses 6,094 square statute miles and 276 miles of shoreline, and encompasses a rich mixture of kelp forests, continental shelf, deep ocean and canyons (12,713 ft at its deepest), seamounts, and estuaries (including Elkhorn Slough Reserve). At the north, it borders two other NMSs: the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank.

NOAA Org ChartBrian explained that the NMS administration falls under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which itself is under the Department of Commerce. Within NOAA, the NMS administration is under the National Ocean Service (NOS). Each NMS develops and follows an individual management plan that ensures resource protection, provides research and education, and facilitates recreational and commercial uses that are compatible with the primary goal of resource protection. For the MBNMS, there are about 30 staff and contractors at the main office in Monterey, with satellite offices in Santa Cruz and San Simeon. This team works closely with local communities, businesses, environmental organizations, users groups, scientists, citizens, educators, and other agencies to identify and resolve key issues.

A key element to managing the MBNMS is the Sanctuary Advisory Council, which advices NMS management on sanctuary activities and policies. The Council consists of 20 voting members that represent a wide scope: 5 coastal counties, 12 coastal cities, 6 Congressional Districts, 9 million people, and users from the fishing, commercial, recreation, research, military, agriculture, and other interests. The projects that they work on are large in scope and complicated, often highly technical, and with few simple answers. The Council meets about every-other month at various locations up and down the sanctuary to allow for local input. Activities are communicated via the bi-monthly Advisory Council newsletter, which Brian produces and has a lot of good information in it.

It’s at the council where all the discussions, debates, and tradeoffs get made between parties that often have opposing interests, but also need to come together to the best solution for all involved. For example the agricultural interests need to use fertilizer, but runoff is a huge issue for coastal pollution, so they are working together to try to find smart ways to reduce both the amount and the loss of fertilizer. The Council doesn’t make or enforce law, but it provides recommendations and research to other regulatory agencies (e.g., National Marine Fishery Service) that then writes and enforces laws. The Council also actively links regulators to scientist – and vice versa – to provide the best information to help the decisions the agencies make. Enforcement is provided by other agencies such as Coast Guard, Office of Law Enforcement, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, etc.

As the diving representative, Brian provides both input from, as well as impact on, the diving community regarding Council issues. As divers we are more aware of the changes in the ocean than most other users of the Sanctuary region, so Diver Surveys are used to obtain and convey information on Council Activities. The Council newsletter above is a great way to get involved with this.

Brian talked about how diverse and widespread the resources are that the Sanctuary encompasses and need to be tracked and managed. There are 94 seabird species, 33 species of Marine Mammals, 31 phyla of Invertebrates, 515 fish species, 4 turtle species, 450 species of marine algae, and a diverse range of coastal and marine habitats. He mentioned recent sightings of a sturgeon at Wharf II and a Leatherback turtle in the Bay.

Marine Resourses

Brian talked in some depth about the many diverse projects that the Council has addressed and is working on. These include: kelp harvesting, cruise ship discharges (one line has just been allowed back after being banned for 15 years), White Shark chumming (no longer allowed; now just tow a seal-looking float); trawl-fishing that can destroy the sea bottom (40% of what is taken is by-catch); whales strikes (established “slow-down” lanes for ships); whale entanglement in crab lines; (lack of) sea otters population growth and translocation; city sewage discharges (2.2 million gallons [equivalent to 150 cruise ships] from Marina recently); new invasive species due to ocean warming; the CEMEX sand plant in Monterey (will be shut down in 2 years); the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas. He mentioned that the sinking of ships for artificial reefs has already been signed off by the Sanctuary, but it is now at the State Coastal water commission for approval. Recently, the issue of urchin barrens has been of key concern to the Council.

Every 5 years, the Council reviews and publishes a revised Management Plan that establishes the priorities (in the eyes of the Council) for action by regulators; Brian said that artificial reefs has their #2 priority, so maybe we will see some in the next few years!

Sanctuary Exploration CenterIf you want to learn more about what the Sanctuary, Brian suggested that you visit the Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, located at the foot of the wharf in Santa Cruz. This is a 12,000 sq. ft., $15.9 million center that opened in 2012 to that is free and allows visitors to explore the sanctuary’s remarkable marine environment, as well as their personal role in protecting this special underwater treasure.

MaryJo Raffle WinnersAt the conclusion of their talk, Mary Jo raffled off a really nice selection of diving accessories that she donated. It brought a lot of celebration and fun as names were drawn and prizes were carefully selected. Some new guests to the meeting were winners … perhaps it will encourage them in their diving!

We thank Brian and Mary Jo for taking their time and energy to present this informative and fun program to us, and for donating the hardware for the raffle. We also appreciate the dedication that Brian has to representing divers to protect the extraordinary resources that we enjoy within the Sanctuary.