Figure 1. Zones of water quality monitoring within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. [View Larger]
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The sanctuary borders nearly 480 kilometers (300 miles) of California's coastline and receives runoff from watersheds that cover approximately 18,130 square kilometers (7,000 square miles) and support a variety of land uses. The sanctuary is fortunate to be in an area with relatively few impacts from industrial discharges and large point sources of pollution. However, being adjacent to such a large extent of coastline makes it susceptible to impacts from non-point, urban, rural and agricultural pollution sources.
By the time rainfall or irrigation runoff enters streams, rivers, wetlands, estuaries and ultimately the sanctuary, it may contain high levels of nutrients, sediments or dangerous chemicals that have been picked up during the journey from land to sea. Monitoring has shown that while the sanctuary's offshore areas are in relatively good condition, near-shore coastal areas, harbors, lagoons, estuaries and tributaries suffer from a number of problems, including elevated levels of nitrates, sediments, persistent pesticides, metals, bacteria, pathogens, detergents and oils.
These contaminants can have a variety of biological impacts, including bioaccumulation, reduced recruitment of anadramous species, algal blooms, mortality due to toxicity, transfer of pathogens to wildlife and humans, and interference with recreational use of the sanctuary.
MonitoringTo improve the water quality conditions in the sanctuary, it is important to understand fully where the pollution comes from, where it is going, what its impacts are and how water quality conditions are changing over time. To help address these issues, a number of ongoing water quality monitoring programs currently operate within the sanctuary and its watersheds. These include, among others:
- The Central Coast Ambient Monitoring Program (CCAMP)
- The Central Coast Long-term Environmental Assessment Network (CCLEAN)
- The Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network
- The Coastal Watershed Council (CWC)
- Central Coast Watershed Studies (CCoWS) group
- The US Geological Survey (USGS)
- The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR)
- Santa Cruz and Monterey County Departments of Environmental Health
- San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI)
- The Granite Canyon Marine Pollution Lab
Together, these programs are gathering the data managers need to target source reduction efforts, assess trends and determine impacts.
Plastic water bottle floating on ocean surface
Sea kayaks ready for action at San Carlos Beach, Monterey, CA.
As central coast populations grow, more pressure will be exerted on the sensitive ecosystems of Monterey Bay. Public awareness of these problems and an understanding of land use and management practices related to pollutant levels are important components of a strategy to improve water quality in these ecosystems.
The sanctuary's Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) educates the public about water quality issues and facilitates implementation of marine, urban and agricultural management practices to improve water quality. SIMoN has partnered with other monitoring organizations in the region to create an ongoing framework for data integration, regional water quality assessments and evaluation of management practice effectiveness.
Persistent pesticides are known to concentrate in the fats of wildlife; in high concentrations they can cause disease, lack of reproductive potential or mortality.
Toxic conditions that result from persistent pesticides have been shown to exist in the Pajaro River watershed (Hunt et. al., 1999), Salinas River watershed (Anderson et al., 2003; Hunt et al., 2002) and Santa Maria watersheds (Anderson et al., 2006). Contaminants are eventually transported to the ocean, where they can pose risks to human health and collect in the tissues of marine animals.
Recent studies have found high concentrations of persistent pesticides in mussels and sediments collected at The Hook in Capitola and Laguna Creek (CCLEAN Report, 2005). Concentrations of metals, such as copper and zinc, have been detected over the past few years in runoff from urbanized areas of Monterey that drain directly to the ocean (First Flush Report, 2005).
Legacy pesticides such as DDT bind to sediments and have been found concentrated at the coastal confluences with watersheds in our region. Excessive sedimentation can bury the gravel river bottoms where salmonids such as Coho and Steelhead spawn.
High nutrient loadings have been identified in Monterey Bay and may be attributed to nitrate runoff associated with fertilizer use in the area. High nitrate levels can result in harmful algal blooms with impacts to native species.
Over the past decade, ocean water has frequently exceeded standards for safe recreation due to bacterial contamination and the potential risk to human health posed by associated pathogens.
The contaminants often derive from runoff that comes directly from urban centers and rural residential areas through storm drains. These drains carry bacteria and detergents in part because of an aging sewer infrastructure.