Please select your home edition
Marine Resources 2019 - Leaderboard

California Ecosystem Surveys give insight on ocean changes to come

by Kristen Koch, NOAA Fisheries 11 Jan 15:24 UTC
NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker at sea. © NOAA Fisheries

Those of us fortunate enough to live on the West Coast know that the Pacific Ocean changes constantly, with dramatic effects on our weather, fisheries, and species from sardines to sharks that populate the California Current Ecosystem.

It is a big part of what makes this place so special.

Making sense of those changes and what they mean for our coastal communities is the hard part. For that we have help from a forward-looking program created 70 years ago. It is now the longest-running ocean monitoring program on the planet: the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations, more simply known as CalCOFI.

Nothing else provides such insight into how and why the California Current changes, how different parts of the ocean interact. It also explains how those shifts affect the many species we care about and depend on. CalCOFI has discovered new species and provided the tools and information to manage fisheries sustainably. It has helped us see the Pacific Ocean not as an endless expanse, but rather an ever-changing ecosystem that is much more than the sum of its parts. Some of its accomplishments include:

  • Early on, CalCOFI monitoring helped reveal the effects of El Niño on the California Current Ecosystem, and the climate and weather of the West Coast.
  • When thousands of starving sea lion pups washed up on Southern California shores about five years ago, CalCOFI helped us understand that their most nutritious prey had moved farther away.
  • When "the Blob" brought unusually warm ocean waters to the West Coast about five years ago, CalCOFI helped us track impacts on critical West Coast species such as sardines, anchovies, whales and seabirds.
Without this data, managers could not make informed decisions to properly manage species critical to our blue economy.

CalCOFI is a longstanding partnership between NOAA Fisheries' Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They joined in 1949 to unravel the reasons behind the collapse of the once-booming West Coast sardine fishery immortalized in John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row."

Was it overfishing, or did the ocean change in ways that affected the fishery?

For the past 70 years CalCOFI vessels have crisscrossed waters off California. They have collected hundreds of what may seem like routine—even boring—measurements of everything from temperature to the number of tiny fish larvae in the water column. Knitted together, the data paint a detailed picture of ocean conditions so we know what is changing, where—and can figure out why.

It is difficult to overstate the power of such long-term records to detect environmental change, and distinguish recurring change such as El Nino cycles from more lasting shifts. Scientists describe CalCOFI data as the marine gold standard. It is one of only a few ocean science collaborations that have gathered such a definitive record of one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth.

CalCOFI surveys have collected data revealing warming ocean temperatures, declines in oxygen concentrations, increases in ocean acidification, and shifts in species distributions. As our climate continues to change, these trends are projected to continue through the end of the century. There could be potentially surprising effects on the marine life off our coast.

That makes CalCOFI's monitoring more important than ever. Scientists have learned that sardines always went through boom and bust periods, even before commercial fishing began. They are now using new technologies to pull fresh data from CalCOFI samples collected decades ago, piecing together new clues about the California Current.

It is but one example of how the long-term data CalCOFI provides continues to help us understand both large and small changes coming our way.

Related Articles

Little relief in the deep for heat-stressed corals
New research shows coral reefs in deeper water aren't immune to warming seas and coral bleaching A team of NOAA scientists recently examined more than a thousand hot water events on coral reefs across the Pacific Ocean. Posted on 16 Jan
How to help free entangled whales in Hawaii
Course helps to better assist trained responders disentangle large whales Entanglement in ropes, nets, and other marine debris is a major threat to the humpbacks and other large whales of Hawaii. But attempting to free an entangled, multi-ton whale is inherently dangerous. Posted on 16 Jan
Introducing Pacific Islands feature stories 2019
A recent study used machine learning to examine vocalizations of false killer whale populations Over the past decade, researchers have determined that false killer whales around the Hawaiian Islands have three distinct populations, one of which is endangered. Posted on 13 Jan
Announcing Mission: Iconic Reefs
A large-scale coral reef restoration effort in the Florida Keys I'm excited to let you know that NOAA Fisheries, along with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and other partners, have launched a coral reef restoration effort titled Mission: Iconic Reefs. Posted on 12 Jan
Pacific Islands Must-Reads of 2019
The 10 stories that resonated the most with readers In 2019, we brought you science and conservation stories covering a wide range of topics important to the Pacific Islands region. Posted on 12 Jan
Top photos of 2019 from NOAA Fisheries
Five most liked Instagram photos of 2019 A very large flatfish, flying squid, and grumpy lumpfish are among our five most liked Instagram photos of 2019. Posted on 22 Dec 2019
Resilient New England Coral
The northern star coral is uniquely able to live in a variety of environments and climates The northern star coral is uniquely able to live in a variety of environments and climates, including New England. The secrets of its adaptability may help tropical coral reefs. Posted on 21 Dec 2019
Your favorite features of 2019
See our list of the top 5 feature stories of 2019 Sharks, sea turtles, and whales—oh my! See our list of the top 5 feature stories of 2019. Posted on 21 Dec 2019
Lava flow time portals
Understanding the development of deep-water coral communities Deep-water coral communities are some of the most diverse and productive environments in the deep ocean. They provide habitat for an array of organisms including some not yet known to science. Posted on 20 Dec 2019
Top 5 ocean videos of the year from NOAA Fisheries
The discovery of Type D Killer Whales took the top three spots The discovery of Type D Killer Whales took the top three spots of our videos this year. Take a look at our five most popular videos of 2019. Posted on 18 Dec 2019
Marine Resources 2019 - FooterZhik 2019 Outlet Sale SW FOOTERGJW Direct - Yacht 2019 - Footer