August 9, 2012
By Shaun Wolfe
After logging nearly 50 hours of snorkeling and diving here on Catalina Island, never in my life have I seen the richness and abundance of creatures that I saw on my sunset snorkel yesterday. Leopard Sharks and Bat Rays that they were swimming over each other and laying on top of one another on the ocean floor because there wasn’t enough room in that space for them all. Not only was there a plethora of each species, many of the animals were quite large. Numerous Bat Rays had wingspans of approximately three and a half feet and several Kelp Bass were about 20-22 inches long.
Rather quickly, my snorkel buddy and I both pointed to the area being a Marine Protected Area (MPA) as the reason for the high species abundance and biodiversity. I am used to diving and snorkeling on the west end of Catalina Island, where parts are Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other parts are unprotected. However, about 25 years ago, the area from south end of Fisherman’s Cove to near Empire Landing was designated as one of two No-Take State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCA) on the island (Sur). This designation outlaws fishing or removal of any marine life and anchoring (California Department of Fish and Game). No-Take zones are the most strictly regulated MPAs and I believe it is at the heart of Fisherman’s Cove’s large, bountiful, and diverse marine life.
Results seen in other Marine Protected Areas suggest that the No-Take designation provide fish with safe shelter and immaculate habitats, which enable them to grow in size and number (National Marine Protected Areas Center). For example, at the Tasmanian Marine Protected Areas species richness was doubled and large fish abundance increased ten-fold in just ten years after being declared a MPA (Barrett). In another instance, Cabo Pulmo National Park experienced similar results after being declared a MPA in 1995. By 2009 total fish biomass has increased 463% and biomass of top predators had increased 11 times (Aburto-Oropeza).
It should be no surprise then that after 25 years of Fisherman’s Cove being a MPA that there is a plethora of marine life in the cove. Success in other areas and the seemingly high success in Fisherman’s Cove should serve as a testament to the ability of MPAs to increase biodiversity and abundance and will hopefully provide a sound reason to expand MPAs in the future.
Aburto-Oropeza, Octavio, Brad Erisman, Grantly R. Galland, Ismael Mascareñas-Osorio, Enric Sala, and Exequiel Ezcurra. “Large Recovery of Fish Biomass in a No-Take Marine Reserve.” PLOS ONE. N.p., 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 08 Aug. 2012. <http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0023601>.
“California Department of Fish and Game- South Coast Marine Protected Areas.” California Department of Fish and Game. N.p., 08 Dec. 2011. Web. 8 Aug. 2012. <California Department of Fish and Game- South Coast Marine Protected Areas>.
“Protecting Marine Life.” National Marine Protected Areas Center: Multimedia. N.p., 11 July 2012. Web. 09 Aug. 2012. <http://www.mpa.gov/resources/multimedia/>.
Sur, Christine, and Laura Wang. “Catching Up with Scientific Diving at USC Dornsife: Surfgrass Monitoring at Catalina.” Scientific American. N.p., 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Aug. 2012. <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2012/04/11/catching-up-with-scientific-diving-at-usc-dornsife-surfgrass-monitoring-at-catalina/>.
Barrett, N. S., G. J. Edgar, C. D. Buxton and M. Haddon. 2007. Changes in fish assemblages following 10 years of protection in Tasmanian marine protected areas. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 345:141-157.
About the Author: Shaun Wolfe is a senior majoring in Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California.