Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Monitoring Project

Marine Resources Survey in Big Sur

Principal Investigator(s)

  • William Douros
    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
  • Holly Price
    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
  • Pete Raimondi
    University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Mark Carr
    University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Steve Lonhart
    Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary


  • SIMoN
Start Date: September 01, 2003
End Date: September 30, 2006

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the California Coastal Commission are working closely with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and several other local, state, and federal agencies to develop a Corridor Management Plan along the Big Sur Coast. Highway 1 in Big Sur is often subject to delays and closures due to storms, washouts, and landslides. The purpose of the Big Sur Coast Highway Management Plan (CHMP) is to develop sustainable strategies that ensure the safe and efficient operation of the highway while protecting the unique qualities and sensitive terrestrial and marine resources of this remarkable coastline.

As one part of the CHMP, this project has been designed to survey intertidal and nearshore subtidal areas along the Big Sur coast. The surveys will focus on areas of coastline known or with the greatest potential to be affected by highway repairs from landslides or other storm-related events. Data collected include species lists, population densities, and presence of economically important, particularly sensitive and/or endangered species. The results will be placed into multiple GIS-data layers and maps for resource managers and the public.

In particular, the project collects data to:

1. Characterize geological substrate types at selected sites according to 5-10 categories (e.g., granite, boulder, sand).

2. Identify physical factors at these sites which may affect the sensitivity of marine biota to disposal activities, such as wave energy, relative exposure and aspect, presence of protective offshore rocks, etc., and qualitatively rank each site by physical exposure categories which could affect disposed material.

3. Characterize biological assemblages at these sites. Identify and note the abundance of those species that may be particularly susceptible to disposal activities, such as the sea palm, owl limpet, etc.

4. Rank critical and/or disposal-sensitive habitats using indices such as location, size, and quality in order of most critical to least critical; consider species assemblagesí degree of tolerance to sediment disposal (i.e. burial, scour, turbidity) and physical factors.

Summary to Date

This project is funded by the California Resources Agency Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation, the fiscal sponsor of SIMoN, has contracted with researchers from the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of California, Santa Cruz to assist MBNMS staff with intertidal and subtidal surveys along the Big Sur coast. In addition, much of this work is done aboard the R/V Shearwater, a 62-foot research vessel owned and operated by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Surveys began in September 2003. Sites were initially selected based on several criteria, including: proximity to recent landslide activity, geology, kelp canopy cover, wave exposure, and accessibility. Initially, sites ranged from Point Sur to Salmon Creek, but were expanded north of Point Sur in 2005. Survey sites typically included a rocky intertidal bench and the adjacent kelp forest, with subtidal surveys extending to a depth of 20 m.

Sites were surveyed initially in 2003 and then revisited in either 2004 and/or 2005. Qualitative data include species lists for fishes, invertebrates, and algae, relative abundances for some species, and notes on the substrate type (e.g., sand, gravel, boulders, vertical relief). Quantitative data include denisty and size-frequency data for fishes, and density or percent cover data for algae and invertebrates.

In addition to the qualitative and quantitative sites surveyed as part of the Marine Resources Survey project, PISCO also surveys several additional sites in Big Sur as part of their long-term, large-scale monitoring program in central California.


The qualitative surveys that began as part of this project have been continued by MBNMS and SIMoN staff. This new project is called the Big Sur Nearshore Characterization (BSNC) and is also a project on the SIMoN web site. See: BSNC

Study Parameters

  • Range/Biogeography
  • Dispersal & Recruitment
  • Habitat association
  • Habitat
  • Diversity
  • Disturbance
  • Density
  • Distribution
  • Size structure
  • Sedimentation
  • Turbidity
  • Substrate characterization

Study Methods

Diver visual surveys

Belt transects

Uniform Point Contact (UPC)

Diver video

Qualitative diver survey--species relative abundance

Figures and Images

Figure 1. The R/V Shearwater, a research vessel operated by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, served as the primary platform to survey the rugged coast of Big Sur.

Figure 2. A curious gopher rockfish (Sebastes carnatus) at the Big Creek Marine Reserve.

Figure 3. A juvenile leather star (Dermasterias imbricata) crawling over an unknown didemnid tunicate at Big Creek Marine Reserve.

Figure 4. Invertebrate diversity is amazing along the Big Sur coast. This sponge species is not known to project scientists; for less-studied groups such as sponges, tunicates, and bryozoans, species identification was rare.

Figure 5. Location of monitoring sites and when they were first surveyed.


  • Carr et al. (2006)
    Informing decision-making for the Coastal Highway Management Plan: a biological sensitivity assessment for intertidal and shallow subtidal habitats on the Big Sur coast.
    3.2 Mb PDF