Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Monitoring Project

Sanctuary Aerial Monitoring and Spatial Analysis Program

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Ben Waltenberger
    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
  • Natalie Senyk
    Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary


  • NOAA National Ocean Service
Start Date: October 07, 1997

Sanctuary Aerial Monitoring and Spatial Analysis Program (SAMSAP) was a long-term aerial monitoring program that collected data on vessel and visitor use patterns as well as cetacean populations within CINMS. It provided vital data for management, research, and emergency response needs.

Data collected includes mammal species or vessel type, as well as time and location. Patterns of distribution and factors influencing distribution of both vessels and marine mammals were noted. Additional data collected during emergency response includes the location and area covered by an oil spill or vessel grounding and the affected resources. Vessels were divided into commercial and recreational vessels and categorized as being involved in consumptive or non-consumptive activities.

Summary to Date

Between 1997 and 2012 SAMSAP monitored and analyzed physical and anthropogenic events in the sanctuary, including commercial and recreational vessel traffic, effects of shore runoff, oil spills, and biological data on marine mammals and giant kelp. Mapping the distribution of vessels in the sanctuary helped identify patterns of resource use while the aerial perspective provided a large-scale view for biological monitoring. SAMSAP data provides an excellent baseline to analyze MPA effects, as the program was initiated prior to MPA establishment.

Mapping the locations of recreational vessels and commercial vessels revealed a distinct spatial divergence. The majority of recreational vessels were concentrated in the eastern portion of the sanctuary, particularly around Anacapa and eastern Santa Cruz Islands, while the majority of commercial vessels were concentrated in the western portion of the sanctuary, specifically around San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands. The majority of both commercial and recreational vessels were in close proximity to the islands. This information on use patterns assists the sanctuary in examining vessel displacement from MPAs.

Monitoring Trends

  • Commercial vessels were concentrated in the western portion of the sanctuary while recreational vessels were concentrated in the eastern portion of the sanctuary.
  • Reductions in both recreational and commercial fishing vessels were observed within MPAs after they were established at the Channel Islands.
  • After MPAs were established, the number of consumptive recreational vessels increased along the south side of Anacapa Island, which is open to fishing, while the number of non-consumptive recreational vessels increased in Scorpion State Marine Reserve.

Study Parameters

  • Distribution
  • Abundance
  • Maps

Study Methods

SAMSAP surveys took place once a week around all five islands within the sanctuary. Transects are flown at 1000 feet in elevation and in two parts: an inner loop flown one half nautical mile from island shorelines, and an outer loop flown four nautical miles from the island shorelines. Data is recorded on a laptop computer running custom survey software. The computer is interfaced to the aircraft’s Global Positioning System (GPS). Information recorded includes location, species (for cetaceans) or type (for vessels), and number present. Each survey flight is saved as an individual file, which is then added to a master database that is Geographic Information System (GIS) compatible. These data are freely available to researchers by request.

CINMS has used a variety of aircrafts including the P-68C Partenavia Observer twin engine fixed wing aircraft, Bell Jet Ranger and Long Range helicopters, and a Lake Seawolf Aircraft.

A total of 175 aerial surveys were conducted as part of SAMSAP between 1997 and 2006. Of these surveys, 97 ocurred before and 78 occurred after state MPAs were established in 2003.

During these flights, aerial observations of vessel traffic were made to assist in the study of anthropogenic use patterns. Vessels observed were categorized based on the type of activity: commercial (urchin boats, trawlers, gill-netters, lobster boats, and freighters) or recreational (recreational fishing boats, sailboats, and kayaks).