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Project: Bight '94 to '03 Coastal Ecology

Background and Objectives

The Coastal Ecology component of the Southern California Bight (SCB) regional monitoring effort seeks to determine the spatial extent of contaminant accumulation in marine sediments and assess the effects of this contamination on living marine resources. Coastal Ecology was the original component of the Bight program, initially implemented as the 1994 Regional Monitoring Pilot Project. Coastal Ecology regional monitoring is now conducted every five years.

Bight participants sort through a deep sea trawl


This ongoing program was initiated in 1994.


Coastal Ecology sampling efforts are based on a stratified random sampling design, so that data can be extrapolated to estimate conditions in the Bight as a whole. The number and type of strata have varied over the years, but frequently included the coastal ocean, ports, marinas, the Channel Islands, sewage treatment plant runoff locations, and land-based runoff locations. The number of sampling sites also has varied, but averages around 400 sites per survey.

Sampling involves both fish and sediment. Fish sampling includes measuring species diversity as well as tissue contaminant levels and gross pathology. Sediment sampling parameters include sediment chemistry, sediment toxicity and benthic macrofauna communities. Chemical analytes include a suite similar to that used by EPA’s national Environmental Monitoring and Analysis Program (EMAP), but the Bight program also examines chemicals that are not part of routine monitoring programs in Southern California.

In addition to the basic Coastal Ecology sampling, the Bight program usually includes a number of special studies that are used to evaluate new environmental monitoring methods. In previous years, these special studies have included sediment coring and radiodating to assess deposition rates. In addition, special sampling during the 2003 Bight program for endocrine disrupting chemicals and their effects on fish formed the foundation for SCCWRP’s ongoing research on emerging contaminants.


Coastal Ecology surveys conducted to date have shown that 85-90% of the SCB has detectable levels of contamination resulting from human activities. Sediment contamination was not equally distributed throughout the sampling area. A disproportionate amount occurred within bay and harbor areas, where higher levels were associated with industrial, port, and marina sites. The Channel Islands also had considerably less contamination than the mainland.

Although detectable levels of pollution in the SCB were widespread, sediment contaminant concentrations were generally below the levels expected to cause adverse biological impacts. Few samples had concentrations that exceeded either the EPA’s or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) sediment quality guidelines for pooled chemical groups. Development of California's Sediment Quality Objectives will provide an advanced means for making biologically-based assessments in future Coastal Ecology surveys.


More than 60 organizations have participated as partners in the Coastal Ecology portion of SCCWRP’s Bight regional monitoring efforts.


Data from Bight '03
Data from Bight '98
Data from 1994 Bight Pilot Project
For more information on Bight '94 to '03 Coastal Ecology, contact Ken Schiff at (714) 755-3202.
This page was last updated on: 7/1/2014