Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program

The Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program is an ongoing marine monitoring collaboration that examines how human activities have affected the health of more than 1,500 square miles of Southern California’s coastal waters. Via this partnership that is facilitated by SCCWRP, dozens of participating organizations pool their resources and expertise to investigate the condition of marine ecosystems across both time and space. Both regulated and regulatory agencies, as well as nongovernmental and academic organizations, come together to design studies, interpret findings, and speak with a common voice about the ecological health of the Southern California Bight.

Monitoring an ecosystem at risk

The Southern California Bight, which is a concave bend in the coastline stretching from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to Punta Colonet in Mexico, has long been vulnerable to the impacts of human activities. The Bight coastal zone is home to more than 22 million people engaged in a wide variety of industrial, military and recreational activities along the coastline. Additionally, about 5,600 square miles of watersheds across coastal Southern California drain to the Bight, nearly half of which have been intensively developed.

Southern California’s environmental management community relies on the Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program to better direct resources and to maintain focus on the areas and issues that pose the greatest threats to ecosystem integrity. Bight participants agree upfront on the courses of action they would take depending on the study findings. Program participants also use the Bight program to develop coordinated, follow-up studies outside the program, and to shape future directions for Bight program studies.

In the Southern California Bight, cold waters from the north mix with warm waters from the south, creating conditions that support rich ecosystem diversity.

Bight ’18 continues collaborative program

The sixth cycle of the program – known as Bight ’18 because field sampling commences in 2018 – builds on the collaborative spirit and commitment to scientific excellence that have been hallmarks of Bight regional monitoring since its inception in 1994. As with past program cycles, Bight ’18 participants have revised and reworked about half of the program’s studies. The five major study elements in Bight ’18 strike a balance between the need to track ecosystem trends over time, and evolving the program to remain responsive to pressing issues of management concern in coastal Southern California.

  • Sediment Quality examines the ecosystem impacts of Bight sediment contamination across time and space. For the first time, multiple types of bioactive contaminants are being monitored via bioanalytical cell screening assays. Contamination levels in seafood also are being documented.
  • Ocean Acidification tracks how Bight seawater chemistry is changing as a result of ocean acidification and the related phenomenon of hypoxia. For the first time, the program will document the relationship between these chemical changes and effects on vulnerable, shell-forming organisms.
  • Harmful Algal Blooms examines how toxins created by some types of blooms can be transported through waterways and linger in seafloor sediment, where they can potentially impact the health of marine animals for months, including shellfish consumed by humans.
  • Trash tracks the extent to which trash has spread across aquatic environments on land and at sea, and the types and abundance of trash in these settings. Standardized trash-surveying methodologies also are being developed for watersheds via this study.
  • Microbiology examines the relevance and reliability of using coliphage viruses to track microbial water quality at Southern California beaches, and how coliphage compares to Enterooccocus as an indicator of microbial contamination.
A field crew for the Bight regional monitoring program retrieves a fish trawl net that was towed through coastal marine waters to examine the health of large, bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrate communities.