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California's MPAs - PISCO monitoring

June 1 1999

Every year since 1999, the PISCO team (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) heads out to California's nearshore oceans and islands to monitor the health of kelp forests and evaluate the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas.

June 1 1999


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Mission Underway

Meet the 2018 Dive Team! These eleven divers - one of our biggest teams yet as the PISCO program at UCSB turns 20 - were selected to take sound scientific data underwater. Led by staff researchers Avrey Parsons-Field and Katie Davis, diver Keegan Bell returns for his fourth season, Brittany Tholan and Chris Honeyman return for their third, Lindsey Kraemer and Jake Eisaguirre return for their second, and interns Amanda Rivard, Cece Martin, Jade Zounes, and Luca Silva are welcomed to the team. Over the course of the summer, we'll be posting diver profiles to introduce each individual. It may take a mix of experience levels to make a dive team, but it takes an equal amount of enthusiasm. Morale is high!

PHOTOS: (1) The whole team on the RV Garibaldi (Photo by Chuck Dobbins), (2) Chris Honeyman off-gases on his safety stop (Photo by Brittany Tholan), (3) Jake Eisaguirre celebrates America by working on the Fourth of July (Photo by Chris Honeyman), (4) The Gang goes SCUBA diving (Photo by Chuck Dobbins).

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The PISCO dive team has already visited 18 sites in a banging start to the season. The Santa Barbara channel is awash in charismatic megafauna right now such as whales and dolphins. While cool to see, our team has all eyes on kelp and the amazing diversity of creatures that call it home. Here are a few of them.


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Preparation Stage

PISCO divers are in the water and off to rocking start. The team at UCSB has already completed 6 sites with benthic surveys. Stay posted for photos.

What does it take to get the PISCO team into the water for the 20th year of kelp forest monitoring? We start months in advance, selecting the very best students to join the dive team, purchasing and fixing up the gear, and reviewing the protocols that are critical to ensuring consistency from year to year. Two solid weeks of classroom and in water training and the team is off an running!

Expedition Background

Kelp forests are among the most unique and ecologically diverse ecosystems in coastal temperate oceans and are found globally. In the eastern Pacific ocean, they occur from Alaska and Canada to the waters of Baja California in the northern hemisphere, and along the southern coast of Chile in the southern hemisphere. Kelp forests need rocky coastlines where their holdfasts can take anchor, and cool (50 – 64 °F), clear, nutrient rich water to grow. These forests are tiered like a terrestrial rainforest with a canopy and several understory layers below.

Kelp forests of the eastern Pacific coast are dominated by two canopy-forming, brown macroalgae species, giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera and bull kelp Nereocystis leutkeana. Both species are highly productive. For example, when conditions are ideal, the giant kelp’s average growth in spring can range from 27 to 61 centimeters (10 to 24 inches) per day. These tiered forests create attractive habitat to a diversity of fishes, invertebrates and other algae as refuge from predators and as a source of food.

Much of the extraordinary production of kelp falls to the ocean floor, like leaf litter in terrestrial forests. There, it either remains to support productive and species rich detritus-based forest food webs, or is exported by currents to adjacent ecosystems where it fuels food webs on sandy beaches, deep rocky reefs or submarine canyons. Among the many species that inhabit kelp forests are a wide variety of economically important species such as sea urchins, abalone, lobster, sea cucumbers, rockfishes and other finfishes, as well as some endangered species including abalone and southern sea otters. The kelp itself is harvested to feed abalone in aquaculture facilities and for use in a number of human products. The forests also support economically important eco-tourism, including kayaking, bird and marine mammal watching and scuba diving.

PISCO’s kelp forest monitoring programs are designed to reveal geographic patterns of the structure and functions of this important ecosystem through quantification of the abundance of the macroalgae, invertebrates and fishes that constitute kelp forest communities. Our approach allows us to quantify large- and small-scale spatial patterns of structure of the kelp forest communities as well as characterize changes over time. This information provides insight into the causes and consequences of changes in species abundance resulting from natural and anthropogenic factors and as such forms the basis of ecosystem-based management of kelp forest communities.

Follow along as we undertake our 20th year of kelp forest monitoring.

For more information and to access our protocols and data, go here:

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