Monitoring Marine Debris in Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz MPA Collaborative

Latest update November 5, 2018 Started on June 18, 2018

Dive under the waves to explore, survey, and monitor marine debris in its un-natural habitat, the Monterey Bay.

June 18, 2018
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Julia Anderson- Intern

As a native Californian, the beach has always been a big part of my life. From a young age I would spend every summer swimming in the ocean waters and building elaborate sandcastles decorated with sea glass, shells, and seaweed I would find along the shore. The ocean was always a beautiful place I could go to relax and have fun with my friends and family, that’s why I was drawn to Santa Cruz when it was time to go to college. I am currently a senior at UC Santa Cruz studying Environmental Economics where I learn economic analysis along with the environmental mechanics of resource production and conservation. Save Our Shores stood out to me when I was looking for an internship because of their great work for ocean conservation and local educational programs. As an intern I lead beach cleanups, analyze data, and assist teaching local students about ocean health. I can’t wait to use the ROV to help improve the local ocean’s condition and to research what pollutants are the most abundant. Once we see what trash is in the water, we can send divers to areas of high contamination and collect the harmful rubbish that is hurting local ecosystems. It will be beneficial to see what trash our community needs to work on polluting less while also using what we find as a catalyst for social and political change in the local community of Santa Cruz.



Katherine O’Dea- Executive Director

As a nonprofit leader, conservationist, and sustainability expert, Katherine has tackled environmental challenges from coast to coast for the last 25 years. She has worked for environmental organizations including Business Social Responsibility, GreenBlue, and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Katherine is an expert on product and packaging sustainability and identifying pathways for abating plastic waste which comprises so much of the debris in our marine environments. At Save Our Shores she focuses on the organization’s vision and strategy and influencing policy to ensure a healthy Monterey Bay now and for decades to come.


On September 15th, Annual Coastal Cleanup Day, 10 volunteer divers went deep underwater into the Santa Cruz Wharf. They found 8 pounds of trash including: 3 glass bottles, 5 fishing buoys, 2 fishing nets, 104 fishing lines, 6 ropes, 1 lighter, 3 pieces of construction materials, a plastic bucket, batteries, clothing and even a diamond earring! This is eye opening that just one dive session could bring in such a haul.

One of the most alarming findings from that dive was all the fishing gear. Fishing gear can be harmful to the ocean by catching unexpected creatures and killing or injuring them as they get tangled; this is commonly referred to as ghost fishing. The Ghost Fishing Foundation speaks on this problem by explaining that nets, long lines, traps, and all other man-made contraptions used to fish have a chance of ghost fishing for several centuries because of the materials used to produce fishing gear. They go on to declare that hundreds of kilometers of nets and lines get lost annually. Having any species caught in drifting fishing gear can cause a ripple effect of change in the ocean’s natural ecosystems, but when pregnant fish and species on the brink of extinction get ghost fished, their absence has an even more detrimental effect on the ocean’s health. The more fishing gear we collect, the safer the animals will be and ecosystems will have more freedom to flourish.

Once our ROV expeditions are underway we will be able to see the best areas to send divers and thus we will maximize our collection capabilities. After specifying the most condensed areas of trash and marine litter, we hope to send divers to those areas to directly clean up problem areas. This will help avoid wasting divers’ time on generally clean areas. Our ROV expeditions will make clean up diving sessions more efficient and lead to a cleaner ocean.

Picture from NOAA National Ocean Service


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife defines MPAs, or Marine Protected Areas, as marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. MPAs are open to the public for enjoyment and for research, but they have certain requirements to limit total human disturbance. Marine debris affects MPAs by hurting animals and ecosystems, therefore it is crucial we act now to limit the massive amounts of litter humans produce to ensure a healthy ocean.

Although MPAs are regulated to try and minimize human disturbance, plastic pollution and trash still find a way into California MPAs just from everyday life activities. Regulating plastic pollution has become a hot topic in society recently because of the increase in knowledge about plastic pollution. Starbucks plans to ban all disposable plastic straws by 2020 and California’s state-wide plastic bag ban has been in place since 2016. Even though there are these social movements to move away from plastic, the ocean still is full of debris. In fact, according to MPA News, the UN committed its 2018 World Environment Day to the cause of beating plastic pollution.

Our expedition will focus on the Central California MPAs in the Santa Cruz area. Santa Cruz County has two Marine Protected Areas: The Greyhound Rock State Marine Conservation Area and the Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve. If we can pinpoint trash hidden under these water’s surfaces then we can better focus our conservation efforts. We expect to find plastic debris, but we don’t have an idea of the type or source of the debris. Our next step after finding the trash with the ROV, would be to possibly modify the device to collect the debris, use the data to show volunteer divers where the most condensed amount of trash is, and to compare pier and non-pier trash results.

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This expedition is important to not only the Santa Cruz community but for the entire ocean as well. Trash negatively effects the ocean in multiple ways such as hurting animals and leaching chemicals into the ocean that harm ecosystems. Save Our Shores mini-ROV expedition will illuminate trash under the surface.

A diagram created by the Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program clearly shows that littler gets into creeks from daily human sources. This is important because all creeks flow into the ocean. By identifying common types of trash with our mini-ROV, we will then be able to better guess what sources are most contributing to pollution. Lastly the image depicting transport of plastics throughout the environment shows just how closely trash is integrated into the ocean from the surface to the ocean floor. Save Our Shore's goal is to use our mini-ROV to find what trash is most common.

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Although we do not have our ROV, we have created some steps to get us ready towards our first expedition. We want to survey the amount of marine debris in the water by using transects. We will visit 5 beaches where we will launch our ROV. The best time to gather data will be after a busy summer weekend, holidays, and when the tide is low.

These are the next steps towards our expedition:

  1. Get the ROV
  2. Learn how to use it
  3. Come up with a plan and a testable question
  4. Visit 5 beaches with piers that can be easily accessible to launch ROV
  5. Collect information
  6. Review data/ videos
  7. Analyze the results
  8. Inform results

Possible next steps would be:

  1. Modify the ROV to collect debris
  2. Work with local volunters divers to collect trash
Expedition Background

Is there trash in Monterey Bay? We sure think so. Studies have show plastics in every part of the ocean in every part of the world, from the open ocean surface down into the sediment on the ocean floor, even in arctic and antarctic sea ice! With a mini ROV we will soar through our near-coast habitats surveying marine debris using our current data cards. From there, the possibilities are endless! Stay tuned for the scientific plan...


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