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Monitoring Marine Debris in Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz MPA Collaborative

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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Preparation Stage

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...