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New plan to add seamount to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Posted: Friday, Nov 21st, 2008


The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary off the Big Sur coast is shown. Recent plans call for the expansion of the sanctuary by 775 square miles.


More than seven years in the making, the first new management plan for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary since the sanctuary’s creation in 1992 has been completed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in a press release Thursday.

The new plan strengthens some existing regulations, creates a few new regulations and includes an expansion of the sanctuary by 775 square miles to incorporate the Davidson Seamount, one of the largest known underwater mountains in U.S. coastal waters and home to a wide variety of species. The addition of the Davidson Seamount, located 74.6 miles southwest of Monterey, will increase the size of the sanctuary by 12.6 percent.

Congress has yet to approve the new management plan and regulations. Karen Grimmer, the sanctuary’s deputy superintendent, said approval was highly likely, adding that it should happen in March.

The current management plan had become out of date, said Grimmer, who noted that all 14 national marine sanctuaries are supposed to create new plans every five to 10 years.

“It was very good for the time and for the designation of the sanctuary,” Grimmer said. “But as the sanctuary developed and grew its roots and became part of the community, we realized that there were a lot more issues with ocean protection. This (new) management plan really deals with those concerns.”

“We think this is a great plan to give the marine ecosystems of the sanctuary great protection,” said Chris Harrold, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s director of conservation research and chairman of the Sanctuary Advisory Council.

The NOAA released revised management plans, regulations and a joint final environmental impact review for the Monterey Bay sanctuary, as well as for the smaller Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones sanctuaries, located to the north on the California coast.

“The new management plans offer a vision and course for protecting the rich marine ecosystems of three adjacent national marine sanctuaries in California while continuing to allow compatible, sustainable human uses,” said William J. Douros, West Coast regional director for the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “The management plans for the three sanctuaries are tailored to address the challenges facing each sanctuary.”

For the Monterey Bay sanctuary, much of the challenge deals with the nearly 300 miles of coastline in its boundaries. Many of the sanctuary’s action plans concern the impact of land areas, such as water quality issues arising from agriculture and urban runoff. The new regulations protect against the introduction of non-native species, restore original limitations on personal watercraft, prohibit discharges from cruise ships and expand protection for white sharks. There was some concern that the personal watercraft restrictions would prevent tow-in surfing at the famed Maverick’s surf break near Half Moon Bay — including the annual big-wave surf contest — but the new regulations permit watercraft tow-ins during the winter months.

Officials started working on the Monterey Bay sanctuary’s new management plan in 2001. There was “tremendous public involvement” in the process, with thousands of public comments considered and dozens of public workshops, Harrold said.

“We feel really good about today,” Grimmer said. “We’ve been in a celebratory mood, because it’s been a lot of work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where we are.”

The Davidson Seamount is a huge undersea volcano. It is 26.1 miles long and rises more than 6,500 feet from the ocean floor, but is still more than 4,100 feet below the surface. The first video images of the seamount were captured in May of 2000, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Scientists have “just scratched the surface” of the seamount, with new species still being found, Harrold said. The seamount — which Hibble said has been called the “oasis of the deep” and is known for its cold, deep-water coral forest — was already under some protection, as the federal government banned bottom-contact fishing in 2005. Harrold said it became clear that while the seamount wasn’t in any imminent danger, it was important to protect it now.

“It’s like an investment in the future,” he said. “The Davidson Seamount is far enough out to sea and is deep enough that the immediate threat is not significant. But in the future, as fishing technology improves and can go deeper, this really says that we are going to protect it.”

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For information or to get access to copies of the management plan, visit www.sanctuaries.

noaa.gov/jointplan/.

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*Photos courtesy of NOAA*

(Published in 11/21/08 edition)

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