Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS)

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A map of the boundaries of the MBNMS

An environmental summary created by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.

This page is an introduction to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) with specific emphasis on the relationship between the MBNMS and the coastal and terrestrial environment.

General Information

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) was designated on September 18, 1992 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the auspices of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act for its diverse biological and cultural qualities. The MBNMS includes 276 miles of shoreline from Rocky Point in Marin County southward to Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and extends an average of 30 miles offshore. Roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, it covers 6,094 square miles of ocean - its deepest point occurring at the Davidson Seamount (3,884 meters in depth). The MBNMS hosts 36 different species of mammals, over 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, at least 525 species of fish, four species of marine turtles, 31 different phyla of invertebrates, and over 450 species of marine algae. [1]

Central Coast watersheds and sub-watersheds that drain into MBNMS

The MBNMS is fed by several watersheds in the Central Coast Region, many of which are affected by heavy urban and agricultural activity [2] that can ultimately affect several biotic and abiotic factors in the bay. Below is a non-exhaustive list of watersheds that drain into MBNMS (listed from north to south):

Major coastal watersheds that drain into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Map produced by NOAA. [3]

Santa Cruz County

Monterey County

Terrestrial impacts

California's Central Coast is one of the state's most intensive agricultural regions, with the Salinas Valley being the nation's top vegetable producer. The agricultural activity and rapid urban growth associated with the industry pose a significant threat to adjacent aquatic habitats and therefore the MBNMS, into which they drain. Several studies in the region have shown that water and sediment samples from numerous drainage channels, rivers, and estuaries (such as Elkhorn Slough) contain toxic contaminants at high concentrations. [4]

In addition to impacting water and sediment quality, human activity in this area has also resulted in negative impacts to habitat quality and abundance. Inputs of nutrients and contaminants such as fecal bacteria, pesticides, oil, grease, metals, and detergents[5] contribute to an increase in the frequency of hypoxia, eutrophication, and algal bloom events, which are harmful to the many sensitive species that inhabit the watershed, coastline, nearshore, and offshore environments. [6]

Other environmental issues of concern that stem from terrestrial impacts include coastal retreat, increased concentrations of microplastics,[2] and bioaccumulation of toxins in marine fauna that can result in mass casualties and strandings, such as toxoplasmosis in Southern sea otters due to improper waste disposal.[7]

Water Quality Protection Program and Action Plans

In order to address the many environmental vulnerabilities of the MBNMS due to issues originating in the region's watersheds, a consortium of eight federal, state, and local agencies collaborated on a Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP). The WQPP committee was established to protect the MBNMS using the following action plans that specifically target terrestrial issues:

  • Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network Action Plan[11]

Reports and journal papers

  • Eklhorn Slough, California: State of the Estuary Report[12]
  • First Flush 2018 Monitoring Report[13]
  • Snapshot Day 2018 Final Report[14]
  • Agricultural Management Practices and Treatment Wetlands for Water Quality Improvement in Southern Monterey Bay Watersheds: Final Report[15]
  • Long-term cliff retreat and erosion hotspots along the central shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary[16]
  • Evidence for a novel marine harmful algal bloom: cyanotoxin (microcystin) transfer from land to sea otters[17]



  1. National Ocean Service Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Overview December 09, 2019
  2. 2.0 2.1 CSUMB Class ENVS 660: Caudillo A, Gennaro M, Klein J, Kortman S, Kwan-Davis R, Wandke J, Olson J. 2019. Quantfifying microplastics in urban and agricultural watersheds in the Monterey Peninsula. Watershed Institute, California State University Monterey Bay, Publication No. WI-2019-09.
  3. Available from: [1]
  4. Hunt JW, Anderson BS, Phillips BM, Nicely PN, Tjeerdema RS, Puckett HM, Stephenson M, Worcester K and Vlaming V. 2003. Ambient toxicity due to chloropyrifos and diazinon in a Central California coastal watershed. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 2003(82):83-100.
  5. National Ocean Service. [2]
  6. Monterey Bay 2015 Condition Report Update [[3]]
  7. What's Killing the Sea Otters? February 6, 2007
  8. Urban Runoff. National Ocean Service. [4]
  9. Agricultural and Rural Lands Action Plan. National Ocean Service. [5]
  10. Protecting Water Quality in Wetlands and Riparian Corridors. National Ocean Service. [6]
  11. Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network. National Ocean Service. [7]
  12. Elkhorn Slough, California: State of the Estuary Report. 2019. Wasson K, Eby R, Endris C, Fork S, Haskins J, Huges B, Jeppesen R, Van Dyke E, Watson E. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.]
  13. Emanuelson L. 2019. Dry Run & First Flush 2018 Monitoring report. California Marine Sanctuary Foundation. [8]
  14. Central Coast Snapshot Day, May 5, 2018. [9]
  15. Harris, K., Watson, F., Brown, K., Burton, R., Carmichael, S., Casagrande, J.M., Casagrande, J.R., Daniels, M., Earnshaw, S., Frank, D., Hanson, E., Lienk, L.L., Martin, P., Travers, B., Watson, J., & Wiskind, A. (2007) Agricultural Management Practices and Treatment Wetlands for Water Quality Improvement in Southern Monterey Bay Watersheds: Final Report. Report to California State Water Resources Control Board. The Watershed Institute, California State Monterey Bay, Publication No. WI-2007-01, 162 pp. [10]
  16. Moore LJ and Griggs GB. 2001. Long-term cliff retreat and erosion hotspots along the central shores of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Marine Geology 181 (2002): 265-283
  17. Miller MA, Kudela RM, Mekebri A, Crane D, Oates SC, Tinker MT, Staedler M, Miller WA, Toy-Choutka S, Dominik C, Hardin D, Langlois G, Murray M, Ward K and Jessup DA. 2010. Evidence for a novel marine harmful algal bloom: cyanotoxin (microcystin) transfer from land to sea otters. PloS One. 2010; 5(9): e12576.


This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessary reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.