Kelp forest study

PISCO’s kelp forest monitoring has been running continuously since 1999 in shallow (5-20 m depth) nearshore sites located on rocky bottom habitat. Sites are situated in varying oceanographic regions and conditions, such as different levels of coastal upwelling, as well as inside and outside of marine protected areas. These surveys have provided valuable data to help assess causes and consequences of environmental changes. 

SCUBA surveys

PISCO's monitoring approach quantifies the density and biomass of macroalgae, invertebrates and fishes within kelp forest communities. Our approach produces a quantitative characterization of ecosystem attributes such as biodiversity, community structure, population abundance and size structure of ecologically and economically important species. Central to the success and value of the scale of this monitoring program is the development of survey designs, sampling protocols and training methods standardized across all PISCO institutions and partners. This monitoring work directly informs management and policy actions on the west coast of the US and beyond. In addition to ecosystem monitoring, PISCO contributes to marine protected area design and evaluation by targeted studies focused on ecological interactions, population connectivity, and other research themes that are built on the time series effort. Our work to study kelp forests and rocky reefs started when sites were established in southern and central California. New sites have been added over the years as processes such as California’s Marine Life Protection Act requires. We work closely with our organizational partners in California to train divers, conduct surveys, and share data. The first PISCO surveys in Oregon were in 2002-2004. With the establishment of a state marine reserves program, a volunteer science diver program at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and a growing science dive program at Oregon State University, surveys in Oregon are currently done by a joint agency volunteer scientific diver program, led by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fish and invertebrate recruitment

Our subtidal program measures recruitment of fish species to kelp forests using a sampling tool called a "SMURF" (Standard Monitoring Unit for the Recruitment of Fishes). SMURFs are constructed of materials that mimic the protective habitat of kelp forests. Young fish settling in these sampling units are collected, identified, and sized to evaluate the patterns of fish recruitment. In addition, PISCO scientists monitor a variety of ecologically and commercially invertebrate species on artificial substrata deployed on moorings near kelp forests. Our recruitment time series have documented sensitivities to El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycles and interannual changes in upwelling. The longest time series is in California, dating back to 2000 in Southern and Central California. In Oregon, similar methods to monitor fish recruitment within and outside of marine reserves are used by collaborators at Oregon State University and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Time series of rockfish recruitment critically complement annual offshore surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and have been used to establish settlement patterns important for stock assessments.

Our partner organizations

Scientific publications, protocols, and outreach resources

Selected scientific publications


Methods and training materials
Outreach resources