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Climate change vulnerability assessment for the California coastal national monument—Trinidad and Point Arena-Stornetta units

July 16, 2021

Executive Summary

  • The California Coastal National Monument protects islets, reefs, and rock outcropping habitats in six onshore units, including the Trinidad and Point Arena-Stornetta Units.
  • The California Coastal National Monument provides crucial habitat for resident and migratory species of seabirds, marine mammals, and invertebrates, which includes several federally listed threatened and endangered species. Also, the California Coastal National Monument encompasses important tribal, cultural, and historical sites along the coastline of California.
  • We used three approaches to assess the climate change vulnerability of the Trinidad and Point Arena-Stornetta Units: (1) a qualitative approach using peer-reviewed literature and previous work done in the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the North-central California Coast and Ocean (Hutto and others, 2015), (2) interactive workshops with local stakeholders to identify specific resources, and (3) spatial analysis to estimate sea-level rise vulnerability for the rocky shoreline and key resources within the units.
  • Information from stakeholder workshops held (in 2017) in the cities of Point Arena and Trinidad identified climate change impacts as an important management concern for the resilience, health, and ecosystem services of the California Coastal National Monument units. Impacts that were identified included sea-level rise, changes in precipitation and fog, warming oceans, and loss of species (birds, fisheries, marine mammals).
  • Boat surveys were done for each unit to estimate the number of rocky features and the biota using the rocks. At the Trinidad Unit, 138 rocks were surveyed and 17 different wildlife species were observed, whereas at the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit, 40 rocks were surveyed and 10 different wildlife species were observed.
  • Individual rocky features surveyed within the units were then ranked on sea-level rise exposure and vulnerability scales with 1 being the least vulnerable/exposed and 5 the most.
  • Forty-nine and fifty-eight percent of surveyed rocks had a sea-level rise exposure ranking of 4 or 5 (high) for the Trinidad Unit and Point Arena-Stornetta Units respectively.
  • Forty-eight percent of offshore rocks had a sea-level rise vulnerability score of 3 or greater (high) for the Trinidad Unit, and forty-three percent of rocks had a vulnerability score of 3 or greater for the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit.
  • When examining guild use of vulnerable rocks (vulnerability score greater than 3), at the Trinidad Unit alcid species (here defined as common murres and pigeon guillemots) were observed on only 28 percent of vulnerable rocks, shorebirds on 30 percent, sea lions on 40 percent, gulls on 43 percent, seabirds on 58 percent, and mammals on 75 percent, whereas at the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit alcid species were observed on 0 percent of vulnerable rocks, gulls on 33 percent, seabirds on 57 percent, and mammals on 50 percent.
  • Sea-level rise has the potential to submerge small low-relief offshore rocks and make them uninhabitable for birds and marine mammals but could provide more intertidal and subtidal rocky habitats. We found that nearly half of the offshore rocks at both sites are vulnerable and have the potential to realize this outcome; however, the larger and tall-relief rocks at these sites are less vulnerable to sea-level rise and are expected to continue to provide habitat for avian species.