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Kelp forest monitoring at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—Fall 2019, sixth annual repor

September 15, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey conducts ecological monitoring of rocky subtidal communities at four permanent sites around San Nicolas Island. The sites—Nav Fac 100, West End, Dutch Harbor, and Daytona 100—were based on ones that had been monitored since 1980 by the U.S. Geological Survey and, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, were combined or expanded in 2014 for better comparability with monitoring programs conducted at the other California Channel Islands. At the sites, we counted a suite of kelps and invertebrates on benthic band transects, measured bottom cover of algae and sessile invertebrate species in quadrats, and counted and sized fish on swimming transects. Holdfast diameter and number of stipes of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) were recorded on these transects and size data were collected for urchins, sea stars, and shelled mollusks. Bottom temperatures were recorded at hourly intervals by archival data loggers that were deployed at the sites. Typically, this monitoring work is conducted semi-annually, in fall and spring. Because the spring 2020 trip was cancelled due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, this report focuses primarily on data collected in fall 2019 and makes comparisons with data collected in previous years, beginning in fall 2014.

The sites are distributed around the island and differ in their physical and ecological characteristics. Nav Fac 100, situated on the north side of San Nicolas Island, has a relatively low benthic profile. The invasive brown alga Sargassum horneri was first observed at this site in 2015. West End, to the southwest of the island, also lacks much bottom relief but has more crevice habitat associated with boulders. For almost three decades, West End has been a focal point for the small, but growing, population of southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) at the island. Dutch Harbor, on the south side, has many high relief rocky reefs and had the greatest fish and non-motile invertebrate densities. Daytona 100, on the southeast side, has moderate relief and has remained a patchwork of kelp and sea urchin dominated areas.

There were no major changes at the sites since spring 2019, but some trends observed during the last few years continued whereas others changed. Red urchins continued a declining trend (observed during the last 4 years) at Daytona 100. The wavy turban snail (Megastraea undosa) began to increase rapidly at Nav Fav 100 in 2015 and has subsequently been increasing at the other sites as well, after more than a decade of very low numbers at all sites. Sea star wasting syndrome, which has devastated multiple species of sea stars along the Pacific coast of North America, affected most species at San Nicolas Island in the year prior to the fall 2014 sampling. Since then, there has been a reduction in the number of bat stars (Patiria miniata), and very few sea stars of other species have been observed. There has been a slight recovery of P. miniata since 2016 but little sign of change in other species. All the sites had a slight decline in the densities of purple urchins following an increase during the previous 2 years. Long-term data are presented to illustrate trends and changes during almost four decades of monitoring this dynamic system.

Publication Year 2021
Title Kelp forest monitoring at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California—Fall 2019, sixth annual repor
DOI 10.3133/ofr20211081
Authors Michael C. Kenner, Joseph A. Tomoleoni
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2021-1081
Index ID ofr20211081
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center