The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), designated in 1992, is a Federally-protected marine area offshore of California's central coast. Stretching from Marin to Cambria, the MBNMS encompasses a shoreline length of 276 miles and 5,322 square miles of ocean, extending an average distance of 30 miles from shore, extending from Rocky Point (just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge) to Cambria (just north of Morro Bay). At its deepest point, the MBNMS reaches down 10,663 feet (more than two miles). It is the USA's eleventh Marine Sanctuary and second only to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in size—larger than Yosemite or Yellowstone National Parks.
The MBNMS was established for the purpose of resource protection, research, education and public use. Its natural resources include the USA's largest kelp forest, one of North America's largest underwater canyons and the closest-to-shore deep ocean environment in the continental United States. It is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, including 33 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, 345 species of fishes, and numerous invertebrates, plants, and algae. This remarkably productive marine environment is fringed by spectacular coastal scenery, including sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, rolling hills and steep mountains.
Flora and Fauna
Marine mammals spend the majority of their lives in or near the sea and include pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and sea otters. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides breeding habitat for pinnipeds such as the California sea lion, Steller sea lion, northern elephant seal, and harbor seal. The northern fur seal and Guadalupe fur seal can be seen in the sanctuary but are transient offshore visitors who breed outside of this region. There are 12 species of cetaceans frequently occurring in the sanctuary, as well as 6 species occasionally seen such as sperm whales and killer whales. The California sea otter can also be often seen in the kelp beds of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
This group includes bony fishes and cartilaginous fishes such as sharks, skates and rays that live in a variety of habitats including kelp forests, sandy bottoms, open water and rocky reefs. There are over 300 species of fish in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary provides critical habitat for many recreationally and commercially important species, which play an important role in the ecosystem and our economy.
Seabirds do not comprise a taxonomic or evolutionary group of birds; they are simply defined as birds that spend most of their life feeding and living on the open ocean, coming only to land to breed. When it comes to seabirds, the most heavily used waters in the world are part of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. There are about 90 species of seabirds known to occur regularly within the sanctuary, and among these species about 30 are dominant. There are also about 90 species of tidal and wetland birds occurring on the shores and wetlands along the sanctuary boundary, and about 30 of these are also dominant.
Marine invertebrates are the most diverse and abundant group of multicellular organisms in the ocean. Invertebrates do not comprise a single taxon, but are defined as a group of animals that lack a vertebral column. This incredible an diverse array of animals is found within all the habitats of the sanctuary, including kelp forests, rocky shelves, boulder beaches, tide pools, sand flats, and more. There are hundreds of species of invertebrates in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, including sponges, urchins, anemones, lobsters, crabs, snails, octopi, abalones, sea stars, and others. Some of these species are of recreational or commercial importance, and most of them play an important role in the ecosystem.
Plants and Algae
Both vascular plants and algae are primary producers, forming the base of the food web in the ocean. The major taxonomic groups of macroscopic algae (that is, seaweeds) are the browns, reds, and greens. Of these groups, brown algae grow the largest and can be viewed easily from the surface. Kelp forms amber forests that occur in nearshore habitats throughout Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The densest and most extensive forests occur along protected island shores. These kelp forests provide food and habitat for a number of invertebrate and vertebrate species. In Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, there are over 50 different species of algae.
Reptiles are relatively uncommon residents of the marine environment. Of the small group of reptiles that inhabit the sea, the most easily recognized in the Eastern Pacific are the sea turtles. There are only seven species of sea turtles worldwide, and all but one are endangered. Though not considered residents of the sanctuary, leatherback turtles can sometimes be seen in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
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