Research and Monitoring

photo credit: Jayson Smith


Research and Monitoring

Solving complex ocean resource problems will require a better scientific understanding of the underlying functioning of ocean and coastal ecosystems. The Ocean Protection Council seeks to establish policies that coordinate the collection and sharing of scientific data related to coast and ocean resources between agencies. The issues facing the ocean are multifaceted and partnerships are necessary to address these concerns. Under this strategic goal, OPC aims to improve the scientific understanding of our ocean resources and monitor the ocean environment to provide data about conditions and trends. By 2011, OPC would like for the state to have sufficient scientific understanding of biological, physical, and socio-economic processes in order to implement ecosystem based management statewide. OPC would also like to have consistent monitoring data accessible to resource managers and the public by 2011.

Objectives of Research and Monitoring Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:

Objective 1: Research

Science should be the foundation of ocean and coastal policy, but often it is not.  Sometimes this is because research and monitoring activities are under-funded and other times it is because results are not communicated effectively to decision makers and the public.  To begin to remedy these gaps in knowledge or application, the OPC works with the Ocean Science Trust, the OPC Science Advisory Team, the two California-based Sea Grant programs, and many other partners to identify high priority research needs. The OPC includes research as a part of its funding strategy and seeks federal support for the state’s research needs. Another OPC research effort is to make California’s ocean observing system a national model.

Objective 2: Monitoring

Changes in ocean and coastal ecosystems can only be measured if sufficient baseline information is available. Increased and improved monitoring through data acquisition and analysis will provide that  critical knowledge. They also provide metrics to assess effectiveness of management measures. In order to achieve this goal, OPC recognizes the need to create state-sponsored ocean observing programs that will work with the federal Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), the Regional Associations (RAs) and other entities to build an integrated ocean observing system in California. OPC is also in a partnership to complete seafloor maps of state waters, which will provide information on marine habitats and substrates. These maps are critical to effective management of fisheries, design of marine protected areas, and other management efforts.  The OPC is also partnering to complete topographic maps of the California coastal region to aid in better land-sea research, such as climate change or tsunami impacts.  Also, OPC is supporting the development of a comprehensive monitoring program focused on developing and delivering cost effective and useful monitoring data essential for ensuring the long-term adaptive management of the new statewide system of marine protected areas (MPAs).

Initiatives and Funded Projects:


Monitoring and Assessment


Ocean Science Trust

California Sea Grant Research Programs

Toxicological Profiles

Our industrial society uses a plethora of chemicals to survive. Inorganic and organic compounds are used for dry-cleaning, and producing rubber products, PVC pipes and plastic packaging. Some of these chemicals give plastics their desirable characteristics of flexibility and durability. However, most of these chemicals do not occur naturally in the environment and recently, more attention is being given to how those chemicals affect human health as they leach from the plastic products.Three chemicals were investigated in this project: bisphenol-a (BPA), nonylphenol (NP) and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). BPA has received much media attention as it is found in baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical devices, CDs and household electronics. NP is used as an industrial cleaning agent and a stabilizer of the chemical process during plastic and rubber manufacturing. DEHP is used commonly used for making PVC more flexible in many products, such as packaging, furniture upholstery, shower curtains, garden hoses and medical tubing. Research shows these chemicals can disrupt reproductive and developmental systems, increase cancer risks and damage the immune systems of experimental laboratory animals. The effects on marine ecosystems, where many plastic items with these chemical accumulate as litter, have yet to receive the same level of research so the impacts to marine animal health are mostly unknown.


The OPC Marine Debris Resolution item #11 encourages developing a plan for the phased ban of the most toxic types of plastic packaging. Part of that plan involves determining the risks to human and marine animal health from specific chemicals. The OPC turned to the expertise of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), a department of California Environmental Protection Agency whose mission is to protect and enhance public health and the environment by scientific evaluation of risks posed by hazardous substances.  OEHHA developed toxicological profile reports of BPA, NP and DEHP to inform how these chemicals affect the marine ecosystem.


The OPC used $155,684 from the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Fund (Proposition 40) to fund this project.

Project Grantee

Integrated Risk Assessment Branch, The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)
California Environmental Protection Agency
David Siegel, PhD
(916) 322-5624


The toxicological profile reports may be viewed here:

Related Projects

Preventing Ocean Litter

Ocean litter – also commonly referred to as “marine debris” – is a persistent and growing problem worldwide that significantly impacts the health and beauty of our oceans and beaches. It poses serious threats to marine wildlife, including sea birds, turtles and mammals such as dolphins and whales, as well as human health and welfare. Scientific research demonstrates that debris in the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate: plastic debris in an area north of Hawaii known as the Northwest Pacific Gyre has increased 5-fold in the last 10 years. In the Southern Ocean, the amount of plastic debris increased 100 times during the early 1990s. These are just a few examples of the recent marked increase in marine debris. Researchers estimate that 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, particularly trash and plastic litter in urban runoff, and the generation of trash and waste is increasing.On November 20, 2008, the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) adopted the final “Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter”. The document was created in response to the OPC’s February 2007 resolution that called for a plan of action to reduce and prevent marine debris. The report aims to prompt a change in how California generates, handles and disposes items that frequently land in our ocean. The implementation strategy offers sixteen recommendations, ranging from banning smoking on state beaches to anti-litter education and clean-up initiatives, with three priority actions that focus on reducing litter through direct economic actions. At the core is the goal of reducing the amount of litter that accumulates in the ocean, particularly the 60-80% that is lightweight and buoyant plastic material. This litter kills marine life, including endangered species, transports invasive species and toxic pollutants, and damages the aesthetics of our beaches and the sea.

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

The top three priority actions of the implementation strategy would remake California’s relationship with frequently used plastics and commonly littered items. The first priority action is to create a producer take-back program, or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), for convenience food packaging. Successful EPR programs reduce waste by motivating manufacturers and distributors to use less packaging and more recyclable types of materials. The second priority action is a ban on polystyrene take-out food containers and a fee on single-use plastic and paper grocery bags. The goal behind this proposed fee and ban is to encourage a shift toward reusable bags and containers that are safer and less damaging to the marine environment. The third priority action recommends a fee be placed on commonly littered products that are not suitable for a take-back program or ban. The goal is to provide an incentive to consumers to buy less environmentally damaging products and to create a source of funds that can be used for new and improved litter-related programs, such as stricter enforcement of litter laws, increased clean up efforts, or alternative product development.

The OPC adopted the implementation strategy to encourage manufacturers, distributors, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and the public to reassess how our actions contribute to the growing problem of marine debris. Written with the guidance of the Marine Debris Steering Committee, the report is the first comprehensive plan that involves all Californians in a broad effort to curb ocean litter.


Plastic Debris in the California Marine Ecosystem: A Summary of Current Research, Solution Efforts and Data Gaps (September 2011)

Implementation Strategy

Marine Debris Resolution

Extended Producer Responsibility Resolution

Related Projects

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Photo credit: Ocean Conservancy

Plastics Substance Flow Accounts

The OPC Marine Debris Resolution item #3 encourages new innovations to reduce plastic waste in the marine environment. One innovation is to identify alternatives that would biodegrade in the ocean and do not contain toxic materials. However, the effects and life-cycle of our current set of plastics need to be understood so alternatives can be developed.

Researchers at Chico State University calculated preliminary substance flow accounts for waste related to plastic packaging and products that may contribute to marine debris.  The work was coordinated in consultation with a project officer from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The overall goal of the project was to understand the potential toxic hazards posed by plastic packaging waste in California’s aquatic environments through the creation of state-level substance flow accounts for plastic products of key concern.

The research aims were:

  1. identify and track the flows of the main thermoplastic resins (PET, PE, PVC, PP, PS) and all relevant additives through all relevant sectors
  2. identify emerging “safer substitutes”
  3. evaluate the methods and recommend next steps

Related Projects

Low-Impact Development (LID)

As more impervious surfaces – roads, parking lots and buildings – are built in a watershed, more runoff is produced that is contaminated with oil, grease, metals, trash, bacteria, and other pollutants.  This polluted runoff enters our waterways and contributes to beach closures, depressed fish populations and harmful algal blooms, all of which hurt our economy directly or indirectly. Increased flow may cause stream beds and banks to erode, damaging or eliminating stream habitat and carrying sediment downstream.  Low-Impact Development (LID) is a set of stormwater management strategies that reduces impervious surfaces, treats runoff, controls runoff peaks and durations, and thereby helps protect water quality and stream resource integrity.


LID works.  Its implementation is being fast-tracked by the federal government (most notably, the Department of Defense) and in many states.  In California, the State and Regional Water Boards are already incorporating LID into their Statewide Construction and Municipal NPDES permit requirements.  In early January 2008, the State Board released a policy analysis that examines the State’s primary mechanisms of regulating stormwater runoff and considers how LID approaches could be used for compliance purposes.  Many local communities in California are also adopting LID requirements and practices.

LID can also benefit the business community.  In December 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new report entitled “Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices.”  The report contains 17 case studies from across North America that show the economic viability of LID practices.  The report demonstrates that, in almost all cases, LID can reduce project costs while improving environmental performance. Total capital savings ranged from 15 to 80 percent, with one exception in which LID project costs were higher than conventional stormwater management costs. As LID practices become more common, it is likely that they will become cheaper to use.

Promoting LID in California was included in the 2008 OPC program priorities and at the February 2008 meeting, a report was presented to the Council exploring state and local policies that encourage or require LID. At the May 15, 2008 meeting, the OPC adopted a resolution regarding LID. As stated in the resolution, the OPC found LID to be a practicable and superior approach to minimizing and mitigating increases in runoff and runoff pollutants due to land development. Further, LID is cost-effective, has many ancillary benefits, and in most cases can be executed at lower cost than conventional drainage systems. Three topics were identified for action by the OPC to promote LID: state leadership, state regulatory action, and incentives, technical support and research. The resolution also included various items the OPC could consider funding to promote LID. Since the adoption of the resolution, the OPC has engaged with the Natural Resources Agency, California EPA, the Office of Planning and Research, Caltrans, the Building Standards Commission and the Department of Water Resources to encourage incorporation of the principles of LID in projects and standards. Standards for regulatory actions are also being developed by the State Water Board with assistance from the California Coastal Commission and the OPC.


The OPC awarded funds to Tetra Tech to examine the state and local policies that encourage or require the use of LID.  The final report,  “State and Local Policies Encouraging or Requiring Low Impact Development in California” (January 2008 ) serves as a clearinghouse for LID activities throughout the state, although as LID becomes more widespread, newer projects are not described.

Council Documents

OPC Resolution Regarding LID

February 29, 2008 LID Memo


US EPA LID information

Project Schedule

As called for in the OPC Resolution, the Office of Planning and Research and OPC staff are working together to produce a technical advisory regarding the use of LID. The advisory was completed in summer 2009.

Other portions of the OPC Resolution are being enacted with the relevant agencies.

Photo Credit: Green Infrastructure

Photo Credit: Green Infrastructure

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