Physical Processes and Habitat Structure

At the foundation of California’s coastal and ocean environment is a unique landscape of physical structures including sandy and rocky beaches, coastal rivers, and wetlands.  These features define our shoreline, sediment supply, and compromise a complex habitat structure that is critical to many species.  As development along the coast has increased, pollution and landscape alterations have threatened many of these physical features and their associated habitats.  In addition, the resiliency of these habitats is expected to be the most vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise effects.  The viability of sustaining these physical processes and habitat structures depends on restoring key habitats, addressing sediment and shoreline management, and supporting efforts to adapt to climate change.

Objectives of Physical Processes and Habitat Structure Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:

Objective 1: Habitat RestorationSalmonBelowRiffle_111908_tbd

Wetlands, coastal freshwater streams, and nearshore eelgrass and kelp habitats are critical to the spawning, rearing and survival of many California native species.  These habitats are also some of the most heavily degraded due to coastal pollution and development.  The OPC has focused on habitat restoration of subtidal habitats in San Francisco Bay through funding, scientific support and interagency coordination.  The OPC also has a significant focus on salmon and steelhead habitat restoration.  These fish have long been a sign of a healthy Pacific ecosystems, but are now threatened with extinction.  OPC-funded recovery efforts for these fish include removing fish passage barriers, monitoring flows on coastal streams, and restoring riparian habitat.

Objective 2: Regional Sediment Management

Human modifications of the shoreline and rivers have impacted sediment supplies and beach resources.  Maintaining a sustainable sediment supply to the coast will be essential as the impacts of sea level rise become more pronounced in the future.  Regional sediment management and large-scale efforts to restore natural sediment supplies to the coasts can assist in resolving shoreline erosion and protection issues in California.  The OPC is also a member of the Coastal Sediment Management Workgroup (CSMW).

Objective 3: Understand Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change is the defining issue of our generation.  Science shows that even if emissions are severely curtailed, we will still experience future climate impacts due to existing greenhouse gases. California’s coastline is particularly susceptible to projected climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, changes in water temperature, an chemistry, changes in biodiversity and habitat location.  Along with other state entities, the OPC is taking a leadership role in examining these impacts and setting the stage for comprehensive adaptation planning.

Initiatives and Funded Projects:

Return to the OPC Climate Page

Education and Outreach

With a coastline over 1,100 miles long, the Pacific Ocean is one of the most dominant features of California’s geography.  Approximately 3/4 of California’s residents live in a county adjacent to the ocean and the recreation and economic activities that rely on a healthy ocean are integral to our collective well-being.  Ocean and coastal resources are a big part of how we work, live, and play, but many people are unaware of the challenges facing this essential component of our lifestyle.  Even though a lack of public knowledge exists about the ocean and its problems, recent surveys indicate that Californians support efforts to protect the oceans and are interested in learning more about them.

OPC 2006 – 2011 Strategic Plan Objective: Increase public awareness of ocean and coastal issues and encourage individual stewardship.

Assuming that a strong link exists between the public’s understanding of the natural environment and its willingness to protect and preserve natural resources, the Ocean Protection Council has undertaken initiatives designed to increase public awareness of marine issues and encourage individual ocean stewardship.  This includes developing a Web-based information and outreach campaign, supporting an internationally renowned conference series, and supporting the incorporation of ocean and coastal science into K-12 and adult education programs.

tyo_smallThe Thank You Ocean Campaign is a non-profit partnership supported by the State of California, the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the Ocean Communicators Alliance. The campaign mission is to raise awareness of the benefits the ocean provides to us and to identify ways each of us can help protect the ocean in our everyday lives.  The campaign includes a website, public service announcements, an advertising campaign, and a podcast series featuring leaders in ocean policy. The campaign is focused on educating the public about the importance of sustaining ocean life and inspiring Californians to practice ocean stewardship to alleviate major threats to the ocean including climate change, marine debris, water pollution, and marine life decline.

cwo_smallThe California and World Ocean Conference series provides an opportunity to bring together representatives from government, academia, industry, and the public to share ideas and formulate action strategies for the 21st Century.  The CWO conferences seek the experience, views, and innovative ideas of experts throughout California, the United States, and the international community in addressing ocean and coastal resource management issues facing California, other states, or nations.  The first conference was held in 1964 and again in 1997, 2002 and 2006.  The most recent CWO conference was held in September 2010 and addressed ocean and coastal subjects currently being addressed by resource managers and policy makers.  A complete video library of the 2010 conference sessions and presentations can be found at

eei_oceans_smallThe OPC provides support for the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Education and Environment Initiative (EEI).  The EEI Curriculum is a national model designed to help prepare today’s students to become future scientists, economists, and green technology leaders.  The inclusion of ocean and coastal science in the curriculum will provide benefits for improved ocean stewardship both now and in the future.

Initiatives and Funded Projects:

Thank You Ocean public outreach campaign

California and the World Oceans Conference

Education and Environment Initiative (EEI)

Otter Surveys_Gerick Bergsma 2009_Marine Photobank_sm

Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems

Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems

Life in the oceans goes on mostly unseen. But just because we can’t see what goes on “down there” doesn’t mean it’s not critically important to our daily lives.  California’s ocean and coastal ecosystems support a multitude of human uses.  Although management of activities that exploit or affect California’s ocean and coastal ecosystems has improved, existing unsustainable uses have reduced their capacity to provide goods and services.  Such goods or services may range from the enjoyment of going whale watching to commercial or recreational fishing as well as supporting coastal communities.  California’s marine ecosystems benefit from several laws that provide tools to support human use of wild plants and wildlife consistent with long-term economic and ecological values, including the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) and the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).  Meeting the challenges of the future will require understanding both the potential and the limits of our ocean resources.

Objectives of Ocean and Coastal Ecosystems Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:

Objective 1:  Marine Life Protection Act Central Coast MPAs

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are areas of the ocean where some types of human activity are restricted.  MPAs protect habitat, maintain and restore biological diversity and commercially valuable species, provide recreational opportunities, and allow for scientific research.  The MLPA Initiative, launched by the Schwarzenegger Administration in 2004, will launch the first statewide network of MPAs in the U.S.  The OPC supports this endeavor through MPA monitoring projects throughout the coast and collaborative fishery research projects.

Objective 2:  Marine Life Management Actkelp.clairefackler

The Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) mandates several significant changes in the way California’s marine fisheries are managed and regulated.  Its primary goals are to ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of California’s living marine resources.  The MLMA requires that fishery management plans (FMPs) form the primary basis for managing the state’s marine fisheries.  The OPC supports implementation of the MLMA, in coordination with the Department of Fish and Game, through funding projects that improve the development, implementation, and enforcement of high priority FMPs.


Objective 3:  Invasive Specieszebramussels

Invasive species of plants and animals can swiftly undermine efforts to maintain the diversity and productivity of ocean and coastal ecosystems.  The invasive alga Caulerpa taxifolia made a virtual desert out of much of the Mediterranean Sea and threatened to do the same in Southern California lagoons before it was stopped by concerted federal, state, and local governmental efforts and those of private organizations.  In San Francisco Bay, a host of foreign organisms have displaced native flora and fauna.  Native cordgrass Spartina foliosa is being replaced by an eastern invader, Spartina alterniflora, and has begun to destroy much of the region’s mudflats, a critical foraging area for many bird species.  This invasion has been slowed by a state-led consortium, but many battles remain to preserve native species and habitats.  The OPC is working on several fronts to stop invasions into California.  This includes funding and staffing completing the California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan and also establishing a California Agency AIS Team (CAAIST) which is dedicated to implementing the state plan and to improving California’s approach to reducing AIS introductions and detecting and responding to those that are introduced.

Objective 4:  Market-Based Fisheriesfishing boat

Commercial fishing is an important part of California’s history, economy and culture but has suffered a severe decline in the last 30 years.  This decline has made it difficult for many fishermen to make a living and discourages new investment and new business initiatives.  OPC supports innovative approaches to fisheries management by working cooperatively with fishermen and their communities and applying market-based approaches.  OPC funds projects that examine other strategies such as promoting limited entry, quota-based fishery management systems, or vessel buy-backs.

Objective 5:  Encourage Sustainable Economic ActivityCINMS_ClaireFackler_NMS

According to a 2005 National Ocean Economics Program report, California’s ocean economy contributed $43 billion to the California state economy in 2002 through a variety of activities including coastal tourism, port operations, and other activities.  California’s 1,100-mile coast hosts dozens of large and small coastal communities that have come under increasing pressure to support ocean dependant businesses while maintaining economic growth. For example, shifting commercial capture fisheries that once depended on high-volume, low-value exploitation to low-volume, high-value fisheries will require new kinds of port and harbor infrastructure.  The OPC encourages new and emerging economic activities or technologies that can boost California’s ocean economy in a sustainable manner.

Initiatives and Funded Projects:

  • Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) support

Ocean and coastal water quality

Beachgoers and wildlife need the same thing – clean ocean water. A relaxing day enjoying California’s waters can easily be undone by beach closures or widespread harmful algal blooms. With California’s coastal and ocean waters extending from the top of the watersheds to the deep waters off the coast, the Ocean Protection Council has made improving water quality a top priority.

The ocean is usually the end point of land-based pollutants that flow from coastal watersheds.  Nearshore impairment of water quality can result from municipal sewage discharges, industrial waste discharges, dredge spoils, and agricultural and urban runoff.  When water quality is poor, the ability of coastal ecosystems to support healthy fisheries, aquaculture, recreational opportunities, and other beneficial uses is undermined. The OPC is working to improve water quality through assisting agencies who enforce pollution control, encouraging new approaches to reduce non-point source pollution from land and point source pollution from vessels, eliminating harmful impacts from once-through cooling at power plants, boosting water quality testing programs and warning systems, and reducing marine debris.

Objectives of the Ocean and Coastal Water Quality Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:

Objective stormwater drainage pipe1: Enforce Pollution Controls

To reduce pollution, we must improve how California’s water quality laws are enforced. Several agencies have responsibility to keep our water clean but they may be hampered by funding or conflicting legislation. The OPC seeks to coordinate and support the agencies and their programs to enforce existing water quality laws. For example, the OPC is working with the Department of Fish and Game and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to support overlapping goals of improving water quality and protecting fish, wildlife and other coastal resources.

Photo Credit: Green Infrastructure

Objective 2: Innovation

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, California has made great strides in reducing point source pollution from industrial and other operations.  Yet, there has been less progress in reducing pollutants from non-point sources, such as storm water flows from heavily paved urban environments, construction sites, and agricultural operations. Innovative approaches are needed to continue to clean up our waterways. To that end, the OPC has supported expanded use of low-impact development through a 2008 resolution and accompanying projects.

Objective 3: Once-thEl Segundorough Cooling

In California, 21 coastal power plants use once-through cooling, a process in which large volumes of seawater are drawn into the power plant to condense steam created during electricity generation. When this occurs, small organisms such as plankton and larvae are drawn into the cooling system and killed, and larger fish are pinned against the water intake screens.  Warm water is also discharged back into the ocean, which harms the resident sea life. The OPC has supported the work of the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate once-through cooling in California since 2006 with the passage of the first OPC resolution.

Objective 4: Water Quality TestingCape Rodney NZ credit Miriam Godfrey

Planning to enjoy a day at California’s coast can be ruined when a beach is closed from contaminated ocean water. Rapid indicators of pathogen contamination could provide for more timely notice of beach closures and openings. The OPC has targeted predicting harmful algal blooms (HABs) as one of the first improvements to water quality testing off the California coast.

Objective 5: Marine Debris

Ocean ConservancyThe accumulation of land-based litter and ocean-based derelict fishing gear in the ocean has garnered much attention in the media. Scientific studies have found more than 260 marine species suffer from marine debris by ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning, and entanglement. Risks from toxins and contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) associated with marine debris are a growing research area. The OPC began to address marine debris and toxins with a 2007 resolution that seeks to reduce ocean and coastal debris and its impacts to ocean ecosystems.

Objective 6: Vessel Pollution

Ships are a vital part of the ocean economy from commercial transportation to recreational use. California’s myriad of ports and harbors host pleasure craft, cruise ships, and oil tankers, all of which can act as individual sources of pollution to the sea. The OPC seeks to reduce and eliminate pollution from vessels such as developing effective alternatives to anti-fouling hull paints.


Initiatives and Funded Projects

Enforce Pollution Controls

Department of Fish and Game/LA Regional Water Quality Control Board MOU on Enforcement

Low-Impact Development (LID)

Implementation of LID in California

Once Through Cooling

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

California Sea Grant project

Marine Debris

Implementation Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Ocean Litter

Toxicological Profiles

Plastic Substances Study

Master Environmental Assessment on Single-use and Reusable Bags

Derelict Fishing Gear Pilot Project


Contaminants of Emerging Concern Workshop

… read more


Monterey State Beach.Gerick Bergsma 2009Marine PhotobankGovernance

California has an enormous environmental and economic stake in how we care for our ocean.  It is responsible for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the seafood we eat, and for unparalleled recreational experiences.  Our ocean economy was estimated at $43 billion in 2000, and that economy is largely dependent on the health of our ocean.  We must protect and manage our marine resources and fisheries, maintain good coastal water quality, and devise ways to meet the challenges of climate change – particularly sea level rise – that threaten our coastal communities.

One of the principal goals of the Ocean Protection Council is to evaluate the way California protects and conserves the state’s ocean and coastal ecosystem resources and to recommend legislative or administrative changes.  The OPC is working to coordinate governance and stewardship of the state’s ocean, identify priorities, bridge existing gaps, and ensure effective and scientifically sound approaches to protecting and conserving the most important ocean resources.

Governance Objectives of the 2006 – 2011 OPC Strategic Plan

Objective 1: Funding:
Numerous state agencies receive public funds to protect ocean and coastal resources.  These agencies regulate how these resources are used, regulate activities that impact these resources, and purchase coastal resources and place them in the public trust.  The OPC is tasked with analyzing state agency spending in order to maximize the efficiency of public fund expenditures.

Objective 2:  Inter-agency Coordination and Collaboration:
A patchwork of state and federal statutes and accompanying regulations govern the management of California’s ocean and coastal resources.  These laws were drafted over the last several decades, during which time no concerted effort was made to evaluate how well each agency discharged its duties.  The OPC works towards improving coordination and management of state efforts to protect and conserve the ocean and to identify changes in federal law and policy necessary to better protect ocean resources. The OPC also works to ensure that resource managers and decision makers have access to the best available science to inform their decisions through advice from the California Ocean Science Trust and the OPC Science Advisory Team.

dfg_enforcementObjective 3: Enforcement:
California’s environmental laws are enforced by a number of federal, state, and local regulatory authorities, each of which may have its own enforcement unit.  While it would be impractical and unwise to try to place all enforcement authority in one agency, enforcement efforts can and should be better coordinated between agencies.

Objective 4:  Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM):
Ecosystem-based management is an integrated approach to management that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans, when making decisions.  The goal of ecosystem-based management is to maintain an ecosystem in a healthy, productive, and resilient condition so that it can provide the services humans want and need.  OPC supports the development of ecosystem-based management pilot programs in several regions throughout California.

080729 WCGA announcementObjective 5:  Federal Influence.
By engaging federal government support for California’s priorities, the OPC looks to encourage cooperative management with federal agencies in order to protect and conserve representative coastal and ocean habitats and the ecological processes that support those habitats.

Objective 6:  Regional Coordination.
OPC supports increased regional coordination between California, Oregon and Washington, focusing on measures to improve ocean and coastal management.

In addition to specific objectives listed in the strategic plan, the strategic plan also calls for the creation of a Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT) to ensure that the best available science is applied to OPC policy decisions.  The OPC-SAT is composed of leading scientists from all major ocean and coastal scientific disciplines including the social and human sciences.  The Advisory Team works with OPC staff to ensure that all staff recommendations and projects proposed to OPC are based on the best available science.

Initiatives and Funded Projects:


Inter-agency Coordination and Collaboration:


  • Department of Fish and Game – State Water Resources Control Board Memorandum Of Understanding

Ecosystem Based Management:

Regional Coordination:

OPC Meeting – June 24-25, 2010

Meeting Agenda

June 24-25, 2010
Santa Barbara County Executive Office, Room 406
105 E. Anapamu Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Lester Snow, Secretary for Natural Resources, Council Chair
Linda Adams, Secretary for Environmental Protection
John Chiang, State Controller, Chair of the State Lands Commission
Susan Golding, Public Member
Geraldine Knatz, Public Member
Pedro Nava, State Assemblymember
Fran Pavley, State Senator

Thursday, June 24th
OPC Meeting Day One
1:00pm – 5:00pm

1. Welcome and council member announcements
Lester Snow, Secretary for Natural Resources, Council Chair

2. Public comment on non-agenda items*

3. Report from the Executive Director
Amber Mace, Executive Director, OPC

4. Report from the Council Secretary
Sam Schuchat, Council Secretary

5. Report from the Science Advisor
Skyli McAfee, Executive Director, California Ocean Science Trust

6.  Update on Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
Steve Edinger, California Office of Oil Spill Prevention Response (OSPR) Administrator

7. OPC Updates

8. ACTION: Consent Calendar

9. ACTION: Consideration and possible authorization to disburse up to $2.75 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the aerial collection and processing of LiDAR elevation data and imagery along the coast of California.
Doug George, OPC Project Manager

10. ACTION: Consideration and possible authorization to disbursement of up to $912,000 to the California Sea Grant Program and University of Southern California (USC) Sea Grant Program to fund ocean research projects that fulfill the Ocean Protection Council research priorities.
Pam Rittelmeyer, OPC Sea Grant Fellow

11. ACTION: Consideration and possible authorization to disburse up to $380,706 to the Regents of the University of California, U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, to research, develop and validate protocols to detect the fecal parasite Toxoplasma gondii in water samples.
Neal Fishman, OPC Program Manager

Friday, June 25th
OPC Meeting Day Two
9:30am – 5:00pm

12. Spotlight on Science: “The Other CO2 Problem: What are the Consequences of Ocean Acidification on the California Coast?”
Gretchen Hofmann, Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

13. Report on the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) Lessons Learned Study
Sam Schuchat, Council Secretary

14. PANEL DISCUSSION: Oil Platform Decommissioning Study
Briefing and discussion of the recently released study titled Evaluating Alternatives for Decommissioning California’s Offshore Oil and Gas Platforms: A Technical Analysis to Inform State Policy
Neal Fishman, OPC Program Manager
Diana Pietri, California Ocean Science Trust Program Manager


Panel 1:
Dr. Brock Bernstein, Independent Consultant
Andy Bressler, Retired, formerly of Texaco’s California Business Unit
Dr. Dan Pondella, Occidental College

Panel 2:
Linda Krop, Environmental Defense Center
Garry Brown, Orange County Coastkeepers
Doug Anthony, Energy Division of Santa Barbara County


Alison Dettmer, California Coastal Commission
Cy Oggins, State Lands Commission
Others TBD

15. Adjourn

Questions about the meeting or agenda can be directed to Lawrence Matthews at (510) 286-1212 or Any person who has a disability and requires reasonable accommodation to participate in this council meeting should contact Mr. Matthews no later than five days prior to meeting.

OPC Tour Information:
A council tour of the Bren School of Environmental Management at University of California Santa Barbara will take place on June 24, 2010.  The tour will begin at 9:30am at the Marine Science Institute/Marine Science Research Building and end at 11:30am.  Members of the public are welcome to attend, but as space is limited, please RSVP to Mr. Matthews by Friday, June 18 (contact information above). Attendees must meet the group promptly at 9:30 am and provide their own transportation.

Request for Public Input on OPC 2010 Evaluation


Dear California Ocean and Coastal Community,



During its first five years, the OPC has made significant contributions to improve ocean and coastal management.  As the OPC begins preparing to develop its next strategic plan, the OPC is taking this opportunity to evaluate its performance to date against the goals of the California Ocean Protection Act (COPA) and to identify opportunities to improve institutional processes, address the adequacy of policies and laws, and to integrate science into decision-making.

OPC has selected the NewPoint Group to conduct the evaluation and draft a report on the evaluation’s findings.  As part of this process, OPC is very interested in receiving feedback from its partners and stakeholders. An online survey has been created to provide the public with an opportunity to give feedback on OPC’s past  performance and recommendations for OPC’s future activities.

The online survey will open until July 9, 2010 and can be accessed here along with more details on the evaluation.

The  California Ocean Protection Act and the OPC 2006 Strategic Plan can be found at Council Documents.

Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your valuable feedback.

Lester Snow
California Ocean Protection Council