Coastal and Marine Geospatial Data

The OPC and other California state agency partners have made significant  investments in marine and coastal data collection,  including seafloor maps, shoreline maps, and ecological and socio‐economic data  to support marine protected area planning.  Improved access and sharing of this geospatial data can ensure that the best and most up to date information and science is available for informing regulatory decisions, as well as the planning, scoping, and stakeholder processes that lead up to these decisions. The following are a list of current OPC efforts to improve coastal and marine geospatial data:

The California Coastal and Marine Geospatial Working Group

The OPC formed the California Coastal and Marine Geospatial Working Group (CCMG-WG) to increase collaboration between agencies and the state’s Geospatial Information Officer (GIO).  The CCMG-WG has since become a formal subcommittee of the California GIS Council.   Membership in the CCMG-WG includes technical managers and users of coastal and marine geospatial data from the various California state agencies (see list of members).

California Coastal and Marine Geospatial Data Information Management System Scoping Study

The OPC and the CCMG-WG developed a scope of work and issued an RFQ in early 2011 to conduct a scoping study with the goal of outlining the coastal and marine geospatial data priorities of California agencies and the specific technical requirements for data management systems at the State that are needed to support these priorities.  See the Project Website for more information.


  • The Collaborative Geospatial Information and Tools for California Coastal and Ocean Managers Workshop (August 2009).  Download the workshop report HERE.
  • OPC Resolution on Coordination Geospatial Information and Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (2009). Download resolution HERE.


California Coastal and Marine Geospatial Information System Scoping Study

In April 2011, the OPC hired Kearns & West/UC Santa Barbara to conduct a scoping study on information management systems for California coastal and marine geospatial data.  The final scoping study was completed in October 2011. Below is more information on the study.

Scoping Study Goal:

To outline the coastal and marine geospatial data priorities of California agencies and to outline the specific technical requirements for data management systems at the State that are needed to support these priorities.

This project originated from comments about challenges to interagency data sharing in the state and is designed to be the first major step in addressing this challenge.

Scoping Study Objectives:

  • Consult with the state agency users of coastal and marine geospatial data to document the functional requirements of the users;
  • Learn from existing information management systems to assess approaches for interoperability. The existing systems and tools have advantages and disadvantages that can serve to inform the type of information system that California develops; and
  • Provide a summary of considerations for long term operational sustainability of the system.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

The primary focus of this effort was on state agencies’ needs. Key findings from the scoping study consultations include:

  • All agencies report the need for a commonly accessible coastal and marine Information Management System (IMS) through which to access geospatial information and no existing California-based web atlas or geospatial information management system evaluated during this study addresses the complete set of features and requirements identified;
  • The dominant use of geospatial information is by non-technical users using web mapping applications and Google Earth.  Web services and “out of the box” software solutions can provide essential functionality for visualizing and more easily sharing data across organizations and agencies as well as inter-operate with other IMSs and databases;
  • Previous experiences with distributed and centralized IMS architectures have shown strengths and weaknesses for each approach, depending upon data holder capabilities, and a hybrid approach could capitalize upon the strengths of both architectures; and
  • Long-term staff support and funding are required to support an effective IMS.  A Data Librarian and Data Diplomats could greatly enhance state inter-agency data sharing and maintenance of a coastal and marine IMS.

The resulting recommendations that emerged from these findings include:

  • A California coastal and marine geospatial IMS should be searchable and viewable through a dedicated web atlas, with the ability to view, overlay, print, and/or download geospatial data in several formats, including through GIS web services within ArcGIS Desktop;
  •  The architecture of the IMS should be organized with a hybrid approach, supporting both centralized and distributed data sources;
  • The IMS should have staff support through a data librarian and data diplomats; and
  • The IMS should be housed and funded in such a manner so as to enable it to be a long-term resource for California agencies.


Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard Webinars and Workshop

The Ocean Protection Council, in collaboration with NOAA and the Ocean Science Trust, hosted a webinar series and workshop in March of 2011 on the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a national effort to create a marine ecological classification scheme developed through a partnership between NOAA and NatureServe. CMECS provides a structure for developing and synthesizing data so that ecological units can be identified, characterized, and mapped in a standard way and at a variety of scales. The OPC is evaluating the potential of CMECS to address coastal and marine management needs in California.

The four webinars provided details about the individual components of CMECS. Following the webinar series, a one-day workshop was held in Oakland on March 30, 2011. The workshop discussion focused on evaluating the application of the CMECS framework in the context of California’s priority management needs and identifying essential criteria for a potential pilot project. The OPC intends to use the workshop to foster discussion on the best approach to integrate physical, biological, and chemical information to determine marine habitat type and understand the ecosystem processes that affect them.

ROV-based Deep Water Monitoring of the Northern Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas

In 1998, California passed the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), which calls for an ecosystem approach to achieving sustainable fisheries and identifies the acquisition of essential fishery information (EFI) as a critical component in management decisions. EFI includes, among other things, fish population status and trends, impacts of fishing, ecological relationships, habitat information, and other environmental information. In 1999, the State went further, passing the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which mandated a redesign of the state’s system of MPAs “to increase its coherence and its effectiveness at protecting the state’s marine life, habitat, and ecosystems.”

The Channel Islands MPAs became the first of the new MPA networks to be implemented. Established in 2003, the network includes eleven State Marine Reserves (SMRs) where no take of living, geological or cultural resources is allowed and two State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs) where limited commercial and/or recreational take is allowed.


Working together, the California Department of Fish and Game and Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) developed an ROV program designed to collect data in the deepwater (20 to 100 meter) habitats in the newly established Channel Islands MPAs—habitats beyond the reach of most SCUBA divers.   The overarching goal of the program was to provide fishery-independent data required by the MLMA and MLPA—data to provide information on relative abundance, species interactions and associations, habitat preference, fishing effects on habitat, distribution, size composition of stocks, and human interactions with the marine environment. When tracked over time, this kind of information may provide managers with an indication of whether stocks are increasing or decreasing, and whether current management measures are achieving their intended conservation objectives. These data are also are needed to improve understanding of marine ecosystems and to enable adaptive management.


Key Findings and Successes A full report on the ROV program results to date is contained in “ROV-based Deep Water Monitoring of the Northern Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas Annual Report – 2009,” Marine Region Administrative Report No. 10-02, which will be posted on the California Department of Fish and Game web page:

The ROV data show that fish densities inside the MPAs have been consistently higher than densities in sites with similar habitats outside the MPAs. These differences were also detected by SCUBA based surveys in the shallow water areas adjacent to ROV study sites. While the causes for these differences are unknown, the fact that two independent methods showed similar results validates the use of ROV-based surveys for fishery-independent data collection.

The data have shown only slight changes in density within the MPAs since 2005. Given that most species of rockfish need very specific ocean conditions for successful reproduction, population changes are not expected to occur at a steady pace, but rather as large recruitment events that occur every five to ten years. Accordingly, it is not surprising that we have not yet seen large changes in MPA fish populations. In 2009, however, the team observed huge clouds of young of the year rockfish. Scientists working with MARE do not yet know if this is a huge recruitment class, or simply that the research cruise was conducted a month earlier than normal.

The time series data collected over the last five years has provided a cost effective baseline assessment of finfish and invertebrate abundance inside the MPAs and in unprotected comparison areas. Further, no animals were harmed by this video sampling.

Detailed analysis of data collected during this baseline sampling period is ongoing. The wealth of information contained within the archival video record collected will provide marine scientists the opportunity to expand our understanding of these highly productive marine ecosystems.

Underwater video clips of species in the Channel Islands MPAs

Council Documents

Channel Islands from RV Shearwater

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

The California Coastal Mapping Program

The California Coastal Mapping Program is a comprehensive effort to combine seafloor mapping data with shoreline data to create seamless onshore-offshore maps of California’s coastline.


The coastal area of California is diverse, ranging from towering coastal bluffs to dense urban development and rolling pastoral lands. Immediately offshore, the underwater topography is equally varied with deep canyons, seamounts, and small shelves extending from the shoreline.

Accurate maps and recorded data on  are essential to ensuring the California’s marine and coastal areas are understood and effectively managed.  California’s coastal region is home to numerous existing and proposed activities and sea level rise and climate change impacts will change the coast as we know it. With such a myriad of interests, uses, and potential impacts, the OPC is taking a leading role to record the coastal area and ensure important geospatial data are available to resource agencies.

The California Coastal Mapping Program has three major initiatives under way to achieve this objective:

The CGDME was started in 2009 to identify and promote sharing of datasets needed by the numerous state agencies with coastal and ocean interests, such as the Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the State Lands Commission, and California State Parks. Datasets from federal agencies may also be incorporated into an interactive and accessible tool or framework designed to provide relevant data to resource managers, scientists, and the public for improved decision-making.

Integrating these three initiatives is a long-term goal. The topographic mapping data can be merged with the seafloor mapping data to produce a seamless onshore-offshore map that would greatly enhance the understanding and management of the coastal area. This modern high-resolution map can form the baseline map of any coastal geospatial decision-support tool. Following this integration, the OPC and California will be better prepared to:

  • Better understand and mitigate the impacts from sea level rise
  • Evaluate sites for renewable ocean energy and aquaculture projects
  • Better understand sediment transport and sand delivery
  • Ensure vessel safety
  • Help identify tectonic faults and fault dynamics
  • Forecast storm inundation and coastal erosion
  • Better understand coastal earthquakes and tsunami potential
  • More effectively regulate offshore coastal development
  • Contribute to the federal process of Marine Spatial Planning
  • Quantify cumulative impacts for different activities in the same location
  • Identify key habitats that should be prioritize for protection

For example, the OPC funded a study to project inundation and erosion impacts from future sea level rise; however, the mapping data available for this project was less than optimal. In the future, such data will be readily available to anyone and will set the stage for a better understanding of our coastal and marine environment and how humans interact with this landscape.


Promoting Applied Ocean Research

Promoting Applied Ocean Research

Solving complex ocean resource problems requires scientific understanding of how ocean and coastal ecosystems function. The OPC strives to bridge the gaps between scientists, the public, and resource managers by supporting applied scientific research and the translation of data into usable information.applied.vt

The OPC integrates and utilizes existing scientific information in many ways. Working with the Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), the OPC ensures that the best available science is applied to OPC policy decisions.  The OPC-SAT is coordinated by the California Ocean Science Trust (OST) and co-chaired by the OST Executive Director. One of the OPC-SAT’s fundamental functions is evaluating the technical merit of scientific projects by suggesting experts to serve as peer reviewers for OPC proposals and products. In coordination with OPC staff, the OPC-SAT also develops yearly research priorities.  Finally, to keep the OPC at the cutting edge of ocean and coastal research, the OPC-SAT identifies critical emerging science issues for OPC consideration, which are used by the council to inform future meeting themes, projects, and workshops.

To support new science, the OPC funds applied ocean research projects that correspond to the priorities proposed by the OPC-SAT. These research projects are solicited and chosen in partnership with the UC Sea Grant program and USC Sea Grant Program in California. Recent years have seen the development of an innovative funding approach: the Focused Research and Outreach Initiative. The goal is to promote well-coordinated, interdisciplinary programs of applied research and training focusing on a priority research topic. The research funded through the Sea Grant programs includes projects on international ecosystem-based management of fishery resources in the Southern California Bight, groundfish assemblages on offshore petroleum platforms on the San Pedro Shelf, and the impacts of ocean acidification on economically important shellfish species.


Related Projects

  • California Ocean Science Trust Science Integration
  • Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Enterprise

University of Southern California Sea Grant

Nationally, the Sea Grant College Network consists of 30 university-based programs funded primarily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), dedicated to the understanding, conservation, and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources.  There are two Sea Grant programs in California based through The University of California, and the University of Southern California (USC).

The USC Sea Grant Program focuses primarily on the state’s southern coastal metropolitan region, with particular emphasis on topics related to the urban ocean.  Their priorities include protecting water quality, improving port and marine transportation operations, ensuring shoreline stability and preventing coastal hazards, and promoting the sustainable development of coastal areas. The OPC partners with the USC Sea Grant programs to review scientific proposals and projects as well as to administer grant awards for oceanographic research specific to California.

OPC and USC Sea Grant Research Projects

Each year, the OPC and USC Sea Grant Program develop a call for research focused on water quality.  By examining a single priority issue through multiuple research projects, it is envisioned that more robust and applied outcomes will be achieved.

Summary of Funding Projects (8MB):A summary of all the scientific research projects funded by the OPC through the USC Sea Grant Research Program.

Council Documents

A listing of the staff recommendations by each award year and concurrence documents with descriptions of the projects funded follows below:


University of California Sea Grant

Nationally, the Sea Grant College Network consists of 30 university-based programs funded primarily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), dedicated to the understanding, conservation, and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources.  There are two Sea Grant programs in California based through The University of California, and the University of Southern California.

The California Sea Grant College Program is the largest of the 30 Sea Grant programs, and works along the entire state coastline and coastal watersheds.  The program is administered by the University of California and is based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.  Their programmatic themes are: healthy marine ecosystems, sustainable resource use, coastal community development, new technologies, and education, training and public information.

The OPC partners with the California Sea Grant program to review scientific proposals and projects as well as to administer grant awards for oceanographic research specific to California.  OPC also provides funding to the California Sea Grant program to support the California Sea Grant State Fellowship Program to provide graduate students “on the job” experience in the planning and implementation of marine and coastal resource policies and programs in the state of California.


OPC and California Sea Grant Research Projects

Each year the OPC and California Sea Grant office develop an initiative specifically designed to provide state managers with information to make informed policy decisions.  Initiatives are envisioned to be well coordinated programs of applied interdisciplinary research and training focusing on one important priority issue.

By developing a single initiative team comprised of multi-disciplinary researchers, the OPC hopes to comprehensively address challenging issues and ensure that new data and ideas are incorporated into management.  By examining a single issue from a multi-disciplinary perspective and by directly linking the research to managers’ needs and uses, the initiative should produce effective and applied outcomes.

Summary of Funded Projects: A summary of all the scientific research projects and initiatives funded by the OPC through the California Sea Grant Program from 2006-2010.

Completed Projects
The following projects were completed with OPC funding in partnership with California Sea Grant:

Council Documents
A listing of the staff recommendations by each award year and concurrence documents with descriptions of the projects funded follows below: