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Guide to America's National Marine Sanctuaries

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Voyage to Kure
Sharks at Risk
The Gray Whale Obstacle Course
  monterey bay

Return to the Amazon
Sea Ghosts: Belugas
Call of the Killer Whale

Sea Otter

Featured Creature
Sea Otter

Sea otters are marine mammals, but their closest relatives – weasels, minks and badgers – are land-dwelling. The sea otter is the largest member of the weasel family, growing to up to 5 feet and weighing up to 90 pounds, and has a long, streamlined body built for life at sea. Because the sea otter has the thickest fur of any mammal (up to one million hairs per square inch), it was hunted by fur trappers to the verge of extinction in the 19th century. It is now considered a threatened species. Sea otters are very social animals; males tend to group together, as do females and their pups, the latter two staying together for the first eight months of the pup's life. Sea otters are big eaters – adults can eat up to 30 percent of their body weight in a single day. They are unusual in their ability to use stones as tools to break open clam and abalone shells. They're most often seen foraging and playing in the shelter of the kelp beds off the central coast of California. Learn more about this creature at the Encyclopedia of the Sanctuary (at

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Official Web Site (at
Bathymetric and Topographical Map (at
Encyclopedia of the Sanctuary (at

The state of California nominated Monterey Bay for consideration as a National Marine Sanctuary in 1977, and It was declared an active candidate in 1979. In 1983, it was removed from the list, based on the management and enforcement challenges of such a large area, the marine conservation programs already in place in the area, and the existence of two other National Marine Sanctuaries in California (Channel Islands and Gulf of the Farallones) that protect similar resources. Under the reauthorization of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, however, Monterey Bay was returned to the list. During the public comment period, its boundaries were expanded to be contiguous with other conservation areas. In 1992, Congress officially designated Monterey Bay a National Marine Sanctuary.

What's Underwater
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 276 miles of the central California coastline and more than 5,000 square miles of ocean, an area larger than the Yosemite or Yellowstone national parks. The deepest of all the sanctuaries, Monterey Bay has a grand canyon of rich, upwelling waters, reaching down more than two miles below sea level. Supporting one of the world's most diverse marine ecosystems, it is home to 33 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, 345 species of fish, and abundant invertebrates and plants. The nation's largest kelp forest is also within the sanctuary's boundaries. Bordering the marine environment of the sanctuary is spectacular coastal scenery, including sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, rolling hills and steep mountains.


Things to Do
The largest National Marine Sanctuary, MBNMS encompasses one-quarter of the California coastline and extends an average of 30 miles from shore. Given the expanse of the sanctuary, there are nearly endless ways to visit and appreciate the marine wonders that exist within its boundaries. For links to specific information on activities – including camping, kayaking, diving, whale watching, and wildlife viewing as well as local webcams and slide shows – visit

Visitor Guides
The sanctuary has published a field guide and two regionalized brochures to assist visitors with the activities and wildlife viewing that the central California coast is famous for.


Research Projects

  • The Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network (SIMoN) is an integrated, long-term program that takes an ecosystem approach to identifying and understanding changes to the MBNMS. The program enables researchers to monitor the sanctuary effectively by integrating the existing monitoring programs and identifying gaps in information. To view the research going on in the sanctuary, generate your own maps, or find education resources or links to a wide variety of marine-related topics, visit
  • The diversity of habitat types and communities in the MBNMS provides a wealth of opportunities for conducting a variety of research programs. The five major categories of projects currently under way are focused on existing knowledge, monitoring, experimental studies, modeling and information management.

Challenges Facing the Sanctuary

  • Coastal development challenges include erosion control, minimizing the impact of desalination activities, addressing the needs for harbor and dredge disposal, and identifying sensitive areas for the development of future submerged cables.
  • The sanctuary is always looking to improve its ecosystem protection. Challenges include reducing the impacts from trawling, protecting native species from species introduced from outside, obtaining a permanent ban on krill harvesting, and identifying and responding to new issues that emerge.
  • Sanctuary staff strive to expand outreach through educating the public about fishing issues, creating more interpretive facilities and extending awareness programs to diverse communities.
  • Water quality issues present a constant challenge to the sanctuary. Specific efforts focus on beach closures and evaluation of health risks from contamination, reduction of impact from cruise ship discharges, and reduction of contamination in the sanctuary's watersheds.
  • The sanctuary aims to minimize the human disturbance of marine mammals, seabirds and turtles within its waters, especially disturbances caused by personal watercraft.
  • The sanctuary endeavors to coordinate its efforts to preserve cultural and ecological resources with the efforts of neighboring sanctuaries at the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank.

Success Stories

  • Working with a wide array of community members and agencies, the sanctuary has implemented action plans to address water quality, specifically focusing on urban runoff, marinas and boating activities, regional monitoring and data sharing, and agriculture and rural lands.
  • The sanctuary helped develop a new voluntary vessel traffic regime that places large commercial ships -- some carrying hazardous materials and petroleum products – farther offshore in order to safeguard sanctuary resources.
  • The sanctuary has worked with state and federal emergency response agencies to update its emergency response plan. Over the years, the sanctuary has responded to a variety of incidents, including vessel groundings, airplane crashes, oil spills, and a variety of toxic and sewage spills.
  • The sanctuary participates in the Point Pinos Tidepool Task Force, focusing on improving public awareness about tidepool conservation through both signage and on-site volunteer interpreters. The task force also conducts research on the role of human impact in changes that occur in rocky intertidal communities.
  • With urging from many local user and interest groups, the sanctuary promulgated a new regulation to prohibit attracting white sharks in state waters of the sanctuary.
  • The sanctuary works regularly with educational institutions to provide training opportunities for marine science teachers and students interested in marine science.