Past Projects

The VRG has been monitoring and researching the marine environment of Southern and Baja California since 1966.

This work produces rigorous scientific research focused on restoring this near-shore marine ecosystem by identifying stressors such as fishing and pollution pressure and identifying management actions to ameliorate these problems.

Below are the past projects that the VRG has carried out in order to continue its goal of serving students, training future marine scientists, and performing ecological and environmental studies throughout the Southern California Bight.

Spatial Fishing Pressure Index Patterns in the Southern California Bight - funded by the Campbell Foundation

Using 30 years of spatially-explicit landings and catch data, we analyzed differences in the spatial patterns of commercial and recreational fishers throughout the bight. In addition, we have identified areas that are receiving more fishing pressure than would be expected based on amount of reef habitat available. Scripts for calculating Fishing Pressure Indices forthcoming. We are now using Ecological Niche Models from this grant from The Campbell Foundation to model current fisher patterns in the bight. Our goal was to evaluate how implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in southern California have impacted fishing patterns.

Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Lampara Surveys - funded by The Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Pelagic fish were sampled at 13 stations within the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach during day and night, during spring and summer using a 166-m corkline x 22-m deep lampara net. Small catches were transferred directly from the net into containers for sorting, where a maximum of six brailed scoops from each haul were processed. If a haul was greater than six scoops, the fishes to be processed were randomly withdrawn from the net, and a count of the excess scoops returned to the water will be recorded for later use in calculating the total catch for the sample. All processed fishes were identified, measured and weighed. Fish abnormalities, including fin erosion, lesions, pop-eye, tumors, and parasites were noted on pre-formatted data sheets for direct entry into the database.

San Clemente Island kelp and shallow rock ecosystems: ecosystem impacts of safety zone exclusions in the context of the California MLPA process - funded by the US Navy

The goal of this study was to describe the ecological conditions of kelp and shallow rock ecosystems inside and outside of safety zone exclusions around San Clemente Island, California, to quantify the shallow subtidal (<30 m) densities of abalone (including white abalone) and to support the goals of the MPA network in the South Coast Study Region (SCSR) of the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The specific objectives of the proposed surveys and analyses are to (1) produce a quantitative baseline characterization of the structure of kelp and shallow rock ecosystems around San Clemente Island through SCUBA surveys utilizing techniques identical to those used in monitoring the SCSR, (2) provide quantitative comparisons between kelp and shallow rock ecosystems inside the safety zone exclusions and associated reference areas outside safety zone exclusions. (3) This assessment will specifically target the quantification and ecology of abalone at San Clemente Island. (4) Use these data products to integrate support the ongoing monitoring data of MPAs (and reference areas) in the SCSR.

Bight '08 and Bight ‘13 - Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program - funded by the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project

The Southern California Bight Pilot Project (SCBPP) was conducted in 1994 to begin addressing regional monitoring concerns. This project was the largest regional survey of environmental conditions on the mainland shelf in the Southern California Bight (SCB). It capitalized on the interest and cooperation existing in southern California and the resources available in current monitoring programs to develop an integrated and coordinated regional monitoring program that addressed the needs of the participating local, state, and federal agencies, and provided new management information. The SCBPP provided a much needed first “snapshot" of the state of the SCB.

As a part of Bight '08 and Bight '13, the Vantuna Research Group surveyed strata including coastal estuaries, the upper continental slope (200-500 m), and the lower slope and inner basin (500-1000 m) using otter trawl. The goal of the project was to assess the condition of the bottom environment and the health of the biological resources of the SCB. To accomplish this goal, the project focused on two primary objectives: 1) estimate the extent and magnitude of ecological change in the SCB; and 2) determine the mass balance of pollutants that currently reside within the SCB.

The Ecosystem Impacts of Kelp Forest Habitat Restoration, Including Important Fishery Species - funded by USC SeaGrant

Kelp forest ecosystems are iconic and productive features along the coast of California with services that span a wide array of consumptive and non-consumptive uses. Predation by red and purple urchins will aggregate in fronts and clear expanses of kelp forest if left unchecked, leaving reefs devoid of macroalgae (urchin barrens). Kelp restoration efforts, and sea urchin relocation projects have successfully enabled the natural re-development of Giant Kelp on shallow rocky reefs in Santa Monica Bay. The goals of this project are (1) to quantify population and community difference between urchin barrens and kelp forest reference sites, (2) to quantify population and community changes in response to kelp restoration at restoration sites, and (3) to quantify population and community changes in response to kelp restoration at the full reef-scale at sites adjacent to restored habitat.

Kelp and Shallow-Reef Ecosystems Baseline Data and Long-Term Trends Using Historical Data for the South Coast - funded by MPA Monitoring Enterprise

The overall goal of the proposed study is to describe the ecological conditions of kelp and shallow rock ecosystems inside and outside of MPAs in the South Coast Study Region (SCSR) and to utilize these baseline surveys together with historical data to measure changes in conditions over both short and long time scales. The specific objectives of the proposed surveys and analyses are to: (1) produce a quantitative baseline characterization of the structure of kelp and shallow rock ecosystems in all MPAs in the SCSR, (2) provide quantitative comparisons inside and outside of MPAs, (3) develop easily interpretable ecosystem indicators for assessing the health and status of this ecosystem, (4) inform future monitoring methods while optimizing integration of existing long-term data sets with future monitoring data, and (5) integrate data from the proposed baseline survey with existing long-term data to describe the current trajectory of ecosystem trends.

Monitoring and Research of the Rocky Reef Resources in Santa Monica Bay - funded by Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission

The Vantuna Research Group (VRG) at Occidental College and Los Angeles Waterkeeper (formerly Santa Monica Baykeeper) have been quantitatively assessing and restoring the nearshore resources of Santa Monica Bay for four decades. This study is intended to provide critical pre-reserve subtidal data necessary for the establishment and monitoring of possible future Marine Protected Areas in coastal southern California as dictated by the Department of Fish and Game, to establish the subtidal rocky-reef monitoring program identified as a need by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission’s (SMBRC) Comprehensive Monitoring Program, and integrate and coordinate the bay’s rocky-reef monitoring program with the rest of the Southern California Bight and the rest of the California coastline.

Rocky Reef Resources of the Port of Los Angeles - Funded by Port of Los Angeles

The Vantuna Research Group in collaboration with Santa Monica Baykeeper surveyed six stations in October and November 2008 following California Department of Fish and Game’s Cooperative Resource Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) protocol. We surveyed the Cabrillo Jetty, Cabrillo Breakwater, Angel’s Gate (seaward side), Angel’s Gate East (harbor side) the rocky perimeter of the Shallow Water Habitat and Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles. After the first progress report was submitted to POLA, it was decided to expand this analysis to include the data from all of the reefs in the region. While the Port of Los Angeles data sets are complete, the remaining data from the region are still being processed as part of the Bight ’08 program and as such a final report will be developed following SCCWRP’s Bight ’08 guidelines and included as a full chapter in that report.

Bight ’08 and Bight '13 - Rocky Reefs - Funded by SCCWRP

The Southern California Bight 2008 and 2013 Regional Monitoring Projects (Bight '08 and Bight '13) are a cooperative effort involving more than 60 agencies to assess the overall ecological health of the Southern California Bight. Bight '08 and Bight '13 were built upon previous successful regional surveys and included new questions and new participants. Cooperative programs such as this one are important in providing a regional perspective to conditions in the marine and estuarine habitats of the Southern California Bight. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) is continuing its Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process in the Southern California Bight. Thus, there is a great deal of impetus and pressure to generate physical and biological data that can lead to informed decisions concerning this process. From June 2008 to January 2009, the VRG performed SCUBA transects utilizing CRANE methodology at 44 locations throughout the Bight; two locations near Santa Barbara, seven along the Malibu coast, eight along the Palos Verdes Peninsula, three in King Harbor, two in the Horseshoe Kelp near the Port of Los Angeles, six inside the Port of Los Angeles, two at Santa Barbara Island, five at San Nicolas Island (including Begg Rock), six at Santa Catalina Island, and three at San Clemente Island. The research was conducted again in 2013 for Bight '13.

Fish and Invertebrate Surveys of Rocky Reefs in the Southern California Bight in accord with the Marine Life Management Act – Funded by CDFW/CRANE

In 2003-04 the California Department of Fish and Game supported a cooperative research program referred to as the Cooperative Research Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) that sampled 88 reefs with standardized protocol from Santa Cruz to the Mexico Border including the California channel islands.