Southern California Expedition 2024 - Oceana USA

Southern California Expedition 2024

Protecting Ocean Biodiversity

Oceana embarked on a science expedition to explore and document ocean biodiversity and vulnerable species off Southern California. Characterizing this biodiversity and identifying important ecological areas will enable us to better protect this special ecosystem and the myriad of marine life that makes the ocean waters off California globally important.

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Overview

Southern California boasts undersea features unlike any others found off the U.S. West Coast, marked by a series of faults, banks, deep basins, islands, and underwater mountains (seamounts). This complex underwater landscape sits at a confluence of warm sub-tropical waters and cold nutrient-rich waters that upwell from the deep making this region a globally important epicenter of biodiversity.

These ocean waters include migratory routes and feeding destinations for large whales, like endangered humpback whales; nurseries for great white sharks; breeding and foraging habitats for California sea lions, brown pelicans, and giant seabass; gardens of colorful deep-sea corals; and dense canopies of giant kelp forests.

Oceana—in partnership with prestigious Swiss watchmaker, Blancpain — dove into the cold Pacific waters surrounding the Northern Channel Islands, positioned west of Los Angeles and adjacent to Santa Barbara County, to explore ocean life and supporting habitats. The expedition from April 29-May 3, 2024 supports Oceana’s campaigns to restore ocean abundance and Blancpain’s commitment to ocean exploration and conservation.

The expedition team conducted visual scuba diving surveys to quantify and identify species and habitats — including thousands of fish, invertebrates, and habitat forming corals and kelp — providing a glimpse into the biodiversity at risk. State-of-the-art low-light cameras captured high-resolution images and videos of unique, rare, and unusual species and habitats in need of protection. The expedition team collected water samples at 18 sites that will be DNA sequenced in a lab to identify virtually all ocean life inhabiting and traversing these waters. Successful piloting of a hybrid underwater vehicle FUSION demonstrated the promise of this technology to provide data and information for ocean conservation, such as producing high resolution side-scan sonar maps of rocky reefs and identifying precise GPS locations of lost fishing gear.

This expedition enabled us to document and characterize California’s renowned marine biodiversity in support of our campaign to reduce the entanglement of ocean animals in set gillnet fishing gear. These fishing nets used to catch California halibut and white seabass off Southern California can be up to 20 football fields long and are one of the most indiscriminate fishing gears used in the United States. These nets are among the greatest threats to the recovery of previously overexploited species such as great white sharks, giant seabass, and tope sharks. Our research is highlighting the marine life at risk from entanglement, and what we must safeguard to keep our oceans abundant and resilient in the face of climate change and unprecedented human stressors.

Areas around the Northern Channel Islands open to set gillnets © Oceana

A previous Oceana expedition in the Channel Islands region focused on documenting deep-sea corals and other fragile seafloor habitats with remotely operated vehicles. Our advocacy resulted in permanent protections implemented in 2020 for more than 16,000 square miles of ocean off Southern California including coral gardens, sponge beds, rocky reefs, and other seafloor structures from bottom trawling—the most damaging fishing gear to seafloor habitats. Some of the “best of the best” areas we identified such as West Santa Barbara Island gained even greater permanent protections from all groundfish fishing gears on January 1, 2024. Our 2024 expedition will build off our previous deep-sea research and ocean protections in the region.

For this expedition, Oceana continues its partnership with Prestigious Swiss watchmaker Blancpain, whose connection to ocean exploration began in 1953 with the launch of the first true diver’s watch, the Fifty Fathoms. To date, Blancpain has financed dozens of major scientific expeditions and presented several award-winning documentary films, underwater photography exhibitions, and publications. Celebrating its role in extending the coverage of marine protected areas globally, Blancpain has contributed with the addition of more than 4.7 million km2, including the new Bajos del Norte Marine Protected Area off Mexico. This dedication to supporting ocean exploration and preservation is called Blancpain Ocean Commitment.

 

 

The Crew

Ashley Blacow-Draeger

Pacific Policy and Communications Manager

Ben Enticknap

Pacific Campaign Director and Senior Scientist

Caitlynn Birch

Pacific Marine Scientist

Geoff Shester

California Campaign Director

Jamie Karnik

Pacific Communications Manager

Susan Murray

Deputy Vice President, U.S. Pacific Executive Commitee

Tara Brock

Pacific Legal Director and Senior Counsel

In the News

around the Web

May 1, 2024

Mysteries of the ocean: Expedition works to learn more about the biodiversity of the Channel Islands

Source: KCLU: NPR for the Central Coast