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National Marine Sanctuary System Condition Report
This “condition report” provides a summary of resources in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (sanctuary), pressures on those resources, current conditions and trends, and management responses to the pressures that threaten the integrity of the marine environment. Specifically, the document includes information on the status and trends of water quality, habitat, living resources and maritime archaeological resources, and the human activities that affect them. It presents responses to a set of questions posed to all sanctuaries. Resource status of Gulf of the Farallones is rated on a scale from good to poor, and the timelines used for comparison vary from topic to topic. Trends in the status of resources are also reported, and are generally based on observed changes in status over the past five years, unless otherwise specified.
Sanctuary staff consulted with a group of outside experts familiar with the resources and with knowledge of previous and current scientific investigations in the sanctuary. Evaluations of status and trends are based on interpretation of quantitative and, when necessary, non-quantitative assessments, and the observations of scientists, managers and users. The ratings reflect the collective interpretation of the status of local issues of concern among sanctuary program staff and outside experts based on their knowledge and perception of local problems. The final ratings were determined by sanctuary staff. This report has been peer reviewed and complies with the White House Office of Management and Budget’s peer review standards as outlined in the Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review.
This is the first attempt to describe comprehensively the status, pressures and trends of resources at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Additionally, the report helps identify gaps in current monitoring efforts, as well as causal factors that may require monitoring and potential remediation in the years to come. The data discussed will enable us to not only acknowledge prior changes in resource status, but will provide guidance for future management challenges.
Because of the considerable differences in environmental pressures and responses between the coastal/offshore and estuarine/lagoon zones, this document addresses status and trends to represent these two environment types separately. The following is a brief summary of findings for each zone.
Based on available data and observations, overall, the resources of the sanctuary’s outer coastal and offshore areas appear to be in relatively good condition. However, water quality parameters are of some concern, primarily due to impacts of outflow from San Francisco Bay and agricultural runoff from surrounding rural areas. Little is known about the eutrophic conditions of the sanctuary; however, new data may reveal improving water quality. Pressures that threaten the integrity of coastal and offshore habitat include trampling, extraction along the intertidal areas, and bottom trawling, yet overall the outer coast and offshore habitats are improving due to increased management actions. Living resources have experienced some loss of biodiversity and increased extraction: however, the sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where endangered blue and humpback whale populations are increasing. Information gaps exist for maritime archaeological resources. Based on available information, there may be some threats to maritime archaeological resources that could reduce their historical, scientific or educational value and may affect eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Overall, resources of the sanctuary’s estuarine and lagoon areas appear to be in good/fair to fair/poor condition. Land use pressures have caused changes to sediment and freshwater regimes. However, water quality may possibly improve due to implementation of best management practices, cleanup of mining pollutants, and removal of derelict vessels. Pressures on habitat that have caused key habitat loss or alteration include decades of poor watershed practices resulting in water diversion, in-flow of heavy metals from abandoned mines, pollutants from dairy ranches, and increased sedimentation resulting in loss of ecologically important eelgrass beds (a key species of the sanctuary). Living resources have experienced a loss of biodiversity, causing declines in some, but not all, ecosystem components. Non-indigenous species are a threat to the health of the sanctuary, but while most of these 143 species are located in the estuarine and lagoon environment, there is little data on their abundance and distribution. Little is known about the integrity of maritime archaeological resources in the estuarine and lagoon zone; however, based on available information, there are no known threats at this time. More data collection and targeted data analyses are needed for determining status and trends in water quality, living resources (particularly non-indigenous species), and especially maritime archaeological resources. More information is also needed regarding the effects that restoration actions have had on sanctuary resources.
This initial condition report on resource status and trends for Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary indicates the need for management actions that address degraded conditions of some key habitats and living resources in the sanctuary. It is clear that the outer coast and offshore areas are in good to fair health, but some resources are in need of further investigation — for example, maritime archaeological resources and monitoring of pollutants, benthic habitats and species, and non-indigenous species. Most of the categories for the outer coast and offshore areas (15 of 17) had fair or better ratings, and two were undetermined due to lack of information. The estuarine resources of the sanctuary are in much greater need for investigation and management, particularly in the investigation of non-indigenous species, water quality and pollutants, and maritime archaeological resources. More than half of the categories for the estuarine and lagoon areas (10 of 17) had fair to fair/poor ratings, and three were unknown due to the lack of information. The general trend for living resources in the outer coast and offshore areas is stable or not changing, while the trend within the estuarine and lagoon areas is unclear or declining. The trend for habitat condition in the outer coast and offshore areas is either stable or improving, but there are some areas in need of investigation and monitoring, including the condition of biogenic habitats such as deep-sea corals and drift algae. Trend for habitat condition within the sanctuary’s estuaries are stable or in decline. It is clear that data for water quality in both the estuarine and outer coastal areas is in need of analysis, and additional data collection is warranted. Maritime archaeological resources in all areas of the sanctuary are also in need of investigation.