Research and Monitoring

In order to understand and protect Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary for future generations, we use science to study this complex ecosystem. The ocean is very dynamic, making it hard to know what changes are natural versus man-made. It is a vast, interrelated system of physical, chemical and biological processes. And the technical challenges of studying the underwater environment make research very costly and difficult, especially in a remote place like the Olympic coast. Hence the need to conduct collaborative research with our resource partners.

We conduct scientific research in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary for three important reasons:

  • to survey to know what’s there (baseline data);
  • to detect trends, improvements or declines in important resources or changes that are part of larger global processes; and
  • to give us the scientific basis for making important conservation decisions.

Our research program includes all of these missions.

To define the science and information needs necessary to address priority management issues, we have created a set of science needs documents. These documents are available at on the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries website, where you can find more background on the purpose, structure, and content of the system-wide science needs assessment.

Since only a fraction of the sanctuary has been mapped in detail, we conduct seafloor habitat mapping to understand relationships of biological communities to physical habitat.

Based on these maps, we and our partners survey and explore the seafloor habitats, documenting deep-sea coral and sponge communities, including fish, and exploring submerged cultural resources such as shipwrecks or ancient habitations. Deep-sea exploration can make important contributions to resource protection by providing scientific information for management decisions.

With ongoing research in coastal habitat programs, we monitor to determine the status and condition of marine life and their long-term trends in the intertidal and subtidal habitats. Our oceanography program uses nearshore scientific moorings to monitor water chemistry and currents for investigations into climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) and hypoxia events as well as other related research to help understand and determine their impacts on the sanctuary.

One of the ocean’s most astonishing qualities is the diversity of living things that live there. The complete list of animals and plants occupying the seas has never been, and may never be totally known. From microscopic organisms that drift unseen in the currents, to the largest whales, the marine life of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary reminds us that humans share our ocean planet with other inhabitants.

From our marine wildlife research, we know that twenty nine species of marine mammals reside in or migrate through Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, including whales and porpoises, seals and sea lions, and sea otters. And there are more than 100 species of seabirds spend at least part of their lives in the sanctuary, which range from shorebirds to high-seas albatrosses. Monitoring wide-ranging marine wildlife requires working with many resource partners using different survey platforms, such as boats, ships, and aircraft.

If you’re interested in taking an active role in helping care for our sanctuary, it’s easy to join our Citizen Science team. Hours that you spend working to improve marine habitats, understand trends in marine wildlife and share knowledge with others show your generosity to future generations. All of these research programs are helping us to better understand ecosystem processes which are the ultimate challenges to marine conservation science. It requires a wide range of disciplines and the coordination of many subject-area experts.

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