What is the context of this research?
This study is the first of its kind to look at visitor awareness of the existence of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in San Diego, CA. We are investigating whether visitor knowledge (or lack of knowledge) relates to the species biodiversity of the rocky intertidal zones.
Why should we care about the biodiversity of the rocky intertidal zones? Biodiversity is a key indicator of the overall health of the marine ecosystem. The rocky intertidal zone is important as a nursery grounds for edible commercial species such as lobsters, crabs, mussels, and several species of fish. The rocky intertidal zone also provides an substantial economic benefit to San Diego, as tide pooling is a favorite attraction among tourists to the area, and serves as a recreational activity for local residents.
Researchers around the globe have found visitors illegally removing species from the intertidal zone for food or bait regardless of the marine protection status of the area (Murray et al. 1999, Smith et al 2008). My pilot research has also found that illegal taking of species is still a problem as visitors have been seen removing, mussels, snails, crabs, and sea stars. Even in the "no take" Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), visitors were observed removing abalone, snails, and crabs. So far, however, no one has looked at whether intertidal visitors in San Diego are even aware of MPAs. If visitors know about MPAs, does this improve the biodiversity of the intertidal zone? If they do not, does this lead to less biodiversity?
What is the significance of this project?
This study aims to investigate whether or not increased visitor knowledge about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and MPAs within San Diego County correlates to decreased damage to intertidal zones and increased rocky intertidal species biodiversity. Do rocky intertidal areas of higher visitor awareness, such as within Cabrillo National Park MPA show increased biodiversity? Do rocky intertidal areas of poor visitor awareness show reduced biodiversity?
Sampling the biodiversity of each site multiple times will give a more accurate picture of the effects of visitor trampling and illegal taking of prized species. Correlations of visitor knowledge and visitor usage of the intertidal with species biodiversity are key to understanding how each site is being affected by visitor activity.
New management practices may be needed to address limited visitor knowledge and visitor impact once they are more accurately documented by this study. If increased visitor awareness equals greater biodiversity, this will provide substantial justification for increasing community outreach efforts, improving visitor education, providing better signage and encouraging additional regulation enforcement at all tide pools.
What are the goals of the project?
The end goal of this study is to document the level of visitor knowledge about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the types of visitor activities observed and the subsequent effects on selected rocky intertidal sites in San Diego, CA.
At least 100 visitor knowledge surveys will be collected at each sampling site during multiple low tide events. Visitor usage data at each site will be collected at least 200 times during multiple low tide events. Biodiversity data will be collected at least 3 times per site.
Suggestions for specific improvements in resource management practices will be developed for both MPA and non-MPA locations to reduce visitor impacts on the rocky intertidal.
A peer reviewed paper will also be submitted to a scientific journal. Available local, state and other government officials will be given a presentation and access to data from the study's results. California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Cabrillo National Monument officials have already expressed interest in the results of this study.