This is a guest blog from James Horrox, which originally ran on www.frontiergroup.org. This is the sixth and last in a series of blogs about a report, New Life for the Ocean, which we co-authored with Frontier Group.
The large majority of the United States’ MPAs in near-shore waters are situated in the ocean off the Pacific Coast. Among the oldest of these lies off the eastern shore of Puget Sound, just north of the city of Edmonds in Washington state. A fully protected no-take zone, designated in 1970, Brackett’s Landing Shoreline Sanctuary covers less than half a square mile area of ocean, but within this tiny area lie a range of different habitats teeming with diverse marine life.
A wide sand flat makes up the majority of the reserve’s subtidal habitat (the zone of shallow water extending about 200 meters from the low tide line), at the edge of which beds of eelgrass support a plethora of small fishes, including bay pipefish, juvenile codfishes and shiner perch. The sand and mud areas are home to flatfishes and salmon; tubesnouts and herring are common, as are marine mammals, including harbor seals and sea lions, and a rich variety of birdlife, including surf and white-winged scoters, red-breasted mergansers, various species of grebe, and seabirds like marbled murrelets. Divers in the area have even spotted the occasional grey whale.
Much of the sanctuary, however, consists of an artificial habitat dominated by manmade features, including a sunken drydock, sunken boats, tires, concrete rubble, disused navigation buoys, and plastic pipes. This rather bleak-sounding underwater world is nonetheless a haven of biodiversity, with many of the submerged structures attracting species usually found in rocky habitats, including giant anemones, kelp greenling, painted greenling, surfperches, bladed kelp, bull kelp and black rockfish. The park also provides a refuge for certain species of fish, including, most notably, copper and quillback rockfish, lingcod and cabezon.
This manmade reef falls within an area of the sanctuary known as Edmonds Underwater Park, just north of the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry Landing. Established by the City of Edmonds in 1970 as a marine preserve and sanctuary, Edmonds Underwater Park is one of 10 such parks that make up Washington’s underwater park system. The park is a popular scuba diving destination, and around half of it has been developed specifically for divers, with a network of guide ropes forming trails linking up the various submerged features. The area is protected by both the city and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which incorporated the no-take restriction into state fishing regulations. The taking of any fish or other marine life is strictly prohibited, as is the use of boats or other types of watercraft within 200 feet of its perimeter.
Even though the protected area is relatively small, numerous studies carried out since the early 1990s suggest that the protections have been remarkably successful in providing a refuge for fish populations. Fish abundance in the area was low prior to the implementation of protections, and not significantly different from anywhere else in the surrounding region. Prior to 1970 the area was virtually barren of lingcod and rockfish, for example, but studies conducted in the 1990s indicate that these species rebounded after the implementation of protections. Surveys of fish populations conducted in 1993 and 1994 comparing Edmonds Underwater Park and another small protected zone with six nearby areas that allowed fishing found striking differences between the fished areas and the protected zones. At that point, Edmonds had had protections in place for almost two and a half decades, and it was here that the most striking differences were found, with populations of copper rockfish and lingcod inside the park in some cases almost 10 times those of populations in the unprotected zones.