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Project: Bight '13 Regional Monitoring

Background and Objectives

A bight is defined as a bend in the coastline, and the Southern California Bight (SCB) is the 700 km (400 miles) of recessed coastline from Point Conception, in Santa Barbara County, California to Cabo Colnett, just south of Ensenada, Mexico. Here, subtropical waters flow north close to the shore, while subarctic waters flow south offshore. This unique ocean circulation pattern creates a biological transition zone that supports approximately 500 marine fish species and more than 5,000 invertebrate species.

Satellite image of ocean temperature offshore of the Southern California Bight.

Though many organizations conduct environmental monitoring to assess the potential effects of human activities on Southern California’s coastal ocean, only 5% of the area of the SCB is routinely monitored. Most of this monitoring focuses on tracking individual sources of waste discharge. In addition, the parameters, frequency, and methodology used for monitoring programs differ among agencies, hampering data integration. Although high-quality data are generally collected, the collection methods are not designed to describe large-scale changes or to assess cumulative impacts from multiple sources. To improve the efficacy of existing monitoring programs, and improve capacity for regional assessments, SCCWRP initiated a series of monitoring efforts throughout the SCB in 1994, 1998 , 2003, 2008, and 2013. The 2013 program (Bight '13) has five components with the following goals:

  • Nutrients - Investigate the relative influence of anthropogenic nutrients on primary production and nutrient cycling in the SCB
  • Contaminant Impact Assessment (previously "Coastal Ecology") - Assess the condition of the benthic environment and the health of the biological resources in the SCB
  • Shoreline Microbiology - Assess reliability of the rapid qPCR test method and the percentage of beach discharges with significant human fecal pollution
  • Marine Protected Area (MPAs)/Rocky Reef - Determine whether rocky reef status is more related to fishing or water quality pressure
  • Trash and Debris - Link marine debris abundance with the types and distributions found in coastal watersheds


This project was initiated in 2013 with anticipated completion in 2017.


Bight regional monitoring programs include intercalibration exercises to standardize and improve data quality across the organizations participating in sample collection or laboratory sample processing. A series of quality assurance, information management, laboratory manuals, and field operations manuals are prepared in conjunction with each effort. The monitoring approach utilizes a stratified random sampling design so that data can be statistically extrapolated to estimate conditions across the Bight as a whole. Subsections, called strata, are selected to distinguish areas of interest such as the coastal ocean, ports, marinas, the Channel Islands, sewage treatment plant locations, and land-based runoff locations. This gives a good idea of where the areas of greatest concern can be found within the Bight. Each survey also revisits some portion of sites sampled in previous Bight surveys in order to assess trends over the years.

To support all elements of the Bight regional monitoring program, an Information Management Committee oversees data structure and reporting requirements. The Committee develops an Information Management Plan for each survey, which stipulates all data structures and submission requirements for the Bight programs. In addition, a centralized database model with a relational database structure was developed to provide easy data access to project scientists. For the 2013 survey, incorporation of a mobile field data submission system will decrease the amount of time between data collection and analysis, allowing reports to be produced in a timelier manner. In addition, establishment of a single point of contact, known as an Agency Information Manager (AIM), makes communication between the Committee and agency staff much more streamlined.

The Bight '13 Contaminant Impact Assessment seeks to determine (1) the extent and magnitude of direct impact from sediment contaminants; (2) the trend in extent and magnitude of direct impacts from sediment contaminants; and (3) the indirect risk of sediment contaminants to seabirds. The Bight '13 Nutrients component will (1) determine the frequency, spatial extent and seasonality of algal blooms (high chlorophyll features) in the SCB; (2) determine the spatial patterns and seasonality of pH and aragonite saturation state in the SCB; and (3) determine how anthropogenic nutrient inputs affect ecological processes and rates that drive biological productivity, concentrations of dissolved oxygen, and aragonite saturation state. The Trash and Debris component seeks to document the abundance, types and distribution of debris among major Bight habitats, from wadeable streams to the nearshore zone, using comparable methods, as well as to link data on distribution to land-use based sources of debris.


Preliminary findings will be posted as they become available.


The Bight '13 program involves more than 60 participating agencies.

Bight '13 planning documents and final assessment reports are available online.

For more information on Bight '13 Regional Monitoring, contact Ken Schiff at (714) 755-3202.
This page was last updated on: 5/31/2016