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Six CCMS science initiatives together provide the data for improved understanding of the Morro Bay ecosystem.

Boats in the sunset

Supporting the Blue Economy

The economies of Morro Bay and Port San Luis depend on the diverse array of resources provided by the estuary and coastal ecosystems. Activities like tourism, recreational and commercial fishing, growing of oysters and abalone, surfing and wildlife viewing all create jobs and boost the economy of coastal communities.

In recent years, Morro Bay and Port San Luis have experienced growth in tourism and recreation, but they have also steadily lost jobs and businesses on the harbors and in the ports. Limited research is available on the relationship between the changes in the ecosystem and the impact those changes have on the local economy.

Without solid economic data, it is increasingly difficult for policymakers to make informed decisions about the local economy and where to invest more resources to strengthen jobs, tourism and recreation on the Central Coast.


CCMS is working to ensure the waterfront industry remains a vibrant part of the local economy by:

  • Gathering solid economic data to inform local and regional policy decisions that affect the waterfront businesses and the environment.
  • Developing an interactive Web site where decision makers and the public can explore the linkages between the health of the ecosystem and the local waterfront economy.
  • Creating an outline or template for taking economic considerations into account when evaluating ecosystem trade-offs.
  • Using available data about the diversity of the ecosystem to evaluate economic decisions while assessing the trade-offs in areas such as pollution and fisheries management.
  • Quantifying the economic benefits of conservation actions and policies.
  • Encouraging the collection of comparable data in other Pacific coastal communities to understand similarities, differences and opportunities for improvement.
Student on fishing boat catching fish for research

Sustainable Regional Fisheries

Fishing plays an important cultural and economic role in many coastal communities. The fishing industry is managed by rules that apply to large sections of the coast, with limited consideration of regional differences in the health and number of fish in different areas. This "one size fits all" approach can hurt the viability of the fishing industry in thriving fisheries such as Morro Bay and Port San Luis, but adequate data about past fishing activity and fishing conditions does not exist to shape these decisions at the local level.

Approach: Regional Scope, Collaborative Approach

CCMS, in conjunction with the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, is working to support fishing communities by:

  • Increasing the involvement of the fishing community in gathering more accurate regional data on fish and improving knowledge about the health of rockfish and marine ecosystems.
  • Developing a framework and assessing the prospects for regional management policies that are tailored to address regions with abundant fish populations and ones with threatened fish populations.
  • Developing long-term relationships with fishermen, scientists and resource managers to gather input and improve management outcomes.
  • Extending CCMS's research collection and management tools to other areas along the Pacific Coast to improve fisheries management on a broad scale.

Better data and more effective policies will create more sustainable opportunities for commercial and recreational fishing and stability for both the fishing and port industries. The lessons learned and tools developed for the Central Coast will aid other coastal communities.

The ocean

Water Quality

While Morro Bay is considered to be a relatively healthy ecosystem, it is increasingly threatened by pollution that is affecting water quality. Excessive man-made nutrients and other contaminants of emergent concern find their way to the bay from farm and urban runoff as well as wastewater seepage and spills.


CCMS is working with local water quality regulators and resource managers to understand the pollutants in Morro Bay and surrounding areas to help ensure clean water for our coastal ecosystems. CCMS is leading this effort by:

  • Establishing a water quality observatory in Morro Bay that enables modeling and predictions about the movement of pollutants within the ecosystem.
  • Researching the impacts of specific pollutants such as nonylphenol on marine organisms.
  • Contributing to state-wide monitoring programs to track pollutants in coastal ecosystems.
  • Providing data and recommendations to local municipalities and water boards to address the causes of pollution and implement effective new sewage treatment technologies.
CCMS and students

Local Climate Change Adaption

The Morro Bay estuary and coastal communities throughout the world could face many challenges as the result of global climate change in years to come, including the increasing severity of storms, erosion of the coastline, declining wildlife habitats and poor water quality.

Meeting these challenges will require better scientific understanding of climate change and greater collaboration between scientists, residents, resource managers and local governments to shape concrete policies.

California is already a leader in addressing climate change. We now need a more comprehensive understanding of the ripple effects of climate change at a local level.


Because CCMS has detailed data about water quality and the relationship between the land and sea, Morro Bay will be a unique laboratory for looking at the local impacts of climate change for other coastal communities.

With additional resources to apply these data and understand the local effects of climate change, CCMS will conduct the following projects:

  • Simulate the concrete effects of climate change at a localized level.
  • Predict the effects of sea level change on the estuary.
  • Evaluate how climate change will affect the levels and impact of pollution.
  • Translate the effects of ocean acidification, oxygen depletion and pollution on key estuarine habitats and species.
  • Provide a synthesis of local impacts of climate change to policymakers.
  • Use research findings to prioritize local planning actions to address these challenges.

Strong local policies and effective plans will enable coastal communities to be proactive in managing the effects of climate change. The lessons learned and tools developed on the Central Coast will be available to other coastal communities in California and elsewhere.

Students on the coast conducting research

Protecting Coastal Habitats

The Central California coastline is one of the most pristine marine areas in California — and also one of the most accessible. During low tide, residents and visitors can visit tidal pools along the shore, which offer a rare glimpse of life under water, including sea stars, octopuses, mussels and fish - a sight not as common in other heavily-populated coastal communities. Intertidal ecosystems also provide critical habitat for plants, birds and marine mammals.

As development and tourism increase in the area, the communities along the Central Coast must achieve a delicate balance between using and protecting this unique and valuable resource. To achieve this balance, scientists and managers in the California State Parks system must collaborate to develop solutions that keep our coastline pristine and accessible at the same time for generations to come.

In addition to the support for this initiative provided by the the California State Parks, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. allowed access to their property at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant for conducting the field experiment component of the study. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. continues to support the monitoring of the recovery of the study plots.


CCMS is working toward the dual objectives of accessibility and sustainability within intertidal environments by:

  • Conducting cutting-edge ecological research on the impact of visitors to the coastal habitats and the health of the ecosystem.
  • Partnering with state parks to use our research in developing best management practices for Central Coast state park areas that will balance the protection of the natural habitats with the parks' use by visitors.
  • Connecting more people with the natural treasures of the intertidal ecosystems so that there is greater support for these unique areas.
Researchers writing down data on a boat

Invasive Species

Morro Bay's coastline is one the most ecologically diverse areas along California's Central Coast. While native wildlife is largely thriving, there is an increasing threat from the influx of harmful non-native species arriving in the bay.

Non-native species travel to Morro Bay on the hulls of ships and thrive in its rich waters. These invasive species can wreak havoc on the ecosystem by disrupting the food supply for native species - and even forcing some species into local extinction. They can also take a toll on the economy by damaging infrastructure like pier pilings and industrial facilities.

The Morro Bay estuary is starting to show effects from a growing population of non-native species that are pushing out important native wildlife. It is critical to assess the current problem and find ways to keep harmful species from invading the Morro Bay ecosystem.


CCMS is working to preserve the native wildlife in Morro Bay and surrounding communities by:

  • Gathering research on why some native species are more vulnerable to the influx of non-native species, and how non-natives are impacting the Morro Bay ecosystem.
  • Studying the local mussel communities in Morro Bay to determine what is causing their decline and how to bring them back to full health.
  • Creating partnerships with the Morro Bay National Estuary Program to develop early detection programs for non-native species to control their spread in Morro Bay. Early detection programs are key to keeping the most harmful species from taking over, since once they are fully established in an ecosystem, they are difficult to remove.
  • Recommending management strategies to deal with the most problematic invaders.

In Morro Bay, better policies will protect the valuable wildlife here and offer model programs for researchers and policymakers in other areas with similar challenges.

Morro Bay's Invasive Species

One of the most prominent invasive species in Morro Bay is Watersipora subtorquata, a type of Red Bryozoan. It is commonly found fouling our piers and taking up residence where other native marine organisms such as oysters once found homes.

For a comprehensive list of other Morro Bay Invaders click here for more information.

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