Ten Gems of the Eastern Pacific

1. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Status: Proclaimed Glacier Bay National Monument in 1925: established as a national park and preserve in 1980. Wilderness also designated in 1980. Designated a Biosphere Reserve 1986. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1992. The National Park Service proposes to allow commercial fishing in non-wilderness marine waters of Glacier Bay proper to continue for 15 years; commercial fishing in wilderness waters would end at the time the regulations go into effect.

Geography: The complex includes a National Park with 3,225,284 acres (601,600 acres of marine waters), and a wilderness consisting of 2,770,000 acres (53,270 acres marine). Also included are Mount Fairweather, the highest peak in southeast Alaska, and the U.S. portion of the Alsek River.

Environment: Since 1966 regulation and legislation have prohibited commercial fishing in Glacier Bay National Monument and Glacier Bay National Park. Nonetheless, commercial fishing activities still continue in park waters. Commercially fisheries in Glacier Bay impact marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems in ways that are often not apparent. For example, salmon harvested enroute to spawning streams become unavailable to marine mammals, eagles, bears and other wildlife or other ecosystem components.

Economy: Commercial fisheries in Glacier Bay National Park waters are economically important to many local fishermen and communities. Several species are targeted in Glacier Bay proper, including Tanner crab, Dungeness crab and halibut, which are fished year-around. A small amount of commercial salmon trolling, mostly for Chinook salmon, occurs during winter and spring within a few specific locations throughout the bay proper. Some groundfish species (i.e., Pacific cod, rockfish and sablefish) are fished primarily in the mid to lower bay.


2. Sitka Pinnacles, Southeast Alaska

Status: Proposed marine protected area off Sitka Sound. In 1998, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council banned all fishing for rockfish, lingcod, halibut and scallops in the pinnacle area. The area remains open for salmon fishing.

Geography: Two large underwater volcanic cones dominate an area off Cape Edgecumbe in Sikta Sound. One cone comes within 40 meters of the surface. The pinnacles rise abruptly from the seafloor at the entrance to the sound where ocean and tidal currents create massive water flows over the pinnacles.

Environment: The steeper of the two cones has extremely complex rock habitats and supports a diversity and density of fishes not seen in surrounding areas. It provides habitat for yelloweye and tiger rockfish, and is spawning habitat for lingcod. Adult lingcod use the top of the pinnacle as a seasonal feeding platform after spawning. Young rockfishes occur in great numbers at the top of the pinnacle, and large schools of rockfishes feed on plankton above the pinnacles.

Economy: The area has been an important fishing ground for halibut, salmon and rockfish.


3. Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, British Columbia

Status: Established as a Canadian National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in 1988, by an agreement to establish Gwaii Haanas NMCA Reserve (3050 sq. km.)

Geography: Gwaii Haanas, located off the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, represents both Hecate Strait and the Queen Charlotte Islands natural regions. It is a 3,050 square kilometer coastal sanctuary of 138 island -- one of which, Anthony Island, is a World Heritage Site

Environment: The area abounds with distinctive island flora and fauna and rich Haida cultural heritage. More than one million seabirds nest along the shoreline with even more migratory birds passing through in the spring and fall.The year-round absence of sea ice, combined with the relatively uniform temperatures and the nutrient-rich waters flowing through the system, result in a rich diversity of life. Marine invertebrate diversity is the richest in Canada – some 3,800 species – more than three times the number of species on the Atlantic coast. Over 400 species make up the fish fauna. They include s rockfishes, lingcod, Irish Lords, greenlings, kelpfish and five species of Pacific salmon. Significant portions of the world population of various seabirds breed here – 25 percent of the rhinocerous auklets, 40 percent of the ancient murrelets and 70 percent of the Cassin's auklets. The abundant resources attract a seasonal variety of cetaceans – grey, minke, humpback and orca whales, harbour and Dall's porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Harbour seals and Stellar sea lions are common while California sea lions and sea otters are more localized.

Economy: The reserve provides opportunities for wilderness adventure, solitude and discovery, and appreciation of the rich natural and cultural environment. Access to the park is by boat or aircraft.


4. Gabriola Passage, British Columbia

Status: In 1998 the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans designated Gabriola Passage as an Marine Protected Areas Pilot Project. Nevertheless, this area remains open for commercial and recreational fishing, putting increased pressure on the marine life.

Geography: Located at the east tip of Gabriola Island, about 5 kilometers east of Nanaimo in the Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia.

Environment: The proposed marine protected area boundary is about 12,000 meters long, encompassing  about 300 hectares and providing habitat to about 220 marine species.

Economy: Anecdotal evidence indicates that fishing has depleted  rockfish and ling cod populations. The area lures bird and whale watchers, kayakers and scuba divers from around the world.


5. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia

Status: Designated as a Canada National Park Reserve in 1970.

Geography: The exposed open coast of the Pacific Coast Mountains make up the spectacular surroundings of Pacific Rim. This unique park of 388 square kilometers is composed of three parts -- Long Beach, the West Coast Trail and the Broken Group of Islands. Features include sand beaches, an island archipelago, old-growth coastal temperate rainforest, and significant archaeological sites.

Environment: With more than 100 islands, some no larger than large rocks poking out of the sea, the group is a haven for many species of marine life including sea lions, seals, whales, and porpoises. The tide pools are filled with seashell creatures and other marine life. The super-abundant marine life found in the group is the result of a deep ocean trench lying just off the continental shelf on which Vancouver Island lies. Much like Monterey Bay, the Pacific trench generates huge upwellings of nutrients, creating plankton which nurtures the marine creatures. Birds too are a part of island life, nesting in the many caves and surge channels.

Economy: The 100-plus small, rocky islands in Barkley Sound are accessible only by boat. A kayakers and canoeists paradise, this area offers protected anchorages and numerous sandy beaches. The Broken Group has recently become a mecca for divers. Several shipwrecks lie between the islands, although these wooden ships have become unstable over the past century or two. There are eight designated campgrounds. Visitors may stay a maximum of 14 nights on the Broken Group Islands.


6. Northwest Straits, Washington

Status: Designation as National Marine Sanctuary has been ruled out. A local advisory committee is reviewing management options.

Geography: The Northwest Straits marine ecosystem is naturally interconnected from mountain tops to deep fjord bottoms, from tiny invertebrates to top predators like the killer whale, and from Pacific ocean tides to fresh waters from rivers and streams.

Environment: The moving waters of the Straits bathe kelp beds and reefs close to rocky shores. The prolific kelp and other seaweeds provide food, shelter and camouflage for many prey species. Reefs harbor a distinctive fish community including rockfish and lingcod, and the birds and mammals that prey on them. Clinging to the rocks is a wide variety of invertebrates that draws divers from around the world: sponges, mollusks, crustaceans, sea stars, urchins and sea cucumbers, as well as many lesser-known species. Especially popular are edible shellfish including mussels and abalone. About 220 fish species swim in the shared waters. Many of these are now less abundant than they were just a few years ago-in some cases, alarmingly so. Most of the population losses are much more severe in Puget Sound than in British Columbia waters. Many marine fish populations in the shared waters have declined in recent years. Throughout the shared waters, stocks of long-lived rockfish are low, and lingcod stocks have collapsed. Herring, hake and pollock stocks are at average levels of abundance in the Strait of Georgia but at low levels in Puget Sound. Pacific cod are badly depleted in the Sound and somewhat depleted in the Strait of Georgia. English sole appear to be at average abundance in both areas. Only the spiny dogfish is in historically high abundance throughout the shared waters.

Economy: Diverse marine industries and recreation rely on the Northwest Straits waters. Activities include shipping, commercial and sports fishing and scuba diving.


7. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington

Status: Designated NMS in 1994. Activities prohibited within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary include: oil, gas and mineral exploration and production; discharging or depositing material within the sanctuary boundary (except for certain fishing, vessel operations, and beach nourishment activities); and moving or removing an historical resource; drilling into, dredging, or otherwise altering the seabed (exceptions are made for traditional fishing operations, navigation aids, vessel anchoring, and harbor maintenance).

Geography: The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary covers over 3,300 square miles of ocean waters off Washington State's rugged and rocky Olympic Peninsula coastline, larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The sanctuary includes the entire continental shelf and deeper waters at the heads of Juan de Fuca, Quinault, and Nitnat submarine canyons. Sanctuary waters extend an average of 35 miles offshore and span 135 miles north to south, stretching from United States/Canada international boundary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Koitlah Point at the mouth of the Copalis River.

Environment: More species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises spend time in these waters and more kinds of kelp are found here than anywhere else in the world. Twenty-nine species of marine mammals breed, rest within, or migrate through sanctuary waters. Some of the most common are the harbor seal, harbor porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin, humpback and California gray whales. The sanctuary contains some of the largest colonies of seabirds such as murres and tufted puffins in the contiguous United States. Five species of Pacific anadromous salmon, sea-run cutthroat trout and steelhead, as well as large populations of bottomfish-perch, sole, and cod are other important components of the sanctuary ecosystem.

Economy: Beneath the waters of its northern margin are productive fishing areas known as "the plain" and Swiftsure Bank. Diving, fishing, wildlife observation and whaling watching are popular recreational uses of the sanctuary. Sport and commercial fishing for salmon, halibut, rockfish, flatfish, cod, crabs, and other shellfish is an important segment of the local economy. Ships enroute to the major ports of Washington and British Columbia transport oil, fish, lumber, grain, and other cargo, through portions of the sanctuary. In addition, over a million people visit the beaches and seaside trails to hike, camp, and go beach combing.


8. Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, California

Status: NMS in 1989. Protecting one of the five major ocean upwelling regions in the world and the habitat of such rich diversity is the primary mission.

Geography: About 52 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, at the edge of the continental shelf, Cordell Bank rises from the seafloor. Over most of it, the water is about 200 feet deep. Along a few of its ridges and pinnacles, this submerged island rises to within 120 feet of the ocean surface. The Bank is approximately 9 miles long and 5 miles wide. To its west, sanctuary waters plunge precipitously to depths over 6,000 feet. To the east sanctuary waters lie over a relatively flat continental shelf approximately 300-400 feet deep. The sanctuary includes 526 square miles of Pacific Ocean surrounding Cordell Bank.

Environment: Within the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary are rocky subtidal areas, soft sediment continental shelf and slope and open ocean. The tops of Cordell Bank's ridges and pinnacles are covered with sponges, anemones, hydrocorals, hydroids, tunicates, barnacles, crabs, worms, scallops, snails, chitons, and countless other algae and invertebrates. Circulating in the waters around Cordell Bank are huge numbers of krill. This makes it an important summer feeding ground for humpback whales, blue whales, pacific salmon, and bottom fishes. Twenty-five species of marine mammals have been identified in sanctuary waters, and at least forty-seven species of seabirds have been identified over the Bank. More species of albatross have been identified here than anywhere else in the northern hemisphere. Five species found in sanctuary waters -- Stellar sea lions, humpback whales, blue whales, brown pelican and short-tailed albatross -- are classified as endangered or threatened.

Economy: Commercial and recreational fishermen are drawn to the marine life found throughout the sanctuary. Sportfishing boats come to the bank in search of lingcod and king salmon. Bird watching and whale watching on the Bank attract numerous commercial and private vessels. However, strong currents, cold water, difficulty locating the shallowest areas, and time safety limits deter recreational divers from visiting the site.


9. Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, California

Status: NMS in 1981. Regulations specifically allow "bottom trawling from a commercial fishing vessel..." Thousands of ships cross the sanctuary each year in and out of San Francisco, but rules prohibit the passage of oil tankers, barges, or merchant vessels within two nautical miles of the Farallon Islands, Bolinas Lagoon, or other sites designated as areas of special biological significance. Also prohibited: oil and gas exploration and development; effluent discharges; alteration of or construction on the seabed; and damaging or removing historical or cultural resources.

Geography: The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is a large expanse of Pacific Ocean along with nearshore tidal flats, rocky intertidal areas, wetlands, subtidal reefs, and coastal beaches. This 1,255 square mile area is larger than the state of Rhode Island. The sanctuary is marked by a gently sloping seafloor extending for nearly 35 miles offshore before dropping off steeply beyond the Farallon Islands, the widest Continental Shelf found anywhere along the California coast. The Farallon Islands, 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge in the south central part of the sanctuary, are a national wildlife refuge, offering resting and breeding sites for marine mammals and seabirds, lured by nutrient-rich waters.

Environment: The islands host 400,000 breeding seabirds and 10,000 seals and sea lions every year. In the spring, dense colonies of cormorants, auklets, common murres and western gulls nest on the islands' rocky slopes and underground burrows. Elephant seals and sea lions crowd the islands' pocket beaches and marine terraces in the fall and winter. Nearshore areas support bull and giant kelp, eelgrass and coralline algae and invertebrates such as brittle stars and anemones, mussels, clams and starfish. Other key species in the sanctuary are Dungeness crab, California gray whale, Stellar sea lion, ashy storm-petrel, humpback whale, blue whale, rockfish, and abalone. Spring and early summer upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich waters create a highly productive ocean environment rich in plankton.

Economy: The commercial harvest of dungeness crabs, rockfish and salmon is allowed.


10. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California

Status: NMS in 1992. Rules ban the moving, removing or injuring, or attempting to move, remove or injure, a Sanctuary historical resource. An exception: "This prohibition does not apply to ... traditional fishing operations."

Geography: The waters of Monterey Bay and the adjacent Pacific Ocean off the central California coast were designated and protected in 1992 as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This vast area stretches 400 miles (348 nautical miles) north to south, extends an average of 35 miles (30 nautical miles) offshore, and covers over 5300 square miles (4,024 square nautical miles). an area nearly the size of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Rugged, rocky shores and an underwater canyon over ten thousand feet deep are its dominant physical features. The sanctuary contains one of the world's most geologically diverse and complex seafloors and continental margins. It is located in an area which separates the North American Plate from the Pacific Plate, and is marked by the San Andreas fault system. Upwellings of deep ocean currents contribute, in part, to the high productivity of sanctuary waters.

Environment: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is home to, or a migration corridor for, 26 species of marine mammals, 94 species of seabirds, 345 species of fish, 4 species of sea turtles, 31 phyla of invertebrates, and over 450 species of marine algae. A rich array of habitats including the open ocean, rugged rocky shores, sandy beaches, lush kelp forests, and wetlands support large numbers of seals and sea lions, whales, fish stocks, otters, and seabirds. In fact, the sanctuary has one of the most diverse and abundant assemblages of marine mammals in the world. Other key megafauna species of the sanctuary include the sea otter, gray whale, blue whale, humpback whale, market squid, brown pelican, rockfish, and giant kelp. For many migratory species, such as the gray whale, king salmon and brown pelican, the sanctuary is also an important link to other habitats beyond its boundaries.

Economy: Fishing for squid, salmon, shrimp, and sardines is an important commercial activity in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Paul Koberstein