**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>

Summer coastal fog dampens the ground and an acrid smell pervades the air. It’s 5am on an August morning at Pillar Point harbor and the docks are already stirring with movement. Commercial squid season is now in full swing. From tiny parking spots, elephantine trucks overflowing with catch pull out slowly to begin their journey. They’re transporting squid from the state’s largest commercial fishery to processors and distributors up and down California. As the trucks depart for their trek, private recreational fishing boats quickly line up at the boat ramp with anticipation. The unseasonably warm oceans this year have drawn the squid close to shore and heightened expectations that albacore tuna will soon be within range for a day-trip of recreational fishing.

This ebb and flow of activity is the fabric of the small coastal fishing towns that dot the North Central Coast of California. As fishing regulations, climate, and oceanography change, understanding the dynamics of our coastal oceans, and their associated fishing towns, becomes an increasingly complex challenge. But in 2010, a network of marine protected areas, or MPAs, was implemented in this region. This created an opportunity. To take a snapshot, and build a picture of the health of the nearshore waters, marine life and coastal communities. Scientific monitoring results – from data collected on rocky shores, kelp forests, deep reefs and more –  create a benchmark against which to measure future changes.

Along the coasts of Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino and beyond, that picture is just beginning to come into focus. A recent report shares the first summary of the ecology and socioeconomics of this little studied region. With data contributed by academic researchers, citizen scientists, fishermen and local experts, we are deepening our understanding of the drivers of the local economy and the characteristics of the underwater habitats and species on which local industries depend.

Region by region, encompassing the statewide network of 124 MPAs, California’s commitment to scientific monitoring is giving us an unprecedented science foundation on which to make decisions about the future of our oceans. And the data and results are available to everyone.

We need to remain alert as unexpected challenges will arise. But with the network of protected areas in place, we are prepared for the future. In the last months, teams of scientists and citizens working together have alerted us to the spread of disease in sea stars and have tracked this problem. New monitoring data gave our fisheries managers an important basis for new regulations supporting the sustainability of the recreational abalone fishery. 

Our ocean community has many different perspectives but is increasingly working together toward a common vision of ocean health. Join the community and the discussion on OceanSpaces and find out more about the first results from scientific monitoring of the North Central Coast.