**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
Scientists, fishermen, tribal governments, and citizen groups from 30 organizations across eleven projects will work together to develop a baseline of ocean conditions and human uses in the North Coast region. Together, these researchers and projects make up the North Coast MPA Baseline Program, which will expand our understanding of ecological and socioeconomic conditions in the region and establish a baseline for evaluating the performance of the MPA network over time.
Over the course of the next three years, researchers will monitor habitats including kelp forests, rocky shores and beaches as well as commercially important fish populations and iconic seabirds. Projects will also document human uses and the socioeconomic dimensions of MPAs, including changing patterns of fishing and recreational ocean use, and examine patterns of ocean currents across the whole region.
The North Coast is the first MPA baseline program in the state to incorporate traditional knowledge. Through a collaboration among Smith River Rancheria, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Trinidad Rancheria, and the Wiyot Tribe, traditional knowledge will be gathered through interviews and archival research, and shared as an integral part of understanding historical and current ocean conditions in the region.
“This project is not only important because tribal perspectives and knowledge will be, perhaps for the first time ever, integrated into the state’s resource management scheme. It is also important because it is completely tribally-driven and relies on an approach that respects the cultural and political sovereignty of each participating Tribe,” said Megan Rocha, project lead on behalf of Smith River Rancheria.
These awards are the culmination of 18 months of collaborative planning, informed by extensive input from the North Coast community and tribal governments. Many local organizations and institutions, tribal governments (four projects), and commercial and recreational fishermen (six projects) will participate in the program.
“I’ve invested many years of my life supporting community partnership-building during the MPA creation process for the North Coast region. I look forward to volunteering with the collaborative fisheries project to help contribute data that will show the benefits, or not, of the MPAs. The ocean is my church; I want to see that it stays healthy,” said Brandi Easter, member of the North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group and North Coast Community Liaison.
“The importance of long and short-term monitoring is extremely valuable to the overall management of our marine resources. Throughout the entire scoping and RFP process, the focus has been on what’s best for our coastal environment. With the research projects now funded we can begin the work necessary to take the pulse of the habitats and species that are invaluable to people and, ultimately, the planet,” said Bill Lemos, member of the North Coast Regional Stakeholder Group and North Coast Community Liaison.
Visit the North Coast Region page to learn more about baseline monitoring, awarded projects, and those who will be conducting the research.