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

Near and far, people were saddened to hear of the 105,000 (2500 barrels) gallons of crude oil that were spilled on May 19th at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. Having lived in the Santa Barbara area for several years, I remember how incredibly beautiful that stretch of coast is (above water and underwater), and how invested the community is in protecting it.

California has long been a leader in creating policies and implementing tools that protect the health of California’s coast and ocean. A model example of this is California’s statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), which were established along the coast to protect and maintain the health of marine life and the ecosystems they depend on. Refugio State Beach — the site of the oil spill — sits between two of these MPAs, with three others in the region nearby (see map below). With cleanup efforts underway, Californians are turning their attention to how these protected areas, and the greater Santa Barbara coastline, may be impacted by the spill.


Map produced by GreenInfo Network.
See Refugio Response Joint Information Center for additional maps

With the implementation of MPA network, the State invested $16 million to scientifically monitor these areas, and establish a baseline of ecosystem health both inside and outside of the MPAs. Because of this baseline monitoring, we have an unprecedented amount of information that describes the condition of the habitats and marine wildlife at the time the MPAs were implemented. For the Santa Barbara region, this information was collected in 2012 and 2013, giving us a snapshot of conditions prior to the Refugio oil spill.

As the cleanup and damage assessments continue, the value of California’s investment in MPA monitoring and building partnerships is coming to light. MPA monitoring is helping to assess impacts from the oil spill in several important ways:

Newly released MPA monitoring data is helping to track changes. With MPA monitoring data in hand we have information that can serve as a reference point for determining changes in the area where the oil spill occurred. Data from 7 state-funded monitoring projects in the South Coast region are now available on OceanSpaces. Collected by scientists collaborating with citizen science groups and fisherman, this data includes ecological and human use information collected along the Santa Barbara coastline.

MPA monitoring has built a network of people who are responding. Scientists that were involved in state-funded MPA monitoring quickly mobilized in response to the oil spill, collaborating with state agencies and other research groups to collect useful information about the spill and its impacts.

MPA Monitoring is critical to track the recovery of these important places. The knowledge we have from MPA monitoring is useful and powerful: it helps us evaluate how the MPAs are meeting their management goals, and it helps us track ocean health after events like the Refugio oil spill, and threats like ocean acidification and climate change. Continued monitoring will be essential for tracking impacts from the oil spill and restoring ocean health in the region.


Learn more about the value of MPA monitoring, and existing MPA monitoring efforts near the spill on our new OceanSpaces page here.

Official information and updates about the spill can be found at the Unified Command Joint Information Center’s Refugio Response webpage, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife OSPR’s Refugio Incident Page.