Follow the Good Tidepooler Rules

Research & Monitoring

Vital to the success of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is biological and ecological research, particularly research that improves our understanding of determining the success of MPA designation. Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) is particularly important as we move away from simply protecting intertidal populations and move towards understanding how these ecosystems function so that we can better understand how to efficiently conserve our coasts. Without experimental research and monitoring, the effectiveness of MPAs could not be studied.

Conducting Research in the Tidepools

Despite most of the OC shoreline being protected under MPA regulations for a number of years, collecting and other detrimental activities by visitors to our shores continues to occur. This is particularly true for the large number of educational field trips that occur throughout the year. We encourage you to continue to bring classes to the coast and conduct research within our reserves, but please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • If you are taking a class to and/or conducting research within Orange County MPAs, you must contact the associated state marine reserve, park or conservation area manager in a timely fashion (~30 days) prior to your visit and fill out the Researcher/Educator User Form.
  • Collecting of any material, live or dead, within MPAs is illegal unless you have a valid Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and permission from the appropriate MPA manager. "Collecting" includes picking up organisms, even if they are returned to the intertidal and not removed from the site. Failure to follow these regulations may result in fines and/or revocation of collection or research privileges in that Marine Protected Area.
  • For educational field trips, we request that you contact MPA managers regardless of whether collecting is planned.
  • Please note, as in years past, you are still required to notify the local Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) field office 24 hours before collecting. Los Alamitos Office - 4665 Lampson Avenue, Suite C, Los Alamitos, CA 90720 (562) 342-7100, Fax (562) 596-0342.
  • We ask that you and your assistants/students follow general good tidepool etiquette by avoiding any action that may negatively affect the tidepool habitat. Please avoid trampling plants, walking in tidepools, excessively handling organisms, picking up organisms, and overturning rocks as these activities are highly detrimental and may not be allowed under the Marine Protected Areas regulations. We also request that you, as team/class leader, wear clothing that identifies you as a member of your research institution.
  • All collections must directly relate to your permitted research and to the geographical area of focus. Collections authorized under the authority of a SCP that are for the purpose of generalized study or classroom lab work must be obtained from outside the Marine Protected Area Network.


Several monitoring programs have been established at numerous Orange County MPAs.

  1. In 1996, the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) established four locations in Orange County (Shaw's Cove, Treasure Island, Crystal Cove, and Dana Point) to monitor the abundances of target species. This network (, funded by various organizations including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management within the US Department of Interior, spans across the California and Oregon coast encompassing 80 sites. For Orange County locations, California State University, Fullerton is currently monitoring the abundance of mussels (Mytilus), rockweeds (Silvetia), barnacles (Chthamalus and Balanus), red algal turfs (Endocladia), surf grasses (Phyllospadix), owl limpets (Lottia), seastars (Pisaster), and other important flora and fauna. Surveys of these areas are conducted every 6 months in the fall and spring seasons, beginning in 1996 and continuing through the present. For more information about this and other rocky intertidal monitoring visit:
  2. The Orange County MPA monitoring program was established in 2002 and continued until 2005. Surveys were conducted at three locations (Dana Point, Little Corona del Mar, and Treasure Island). Surveys were conducted to monitor the levels of human use and the abundances of various intertidal species including souvenir species likely to be most notably affected by human activities.
  3. California State University, Fullerton has been surveying rocky intertidal flora and fauna at Dana Point and Little Corona Del Mar using transects from 2002 to the present. Percent cover of all species are measured along permanent transects spanning the entire intertidal habitat and are sampled approximately two times per year (summer and winter).
  4. Weston Solutions, Inc recently established transect lines to monitor at Little Corona del Mar, Morning Canyon, Crystal Cove, and Heisler Park.
  5. Coastal Resources Management is currently quantifying and characterizing human activities in rocky intertidal zones at Little Corona del Mar, Morning Canyon, Crystal Cove, and Heisler Park.
  6. The Montage Resort is supporting a monitoring program aimed to quantify levels of human use and determine the impacts of the resort on the rocky intertidal zone at Treasure Island.

Current OCMPAC Projects

  1. Lobster Trap Monitoring, Year 3: To date, 2 years of lobster trap monitoring within MPAs in Orange County have been completed with a third year, post MPA implementation, necessary to determine temporal and spatial lobster trap distribution as well as MPA effectiveness in reducing trap usage.
  2. Database of OC Research Projects: A regional database of research conducted along the Orange County coastline is being compiled to provide researchers, educators, and managers access to current and past research and monitoring data in their respective areas. This database will start the process of bridging science and management at the local level and will allow us to identify gaps in information for improved management responses and risk assessment.
  3. Seaweed Biodiversity Surveys: With the assistance of Dr. Kathy Ann Miller from UC Berkeley, OCMPAC is working to complete the identification and assessment of the diversity of rocky intertidal seaweeds in Orange County. A survey of this nature can aid in understanding ecological drivers and sources of disturbance, in addition to locating potential biodiversity hotspots within the region. Surveys and creation of voucher specimens may be expanded in the future for outreach and education purposes.
  4. Citizen Science: Owl Limpet Monitoring. An owl limpet monitoring citizen science program was initiated at Dana Point last year with a grant from CSU Fullerton. OCMPAC is attempting to expand this program to include other Orange County locations.
  5. Initiation of Subtidal Rocky Reef Mapping: OCMPAC will examine the current knowledge of rocky subtidal reefs through accumulation of known information through such sources as SCUBA diving maps and kelp forest distributions. This determination of current knowledge will help identify any gaps in research prior to a larger scale effort being undertaken.
  6. Pilot Citizen Science: Lobster Recruitment Monitoring. To expand outreach efforts, OCMPAC will examine the feasibility of creating a citizen science lobster recruitment monitoring program. Little is known about lobster recruitment, particularly in this region, and monitoring conducted by the public could provide important information regarding sources and sinks of local lobster populations as well as engaging the public in efforts to conserve and manage this important fishery species.
  7. OCMPAC Research Symposium: The OCMPAC research symposium held in April 2012 with research teams from the MPA Baseline Monitoring Program was well received. OCMPAC will hold another research symposium (date and time to be determined), concentrating on research and outreach conducted by members of OCMPAC.

Featured Study

Non-native seaweeds in the rocky intertidal zone: Effects on native community structure and diversity and investigation into the feasibility of local eradication

The introduction and subsequent invasion of non-native species is among the greatest threats to biodiversity and native ecosystem functioning. In southern California rocky intertidal ecosystems, the non-native seaweeds Sargassum muticum and Caulacanthus ustulatus are major contributors to community structure and ecosystem primary productivity.

Sargassum muticum, native to Asia, is a large brown alga common in tidepools and shallow waters

Caulacanthus ustulatus, native to Asia, is a red, turf-forming alga on rocks in the upper and middle intertidal zone

Despite the presence of these seaweeds since 1999 for Caulacanthus and the 1970s for Sargassum, little is known about their impacts on native community structure or ecosystem functioning. Dr. Jayson Smith from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona examined the impacts of these seaweeds on native assemblages through comparisons of tidepools or rock patches where the non-native seaweed was present and where it was absent. Additionally, the feasibility of locally eradicating these species was experimentally tested on a local scale (tidepool or small patch) by removing either Sargassum or Caulacanthus and monitoring recovery. Removal was conducted by scraping off Sargassum holdfasts from tidepools and removing all biomass. Caulacanthus was removed by scraping of the rock surface with a putty knife followed by burning the rock using a propane torch.

Sargassum muticum was manually removed by a Cal Poly Pomona research team

Caulacanthus ustulatus was removed by scraping and torching the rock face.

The impacts of these non-native seaweeds on native communities are mixed. Sargassum had little impact on community assemblages in intertidal tidepools despite causing marked changes in light penetration and buffering temperature changes during low tide. Caulacanthus had a negative impact on macroinvertebrates and a positive impact on seaweeds and meiofauna in the upper intertidal zone; conversely, minimal impact of Caulacanthus was observed in the middle intertidal zone. Zonal differences in impacts are likely due to the novel turf that Caulacanthus provides in the upper intertidal zone, where native seaweeds are uncommon in the region. This turf affords a microhabitat where sand accumulates and moisture is retained that provides refuge for seaweeds and meiofauna that normally would not be found in that habitat. In the middle intertidal zone, a native turf already exists, thus the presence of Caulacanthus does not alter normal community structure. This study highlights that impacts can be different depending on the native taxa of concern and can vary among non-native seaweeds and within the same non-native species over different geographic regions or among different microhabitats within a location.

Eradication of these species required a high effort and was destructive to native flora and fauna. In removal plots, local eradication efforts proved unsuccessful as the non-native seaweeds recovered quickly. The combination of minimal impacts on native species, the high effort required for removal, and quick recovery suggest that efforts to eradicate these species are not worthy of consideration.

Sargassum muticum recovered very quickly (<8months) after removal

Caulacanthus ustulatus recovered quickly and appeared, in some cases, to survive the torching treatment








For more information on this study, please contact Dr. Jayson Smith at