I’m preparing to mobilize with a team of scientists on board the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada on July 2. We’ll spend the next nine days cruising from San Francisco through three National Marine Sanctuaries — Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay — collecting water samples and looking for seabirds and marine mammals.
The expedition is part of a 15-year project called Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS), which aims to study linkages between weather, oceanographic conditions, and climate change within the sanctuary system. One of the main things they will observe and monitor is prey distribution in order to help identify areas where seabirds and whales might be heading for their next meal.
By locating places where foraging might overlap with human activity, sanctuary managers can help reduce the risk of harm to wildlife — ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear is a major problem scientists are working to address.
Each year, three to five ACCESS cruises are conducted; over time, the data collected on these expeditions may reveal trends, which might help shed light on how climate change impacts the ocean, and subsequently all of us. Extreme warm water events are a particularly important area for study, because the temperature fluctuations disrupt the food web and can lead to major die-offs.
ACCESS is a partnership between NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries and Point Blue, a nonprofit conservation science organization founded in 1965. Collaborations with at least 10 public and private organizations also aids in processing and analyzing samples and data collected during expeditions.
For a series we’ve titled Sea Sentries, I’ll be posting regular updates with photos, interviews, and stories to help deliver our readers out into our National Marine Sanctuaries, so check back regularly and join me at sea!
Jenny Woodman, Proteus founder and executive director, is a science writer and educator living in the Pacific Northwest. She has spent the last four years writing about ocean health, technology and she is a 2018 lead science communication fellow for the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. Her work can be found in Atlantic Monthly, IEEE Earthzine, and Ensia Magazine.
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