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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using Large-Area Imaging to Assess Intertidal Biological Response to Changing Oceanographic Conditions in Partnership with the Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation


The rocky intertidal is an iconic seascape of the California coast. Existing at the land-sea interface, the rocky intertidal is one of the most accessible and diverse habitats making it an extremely important resource for education, recreation, and harvest. They are particularly important to the coastal Indigenous Nations of California who have a deep cultural connection and inherent stewardship rights to their coast. Indigenous Nations have studied and observed the intertidal since time immemorial, passing on and adding to this wealth of traditional knowledge through the generations. They know the current state and the history of their specific intertidal systems better than anyone. As such, we are working in partnership with the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation on one of three study areas in this pilot project to combine expertise and implement a novel approach to the study of climate change impacts on the California rocky intertidal.


As a highly productive ecosystem defined by strict ecological zonation due to biological and physical tolerances, the rocky intertidal is presumed to be particularly susceptible to global environmental change, especially sea level rise (SLR). However, it has long been assumed that the biological response of intertidal organisms to climate change will occur slowly over long periods of time that more or less mirror the long term trend of SLR. This study offers preliminary evidence that this may not be the case. In this collaborative study we use large-area imaging to create 3-dimensional (3D) habitat maps and digital elevation models of the rocky intertidal at three sites: Pyramid Point State Marine Conservation Area (PPSMCA); Cabrillo National Monument (CNM); and Scripps Coastal Reserve (SCR), which bookend the southernmost and northernmost tidal regimes of the state.


The Tribal Intertidal Digital Ecological Survey (TIDES) project is a product of collaboration between Scripps Institution of Oceanography faculty and students and the Natural Resources Department of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. Over time, this partnership will build overall capacity for adaptive coastal management by combining traditional knowledge of historically observed patterns in intertidal communities with advanced imaging/mapping techniques that maximize data acquisition in the field. This project and the foundational partnership and guidance of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation establishes the framework for diverse coastal communities and managers to implement high-resolution large-area imaging of rocky intertidal habitats. This collaborative approach can better inform future changes associated with SLR while creating a digital archive to address a wide range of future research questions as they arise, including areas of interest such as population dynamics of culturally important species.

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