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Open Access Publications from the University of California

To meet the challenges of marine conservation, the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) was established at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in May 2001. Its goals are:

  • Investigation: Assess the state of marine ecosystems now and in the past and develop predictive models for the future
  • Education: Train new marine biodiversity and conservation scientists in the United States and around the world
  • Integration: Develop novel interdisciplinary approaches linking the biological, physical, social and information sciences
  • Communication: Increase public understanding of scientific issues and provide sound scientific analyses to policy makers
  • Application: Design technically sophisticated, regionally appropriate strategies to prevent and reverse biodiversity collapse

Dr. Lisa Levin, Director

Cover page of Connect the Disconnect: Reducing Single-Use Plastics on the SIO Campus.

Connect the Disconnect: Reducing Single-Use Plastics on the SIO Campus.


I joined forces with zero-waste and sustainability-conscious students, faculty, and administration at Scripps and UCSD  to "connect the disconnect" between the ocean research and conservation happening at Scripps and the single-use plastic products (particularly food containers) still being sold around Scripps and UC San Diego. After researching current best scientific and industry practices, I made highly concrete recommendations to the administration to help implement  zero waste solutions on the Scripps campus right now. The expectation is that, once implemented, Scripps’ zero waste solutions will set an example for other campuses like UCSD, and also for visiting representatives of other institutions and the general public that visit our campus. 

  • 10 supplemental PDFs
  • 1 supplemental file
Cover page of Characterization of Surface Foraging Behaviors of Southern Resident Killer Whales from Aerial Photographs

Characterization of Surface Foraging Behaviors of Southern Resident Killer Whales from Aerial Photographs


The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population is an icon of the Pacific Northeast. The population has experienced a 10 percent decline in population since 2005 and now number only 76 individuals, the lowest abundance in more than 30 years. The SRKWs have been shown to be food-limited with declines in survival and reproduction in years following low salmon availability. Diet studies conducted on the SRKWs have shown a strong prey preference for Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the summer, yet uncertainty remains about prey preferences and foraging behavior. To help fill this data gap, I used high-resolution aerial images to quantify and describe foraging behavior from a new perspective. Specifically, I reviewed images collected by a small unmanned hexacopter during five individual month-long field efforts between 2015 and 2017. From this collection 29 distinct foraging events were documented in 2,384 images that allowed for photogrammetry measurements of fish size, and species identification of fish preyed upon. The data show that there is a clear difference in the size of fish chased versus the size of fish confirmed to be captured and shared with other members of the pod, suggesting that the whales may be selectively targeting certain size or age classes of fish. Most of the fish observed within the study were determined to be Chinook salmon with the possibility of other salmonid species also being preyed upon. Of the 18 successful foraging events, prey-sharing occurred 88% of the time, with 62.5% of prey-sharing behavior occurring between mothers and calves. This knowledge is important to the successful management and protection of this unique and critically endangered population. Knowing targeted species and size classes of fish can allow for better fishing and recovery strategies, which may lead to increased foraging success of the SRKWs.

Tracking the Fate of Bleached Corals Following the 2015 Thermal Bleaching Event in Maui, HI


As thermal bleaching events are expected to increase in frequency for many coral reefs around the world, the 2015 bleaching event in the Main Hawaiian Islands was only the second ever recorded archipelago-wide bleaching event. Understanding baseline changes in the reefs after a bleaching event allows local managers to make informed decisions to support recovery of reefs. Using benthic imagery taken just days after the peak of bleaching and at 6 month and 1.5-year intervals, this project followed five of Maui’s most abundant coral species through a post bleaching time series analysis. Beginning with an assessment of bleaching severity, the fate of individual corals on two Maui reefs was tracked to understand if corals recovered, suffered partial mortality, or suffered full mortality. Corals from the Olowalu site showed a trend toward reduced size class of corals after the bleaching event while corals from the Kahekili site showed a trend toward larger size class of corals after the bleaching event. Overall at both sites, corals that bleached less severely recovered more healthy tissue between 2015 and 2017.

Cover page of Environmental Analysis of Submerged Cultural Resource Survey Areas of the Kiska Island National Historic Landmark Maritime Battlefield

Environmental Analysis of Submerged Cultural Resource Survey Areas of the Kiska Island National Historic Landmark Maritime Battlefield


Project Recover, formally established in 2016, fuses historical data with the latest technology to research and locate submerged WWII wreckage and the associated servicemen that have been missing in action (Project Recover, 2018). In July 2018, Project Recover will conduct remote-sensing surveys in four locations off Kiska Island, Alaska. The terrestrial component of the Kiska battlefield has been well researched; the maritime component remains largely unknown. Little research has been done in the area regarding the submerged WWII cultural sites, as well as environmental assessments and analysis. Historical analysis of the Battle of Kiska, applying KOCOA (key terrain, observation and fields of fire, cover and concealment, obstacles, and avenues of approach) analysis to submerged maritime sites in the area, assessments of active contaminant sites, and analysis of environmental and habitat data of the area will aid in the creation of one composite geodatabase. The implementation of the geodatabase and other environmental support information is important in the planning stages of the survey and will serve to be a timely reference during the field data collection phase. Furthermore, analysis done in this Capstone project will help ensure another efficient and successful Project Recover survey and will contribute to the overall goal of Project Recover, which is to document and honor the final resting place of 167 U.S. and Japanese service members who lost their lives in the waters surrounding Kiska Island, thus ensuring the preservation of maritime cultural history.

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

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.

Cover page of Changing Climate in the Classroom: A model for place-based climate science education in San Diego County

Changing Climate in the Classroom: A model for place-based climate science education in San Diego County


Climate change is a phenomenon that has sweeping impacts across the globe. Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases are leading to increased mean global air and ocean temperatures. These changes contribute to problems that have societal, environmental, and financial implications. Climate change education is becoming increasingly relevant as today’s students will face threats such as sea level rise, changes in the frequency and intensity of droughts and storms, loss of biodiversity, and others as climate-related impacts worsen. Yet, students currently lack a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of climate change. In order to address the problems associated with climate change, students must be knowledgeable, engaged in finding solutions, and be motivated to take action. This project sought to develop a curriculum through a place-based framework that can enhance students’ understanding of the causes and effects of climate change, as well as the possible solutions in addressing this global problem on local scales. I developed a curriculum on the subjects of climate change and coastal ecosystems which includes a series of three lessons, in-class activities, a laboratory experiment, and a boat-based field experience.

I administered the unit to 47 tenth grade students at High Tech High North County. To assess the effectiveness of the curriculum I administered the same assessment prior to and following the presentation of the lessons. The results show that students’ scores improved significantly after receiving the lessons when subjected to a paired t test providing evidence that students gained an improved awareness about local climate change issues and solutions. Additionally, student feedback qualitatively yielded positive results, demonstrating the efficacy of the curriculum as a tool for teaching high school students about climate science.

Cover page of Through the Author's Eyes: Why are we succeeding and why aren't we succeeding in managing our own marine resources in the South Pacific region

Through the Author's Eyes: Why are we succeeding and why aren't we succeeding in managing our own marine resources in the South Pacific region


The South Pacific Islands have a massive ocean with numerous marine resources; however, these resources can be overfished or even depleted as the majority of humans rely on these natural resources as their sustenance. Having the right strategy with the precise marine conservation toolkit is very critical for the local communities in the South Pacific for conserving and protecting their marine resources. There are many marine management tools used throughout the Pacific region within communities, such as Marine Managed Areas (MMAs), Community based fisheries management (CBFM) and locally managed marine areas (LMMAs). These marine management tools are formed from a variety of traditional conservation methods; however, the western perspective does not always take into account these methods. In this case, this research mainly focuses on how the change in Governance concerning regulations and structure can achieve the conservation goals of LMMAs in the Pacific region, which leads to the two research questions; (1) Does an LMMA design process that integrates traditional conservation methods result in more favorable conservation outcomes than one that does not? (2) How do different models of social hierarchy (such as chiefly driven or community driven) impact compliance with LMMA rules? The conservation outcomes and LMMA governance are the main indicator and predictor, respectively, to determine the strength of LMMA. Furthermore, this research was based on a collection of several articles, reports and literature reviews using Google Scholar. The collected data are then analyzed through Atlas.Ti8 and tableau. The results show that islands which used traditional methods have a higher increased percentage in fisheries productivity, coral reef health and CPUE, which definitely determines that LMMA design process that integrates traditional methods results in more favorable conservation outcomes than one that does not. In relation to that, Social hierarchy (chiefly/ community and national governance) can impact compliance with LMMA rules. Chiefly governance results in stronger compliance and weak poaching, while national governance results in weak or poor compliance with higher poaching.