Monterey Bay: Behind the Colorways
onterey is so much more than colorway inspiration. This jewel is home to one of the best studied pieces of ocean on the planet, and with help will continue to be a model of environmental protection done right!
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
This is the largest protected ocean area in the continental US. These waters, known as the “Serengeti of the Sea,” start at the southern end of Big Sur and extend 6,000 square miles up past San Francisco.
The better we understand the ocean and the issues, the better we can fix the problems! From overfishing, to pollution. Research here has serious purpose. This is a place where over 30 leading institutions collaborate to study the ocean and its issues. Learn more about the sanctuary!
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Gorgeous, serene and a powerful player in protecting our oceans. This landmark is home to thousands of animals and plants from jellies to sea turtles. Their conservation and science programs are busy....
- bringing science to decision makers to help protect California's oceans
- helping southern sea otters, white sharks, and blue fin tuna populations recover
- creating effective sustainable seafood standards globally
- helping address the plastic pollution crisis
- championing climate action for the oceans
Photo credit: Zhan Zhang
The Humpback Whale
Humpback whales were hunted to near extinction before a 1966 hunting moratorium, and have since made great strides in recovery. Today they are threatened by entanglement from fishing gear and ship strikes; both can be fatal. Ocean noise from ships, sonar and drilling can cause whales to be driven away from their habitats and can sometimes even to drive some to strand on beaches. NOAA's goal is to help them recover to 60% of their original population size before the days of commercial hunting. Wonderful laws and regulations are being managed to help protect these amazing creatures!
You can support the whales by supporting a marine sanctuary and a slew of other things.
Photo credit: Jorge Vasconez
Pacific Grove! A famous breeding ground of monarch butterflies, and once home to author John Steinbeck. Here, find one of the oldest marine laboratories on the Pacific Coast, and the 2nd oldest marine life refuge in California (after Scripps in San Diego)!
Photo credit: Cody Hiscox
One of the largest of its kind, they can grow up to a foot tall! This fish is the only seahorse found off of the California coast- and it's a favorite at the Monterey Bay Aquarium! In the wild, they're found along our coast from San Diego all the way down to Peru. Rising ocean temperatures, as during El Nino have them being spotted as far North as Los Angeles!
When courting they interlock tails and spin around together every day for minutes or even hours! They're weak swimmers, and use their prehensile tails to grab onto nearby objects so they don't get swept away.
They're listed as a threatened species. Many get inadvertently caught in fishing nets, but many are purposely caught to be sold as tourist souvenirs. You can help by refusing to buy them as souvenirs, letting others know, and supporting marine protected areas!
Photo credit: Naomi Tamar
Giant Pacific Octopus
Magnificent, spry and intelligent solitary creatures! Smart enough to open jars and play with toys, flexible enough to squeeze through tiny spaces. Fully grown they average about 100 pounds and 16 feet across. The largest recorded topped at over 600 pounds and 30 feet across! They have over 2,000 suction cups along their eight tentacles which gives them incredibly strong grip and dazzling senses of taste and smell.
The Giant Pacific Octopus stealthily changes its color by squeezing and stretching special elastic cells to adjust how much pigment is in them. They can camouflage themselves amongst intricate corals and flash vivid colored warnings to threats. If you have a keen eye you might spot this in a tidepool along our coast! They're found in cool and shallow coastal waters (down to depths of a few hundred feet or more) from Southern California all the way up to Alaska.
Although heavily fished as seafood, and commonly used as live reuseable bait by commercial fisherman, their populations are believed to be at healthy numbers.
Photo credit: Jeahn Laffitte
The Lone Cypress
The Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach! Famed for its captivating solitary and stoic place atop the foggy wave-whipped coast along 13 mile drive. It's a Monterey Cypress, which is a rare species in the wild. Endemic to California's central coast, and now only found natively in two small protected forest groves in Del Monte Forest and Point Lobos State Reserve. These surviving trees can be up to 2,000 years-old, and are what's left of what used to be very large forests.
Recently the tree made national news for losing a limb in the rough storms earlier this year, reducing its size by about a third. Thankfully it's reported that the tree is still secure and in healthy condition. Throughout the years, The Lone Cypress has struck many as a symbol of rugged individualism. It's estimated to be about 250 years old, predating the founding of our country.
California Sea Otter
They're the smallest marine mammal in North America and are found from San Mateo down to Santa Barbara. They're an integral part of keeping kelp forests and estuaries healthy. Watch them now live-streamed from Monterey Bay Aquarium!
- Although they may hunt underwater, they only eat at the surface and float on their backs using their chest as a table. So precious!
- They keep warm with the world's densest fur- about 1 million hairs per square inch- people only have about 100,000 on their entire heads!
- They have pockets in their coat made of loose skin under their arms where they store food while they continue hunting.
These sea otters were brought to near extinction by fur hunters until only 50 survivors remained in the 1930's. Though their population bottlenecked, they slowly made a comeback! About 3000 southern sea otters exist today, still a small portion of their historical numbers. Researchers are working hard to understand why their population can't seem to expand further. They used to be found all the way down to Baja California! Currently their biggest threats are oil spills, infectious disease and bites from great white sharks.
Researchers continue to study these threatened animals, because the better they're understood, the better we can protect & help them! More at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Photo credit: Marshal Hedin
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is called the crown jewel of California's state park system. Stunning unobstructed views, tide pools, kelp forests, and home to the endangered and rare Monterey Cypress. Point Lobos translates to Point Wolf. This derives from the barking sea lions that Spanish colonists called Lobos Marinos- or Sea Wolves. Today the sea lions still thrive here along with countless other species (like sea otters!) thanks to the 9,907 acres of protected underwater area.
Once a place of substantial whale hunting, mining, abalone harvesting, and later secret military operation during WWII, Point Lobos is now a transformed refuge of conservation. More than 90% of the reserve is actually underwater as a Marine Protected Area, a powerful tool in protecting and restoring ocean biodiversity. The clear water, grand underwater topography and abundant sea life also makes this place world famous for scuba diving. We hope you love this place as much as we do!
It's October, the beginning of migration for millions of monarch butterflies! They're leaving their breeding grounds and traveling up to 3,000 miles south to Monterey. Here they are featured at Pacific Grove, famous for their monarch butterfly sanctuary!
You may already know that a dramatic 97 percent of California's monarch butterflies have disappeared since the 1980s. Now eucalyptus is used by the majority of these butterflies for roosting over the winter in the area. Studies show perhaps monarchs aren't necessarily preferring these trees, but the microclimates they provide are a compatible alternative to their shrinking native habitat. Keeping these trees can be a highly controversial issue, because eucalyptus isn't native and can be invasive as well as a potential wildfire risk.
The monarch also roosts on Monterey Cypress, Monterey Pine and coast redwood, native species that are also dwindling. Experts advise on making site-specific decisions for eradicating or preserving eucalyptus, and phasing them out over time while expanding native habitat reforestation for these important beauties.
Find your way to help the monarch butterflies here!
Photo credit: Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS
Another member of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and named for the big elephant-like noses on males. They spend most of their lives at sea, only living onshore for a few months every year to molt, mate, and give birth. Unlike other seals that shed year-round, these seals shed their first layer of skin and fur all at once, coming off in distinct sheets, termed a catastrophic molt. In the ocean they spend most of the time deep diving to depths around 1,500 feet! These big seals grow to 10-15 feet long and males weigh up to 4,500 pounds... as heavy as a car.
Like other species, the elephant seal was hunted to near extinction for its blubber that was used in lamp oil. Mexico gave them protected status when less than a hundred seals were left in Guadalupe Island, America soon followed suit. Their populations have since rebounded to about 160,000!
Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles
Yes, California does have sea turtles! The Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle is actually California's official state marine reptile! They've roamed the waters for 75 million years, and adults reach up to 2000 pounds and 8 feet long. This makes them the oldest and largest marine reptile in the Pacific. Leatherbacks are also known for their unusual leathery backs- they're the only sea turtle without a hard bony shell!
They're born on the coasts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Once hatched the tiny creatures instinctively make their way to the bright light on the horizon and into the ocean. What happens next to the hatchlings no one knows- it's called the "lost years," but hopefully most come back to nest as adults. Adults nest on the shores, then spend the large part of a year migrating 7000 miles to California waters, including the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where they feast on jellyfish.
This turtle is critically endangered, and the population has declined dramatically over the last couple decades. Scientists are concerned that climate change will affect their ability to survive. The temperature of the sand on the nested eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings, which can affect their ability reproduce as a population. Amazing volunteers and beach monitors help protect these vulnerable nests from wild dogs and pigs, and also add shade to protect them from excessive heat (see photo below)!
Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
How to help?
You can help sea turtles by limiting your use of plastics, especially single use plastic. Leatherbacks sometimes mistake plastic bags and balloons as food (they can look like jellyfish), which can kill them.
Unregulated and unsustainable fishing practices kills sea turtles, causing many to get caught or tangled by nets and hooks. So, support sustainable seafood and aquaculture by buying sustainable and USA sourced seafood! See Monterey's sustainable seafood guides (they even have an app)! Fisheries in the USA are regulated, but about 90% of America's seafood is imported from other countries, often which aren't regulated well.Learn more about leatherbacks here!
Main image photo credit: USFWS