Kelp Forest Monitoring at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California: Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, Fourth Annual Report

Open-File Report 2019-1147
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Navy
By:  and 



To assess and track changes to the rocky subtidal communities surrounding San Nicolas Island, the U.S. Navy entered into an agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2014 to conduct an ecological monitoring program at several sites around the island. Four permanent sites—Nav Fac 100, West End, Dutch Harbor, and Daytona 100—were established. The sites were based on ones that had been monitored since 1980 by USGS and were combined or expanded for better comparability with monitoring programs conducted at the other California Channel Islands. At the sites, scientists from USGS and our cooperator, the University of California, Santa Cruz, measured bottom cover of algae and sessile invertebrate species in quadrats, counted and sized fish on swimming transects, and counted a suite of kelps and invertebrates on benthic band transects. Holdfast diameter and number of stipes of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) were recorded on these transects, and size data were collected for urchins, sea stars, and shelled mollusks. Bottom temperatures were recorded at hourly intervals by archival data loggers that were deployed at the sites. This report focuses primarily on data collected in fall 2017 and spring 2018 and makes comparisons with data collected in previous years, beginning in fall 2014.

Nav Fac 100 is a site with a relatively low benthic profile, situated on the north side of San Nicolas Island. It was previously urchin dominated but underwent a dramatic decline in purple sea urchins in 2015 and 2016. Since then, macroalgae has become more prevalent as both annual brown algae, such as Dictyota, and perennials (for example, Cystoseira) have become established. The invasive brown alga Sargassum horneri has also become established. West End, on the southwest side of the island, also lacks much bottom relief but has more crevice habitat associated with boulders. It remains dominated by kelps and red algae, but red algae have decreased recently. Dutch Harbor, on the south side, has many high relief rocky reefs and had the greatest fish and non-motile invertebrate densities. It remains the most stable of the sites. Daytona 100, on the southeast side, has moderate relief and has remained a patchwork of kelp and urchin dominated areas with moderate fish density.

The main change at the sites during the last 4 years was the decline in urchin numbers at Nav Fac 100. There was storm-related mortality and subsequent recruitment in the M. pyrifera population at several of the sites in both 2016 and 2017. The winter of 2018, however, was relatively mild, with less destructive storm-related disturbance. The invasive brown alga S. horneri, first seen at San Nicolas Island at Nav Fac 100 in fall 2015, has become firmly established there during the last 2 sampling years. Finally, moderate increases were observed in purple urchin densities at all sites this spring. Long-term data are presented to illustrate trends and changes over the past three decades. Results indicate continued monitoring to evaluate ecosystem effects from perturbations owing to natural processes and anthropomorphic factors, including recovery of the sea otter population, changes in fisheries, invasive species and changing environmental conditions, could be valuable to inform managers’ decision-making.

Suggested Citation

Kenner, M.C., and Tomoleoni, J., 2020, Kelp forest monitoring at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California: Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, Fourth Annual Report: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1147, 76 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Kelp forest monitoring at Naval Base Ventura County, San Nicolas Island, California: Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, Fourth Annual Report
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2019-1147
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191147
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description vi, 76 p.
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial San Nicolas Island
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details