Partner-Driven Projects Restoring Polluted California Habitats

Through strong community partnerships NOAA is able to do more restoration, helping California fish, kelp forests, seabirds and more recover after impacts from oil spills and hazardous waste.

New Kelp Forest Habitat at a Hazardous Waste Site

From the 1940s to 1970s, the Montrose Chemical manufacturing plant discharged hazardous chemicals like DDT and PCB into the waters off Southern California. The chemicals are still found along the Palos Verdes ocean shelf. They impacted fish and fish habitat, bald eagles, falcons and seabirds.

NOAA, other agencies, and partners at The Bay Foundation, are restoring the impacted kelp forest habitat. Kelp is important for fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals. Kelp forest habitat has made a slow but steady recovery in southern California. However, there are still areas where its recovery is limited by the formation of urchin barrens. Urchin barrens are areas of the shallow part of the ocean where the population growth of sea urchins, which devour kelp, has gone unchecked.

To speed recovery of kelp habitat, the Foundation leads a partnership of researchers, commercial fishermen, and conservationists. The group removes the overly abundant purple sea urchins to help kelp grow. Key to this collaboration are the five commercial urchin fishermen. They have committed more than 8,000 hours underwater restoring kelp by harvesting 4.2 million urchins.

These efforts are changing a desolate underwater landscape into a diverse and resilient ecosystem. This successful collaboration has resulted in 55 acres of restored kelp forest habitat so far, and increases in the fish and wildlife depending on it.

Restoring Migratory Seabirds in Baja, Mexico

Southern California’s Montrose chemical plant, and the S.S Jacob Luckenbach oil spill in the Bay Area, both impacted birds. The hazardous chemicals got into the food web and eventually made bird egg shells too thin for young birds to survive. The oil from the spill killed more than 50,000 birds.

In response, the agencies restoring habitat impacted by these two disasters joined forces. They developed a comprehensive seabird restoration program in Baja California in Mexico.

This successful international partnership completed a $4 million multi-year program on the Pacific Islands of Baja California.

This innovative restoration project attracted migrating seabirds from coastal California to these islands, which have healthy space for nesting. The teams used innovative techniques to draw birds to the islands, and limited human disturbance so it’s safe for them to return. Of 27 seabird populations that had disappeared from the islands, 22 have returned within the past decade. Four new species are nesting in the region, including Blue-footed Boobies and Caspian Terns.

Partners on this project include: