Like the MPA and reference sites at Point Lobos, the habitat in Big Creek SMR is also characterized by high cover of giant kelp (Macrocystis) and moderately high-relief bedrock. Much of the current Big Creek SMR has been protected from fishing since 1993 (more than a decade before the central coast MPA network was established) as part of a previously existing MPA, and it is likely some differences between the MPA and reference sites have developed since then. Some of the highest densities of red abalone seen in the CCSR were recorded in Big Creek SMR. The California sheephead, a species more commonly found in southern California, was relatively abundant here, as were gopher rockfish.
Reference sites for Big Creek SMR share the same general habitat characteristics seen in the MPA: cover of high giant kelp and extensive areas of contiguous bedrock. The rocky reef is covered with dense growths of foliose red algae and high densities of the sub-canopy kelp Laminaria. Rockfish species were seen in high densities here, particularly vermilion rockfish, which are relatively rare at other study sites in the CCSR. Bat stars, which are ubiquitous scavengers on kelp forest detritus, were at their highest densities at these sites.