Rocky Shore Monitoring

 PISCO has taken the lead role in a large scale intertidal monitoring program known as the Coastal Biodiversity Survey. The Survey was designed to measure diversity and abundance of rocky intertidal algal and invertebrate communities along the western coast of temperate North America.

This study is unprecedented in size and scale. We have surveyed intertidal communities at sites ranging from Glacier Bay, Alaska to Punta Abreojos, Baja California Sur. We plan to resurvey sites every three to five years as part of our long-term monitoring. Information from this massive survey will enable scientists to detect ecological shifts within and among sites along much of the west coast of North America.

Photo Credit: Peter Taylor

Coastal Biodiversity Survey Goals


The goals of the Coastal Biodiversity Surveys are to:

  1. Determine the diversity and site-wide abundance of intertidal algae and invertebrate species.
  2.  Create a topographic map for use in assessing the spatial distribution of species within each site.
  3. Reveal long-term influences such as climate change and coastal development on intertidal communities and individual species.
  4. Examine patterns of biogeography with a particular emphasis on locations where there may be large changes in species composition and diversity.
Photo Credit: Jane Lubchenco

Gooseneck Barnacles
Photo Credit: Jane Lubchenco

Motivation for the surveys has come from a basic need to characterize species distributions to understand biophysical linkages, biogeography and patterns of diversity, abundance and community structure and enable an accurate interpretation of future changes in these communities. Change within ecological systems is likely to be the basis of some of the most important and urgent societal questions over the next fifty years.  Marine systems were once considered to be buffered from change, particularly human induced change, by their apparent vastness and because of the exchange of individuals among spatially separated areas. It is now clear that marine systems are among the most sensitive systems. The interface between the land and sea is particularly vulnerable. These coastal regions are where the majority of humans live and where the majority of human induced impacts occur. Paradoxically, increased interest in marine systems has led to an increase in regulated protection but also much greater use of such systems.

Community Structure Surveys

The PISCO Community Structure surveys were modeled after an existing monitoring program funded by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) in 1992. This same community structure protocol has since been adopted by MARINe (Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network), which is a partnership of local, State, and Federal agencies, universities and private organizations. Currently, MARINe conducts these surveys at sites ranging from Washington down to the California-Mexico border. For more information, please visit

Data is collected on the following:

  • Barnacle recruitment
  • Sea surface temperature
  • Photo quadrats (Anthopleura, Balanus, Chthamalus, Endocladia, Fucus, Hesperophycus, Mastocarpus, Mazzaella, Mytilus, Pelvetiopsis, Pollicipes, Silvetia)
  • Counts and size frequency (abalone, seastars, and owl limpets)
  • Transects (surfgrass, Postelsia)
  • Motile invertebrate quadrat counts

The Community Structure monitoring approach is based largely on surveys that quantify the percent cover and distribution of algae and invertebrates that constitute these communities. This approach allows us to quantify both the patterns of abundance of targeted species as well as characterize changes in the communities they reside in. Such information provides managers with insight into the causes and consequences of changes in species abundance. Such changes in species and their habitats result from human or non-human factors and as such form the basis of "ecosystem-based management" of rocky intertidal communities.


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