Principal Scientists:

  Dean Wendt, PhD
  John Steinbeck, MS
For more information contact:

  Melissa Locke, JD

Fragile Habitats


The Central California coastline is one of the most pristine marine areas in California — and also one of the most accessible. During low tide, residents and visitors can visit tidal pools along the shore, which offer a rare glimpse of life under water, including sea stars, octopuses, mussels and fish - a sight not as common in other heavily-populated coastal communities. Intertidal ecosystems also provide critical habitat for plants, birds and marine mammals.

As development and tourism increase in the area, the communities along the Central Coast must achieve a delicate balance between using and protecting this unique and valuable resource. To achieve this balance, scientists and managers in the California State Parks system must collaborate to develop solutions that keep our coastline pristine and accessible at the same time for generations to come.

In addition to the support for this initiative provided by the the California State Parks, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. allowed access to their property at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant for conducting the field experiment component of the study. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. continues to support the monitoring of the recovery of the study plots.

SLOSEA's Approach:

The San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance (SLOSEA) is working toward the dual objectives of accessibility and sustainability within intertidal environments by:

  • Conducting cutting-edge ecological research on the impact of visitors to the coastal habitats and the health of the ecosystem.
  • Partnering with state parks to use our research in developing best management practices for Central Coast state park areas that will balance the protection of the natural habitats with the parks' use by visitors.
  • Connecting more people with the natural treasures of the intertidal ecosystems so that there is greater support for these unique areas.

Access-indicator algal abundance along a gradient of visitor density at Montaña de Oro State Park. Hazards is the most densely visited of the sites (1.2 people m-2 yr-1). Mid and Far sites receive < 0.005 people m-2 yr-1. Red asterisk indicates significance (p < 0.05). Abundance is the percent cover m-2. Error bars represent one standard error of the mean.

Total upright algal abundance (% cover) in experimental visitor plots, relative to control plots, before and after visitor applications. Abundance was sampled for 13 months before visitors were applied, and during the eight month visitor application period. Error bars are one standard error of the mean. The dashed horizontal line at zero indicates control plot abundance.

The lessons learned and tools that SLOSEA has developed will be available to other coastal communities and resource managers in California and elsewhere.