ON EARTH DAY 2021, MARINE LIFE THRIVING AT THE PORT OF LOS ANGELES
New Study Shows Greatest Biodiversity to date in San Pedro Bay
SAN PEDRO, Calif. – April 22, 2021 – From the skies above to the sea below, marine flora and fauna are flourishing at the Port of Los Angeles. A new ecological study, released on Earth Day, shows more than 1,000 different species of fish, birds, invertebrates, algae and marine mammals are thriving in San Pedro Bay — the same waters that serve as the nation’s busiest container port complex.
“We’re seeing many more species than we have in the past,” said Los Angeles Harbor Commission President Jaime Lee. “This study confirms we can maintain a healthy harbor that supports robust aquatic life and grow international trade that supports people and jobs nationwide at the same time.
“Our charge is to manage the Port and its resources in the best interests of the people of California,” Lee added. “This includes protecting the ecology of our harbor.”
The “2018 Biological Surveys of the Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbors” is the fourth comprehensive biological survey jointly conducted by the Port of Los Angeles and neighboring Port of Long Beach, also located in San Pedro Bay, since 2000. The study is a detailed snapshot of marine life in the harbors, and the findings are compared with previous studies and regional trends in Southern California waters to assess the health of the Bay.
Highlights of the biological surveys include:
• Eleven special-status bird species that nest or roost in the port complex were observed. Three – the brown pelican, the elegant tern, and the double-crested cormorant – are among the 10 most abundant of 87 species of birds in San Pedro Bay.
• The surveys documented 104 species of fish, both bottom-dwellers and those living in the water column extending above the seafloor to the water’s surface. Northern anchovy, white croaker and topsmelt are among the most prevalent.
• A rich diversity of invertebrates vital to San Pedro Bay’s web of life inhabit the harbor. Animals living on the sea floor – crustaceans such as target shrimp, mollusks such as snails, and echinoderms such as urchins – and those that burrow into the seafloor, such as marine worms, are among the most abundant of the harbor’s 859 invertebrate species.
• Eelgrass beds cover 86 acres, primarily in shallow areas of the outer harbor but increasingly in inner harbor areas as well. Eelgrass provides nursery habitat to small fish and invertebrates, and good foraging habitat for birds. More than 95% of the eelgrass is found on the Los Angeles side of the bay at Cabrillo Beach and the Pier 300 Basin. Until the early 2000s, these were the only two eelgrass sites, but the marine plant is now growing in a dozen locations.
• Kelp forests have grown to 118 acres. Found along breakwaters, jetties and other hard surfaces in the outer harbor, kelp forests form a canopy that provides a habitat that nourishes fish and invertebrates and protects them from predators.
• Marine mammals are common, especially sea lions and harbor seals. Dolphins and seasonal visitors such as gray whales continue to frequent the outer harbor.
Biological surveys involve extensive field work and lab analysis of the conditions and sea life in San Pedro Bay’s diverse habitats: open sea, shallow zones, soft-bottom beds, and hard surfaces such as breakwaters, pilings, riprap, wharves and piers across nearly 9,000 acres of water that encompass the twin port complex. For the first time, divers used expanded methods to explore undersea life on riprap and added pilings as part of the 2018 surveys. The new approach revealed about 150 new species, including nine fish species not documented in previous surveys, including the garibaldi, horn shark and moray eel. Three species of abalone were also detected: pink, green and the endangered white abalone.
“The more you look, the more you find. That’s why we continue to improve our sampling methods,” said Port Director of Environmental Management Christopher Cannon. “Our harbor is more vibrant today than ever.”
Overall, the surveys confirm commercial port operations and critical habitat in San Pedro Bay can coexist and flourish. Water clarity continues to improve, and special-status species are abundant. The classification refers to rare, threatened or endangered species that, under federal or state laws, require special consideration or protection.
The ports also track non-native species. Although the latest surveys counted 46 non-native species, 27 more than in the 2013 survey, relative to all species detected, non-native species remain consistent with the historical norm of about 5% of all species in San Pedro Bay. Additionally, the high diversity and abundance of fish, invertebrates and algae show non-native species are not disrupting the bay’s ecosystem.
The surveys also shed light on the impacts of climate change. A two-year marine heatwave during which the average water temperature was higher than it has been over the last two decades preceded the 2018 study. Consistent with regional trends, the phenomenon may have contributed to a 10-12% decrease in the total number of bird species and a 33% decrease in their abundance in the 2018 surveys. Likewise, it may be responsible for a 50% decline in larval fish density since the 2013 survey.
“While the Port, our tenants and our partners are doing what we can to protect water quality and the environment, San Pedro Bay biology is not immune from the global effects of climate change,” Cannon said. “This is all the more reason for us to aggressively pursue zero-emissions solutions.”
The earliest biological studies of San Pedro Bay date back to the 1950s. They documented degraded habitats with some areas nearly devoid of marine life due to pollution from the urbanized greater Los Angeles region. Conditions have steadily improved since the late 1970s due to federal and state mandates, as well as the ports’ own robust environmental initiatives. The Port of Los Angeles and its tenants have worked closely together on various clean water programs, such as reducing stormwater pollution.
North America’s leading seaport by container volume and cargo value, the Port of Los Angeles facilitated $259 billion in trade during 2020. San Pedro Bay port complex operations and commerce facilitate one in nine jobs across the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura. The Port of Los Angeles has remained open with all terminals operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.