A Window on the Big Sur Coast:
Questions and Opportunities for Research and Education

Marine and Coastal Studies: The Big Creek State Marine Reserve has been co-administered with the California Department of Fish and Game since 1993. It is an important research site for studying the value of no-take marine reserves in fisheries management. We hope to enlarge the reserve to include deep-water habitats and a longer stretch of coastline. The reserve hosts the Big Sur Coast portion of the PISCO project, based at UCSC. (photo: UCSC diving safety class off Big Creek; 2002)

A Good Question: How does the creek and the unstable coastal slope affect the marine habitats?


Arts and Humanities: Big Creek has a long history of arts and humanities projects. Its physical beauty and wildness have inspired artistic surveys in photography (photo from "An Artist's Research," by Norman Locks, UCSC), as well as painting, drawing, music, creative writing and science journalism.

Good question: How can the wildness of Big Creek be presented artistically?


Archaeology and Social Sciences: In Prehistoric Human Ecology of the Big Sur Coast Archaeology professor Terry Jones, provides a comprehensive look at the prehistoric cultures of the Big Sur Coast and adjacent inland valleys. This book soon to be published by UC Press.

Sociologists and Anthropologists have focused on Big Sur lifeways and economics, including studies of oral history, conservation politics, and traditional/commercial fishing.

Good Question: How did past cultures adapt to the complex, rugged environment?

Good Question: How can community-based knowledge be incorporated into current governance and policy?


Field Biology and Ecology: The reserve is an ideal place to study field biology, ecology, evolution, genetics along gradients, etc. Collections include a herbarium, along with limited sets of vertebrate and insect specimens. Species lists include vascular plants, vertebrates, insect taxa, intertidal invertebrates, and many others. The uniquely comprehensive Lepidoptera survey is a valuable tool for investigating biological diversity.

Good question: How do plants and animals adapt to the steep environmental gradients?


NOTE: GIS maps include vegetation layers, ocean bottom contours and bottom type, archaeology, geology, solar radiation, etc. Detailed 3-D GIS is available. There are five permanent weather monitoring stations; additional climate monitoring is underway at other sites. The tectonics and uplift of the range are currently the subject of investigation.

Geology, Vegetation and Coastal Gradients: The topography here is dominated by a very steep coastal gradient (shown above without vertical exaggeration). The steep mountains form a wall behind the reserve which effectively traps cooler marine air. This sets up a steep elevation gradient in air temperature regimes, humidity and other climate factors. The reserve is also near the southern end of the moist Oregonian biotic province, and many species reach their southern and/or northern limits in the region.

Good question: Can we model vegetation and distribution as a function of physical factors?

Good question: How fast has the range uplifted, and how do the erosive processes work?


Sudden Oak Death Syndrome: Big Creek is about 10 miles from the zone of infestation caused by the pathogenic fungus Phytophthora ramorum, Sudden Oak Death syndrome. Wildlife Conservation International and UC are studying SOD and its possible consequences. In addition to killing large dominant trees (right) the effects on wildlife are likely to be profound through the food web.

Good question: How will SOD impact Mountain Lions, Spotted Owls, other species and the ecosystem.


K-12 Education and Outreach: Our outreach and K-12 education program is many-faceted. Education coordinator Kim Smiley is describing her teaching programs to reporters. The reserve has many links to the community, schools, neighboring agencies, and to local government.

Good questions: How do these links benefit the local community? How can we better prepare our children to be good stewards of their world?


Freshwater Stream Studies: Big Creek and its tributaries are the centerpiece of the reserve, and the watershed is fully protected. Studies of flow (above), water quality, stream insects, geomorphology, and anadromous steelhead trout (below) are in progress. (right: Canogas fork of DevilŐs Creek)

Good Question: How can we maintain stream community health elsewhere?


Coast Highway Management Issues: CA State Highway 1 crosses the reserve along its coastal slope and creates numerous management concerns, including landslide repair and restoration, marine reserve impacts, roadkill, noise and other problems. A Coast Highway Management Plan is preparation which will address many of these issues.

A Good Question: Are there ways to ameliorate highway impacts?


Fire Ecology: Lightning-caused wildfires have burned through the reserve several times, most notably in 1985 and 1999. Fire management planning is underway in the neighboring Los Padres National Forest.

Good questions: How should fire best be managed within the reserve and on surrounding lands? What are the effects of fire suppression activities?

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