The results of an unprecedented decade-long tracking study of marine life, the Census of Marine Life Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) project, suggests that the California Current is a major hotspot for large marine predators. The California Current, which flows south along the west coast of the United States, is an area of significant coastal upwelling where cold nutrient-rich waters rise to the surface and cause phytoplankton blooms. The bloom and the forage fish it attracts provides a rich biomass base to higher trophic marine organisms.
The fact that the primary productivity generated by the California Current is linked to the migratory routes of whales, sharks, seals, seabirds, turtles and tunas indicates that a new model of marine preserve – a “sealife corridor” – may have utility. Similar in concept to wildlife corridors, which have been internationally successful in connecting populations between wildlife preserves and/or national parks, “sealife corridors” would likely be more difficult to establish and manage – politically speaking. However, given the results of the TOPP study they could be worth the effort in terms of creating management areas that are meaningful on a population scale.
An even more complex challenge is how to establish a sealife corridor in an era of climate change, when disruptions in nutrient-supplying ocean currents are likely and complete shutdowns are possible. How do you manage and protect an area that is fluid in both space and time?