Dick Vander Schaaf
The Conservancy's Oregon Coast and marine director
by Melissa Roy-Hart
With the recent launch of Google Earth: Ocean — a cutting edge seafloor mapping tool — you’d think humans already know what’s going on under the salt water that blankets 70 percent of our planet.
But that’s not the case — and offshore Oregon is no exception. Dick Vander Schaaf is working to change that.
“Very little is known about Oregon’s coastal and marine habitats, so a key first step to protecting them is understanding what’s there in the first place,” said Vander Schaaf, marine and coast conservation director for the Conservancy in Oregon.
“Historically, preservation efforts have focused on the tropics, leaving temperate and polar marine areas, such as the North Pacific, the least protected of all coastal regions. But they’re also some of the world’s most productive and diverse.”
That’s why The Nature Conservancy is studying near-shore habitats off Oregon’s southern coast.
The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT) — a local, nonprofit fishermen’s group dedicated to “fishing smarter, not harder” — has proposed a state marine reserve at Redfish Rocks, a 2.6-square-mile reef complex south of town. Their proposal is one of two recommended by the Governor in response to a public process for establishing a marine reserves network in Oregon. Marine reserves are areas of the sea off-limits to extractive activities.
The Nature Conservancy joined POORT and other partners to study undersea life at Redfish Rocks, starting with seaweeds and the animals that rely on them. Seaweeds are a primary food source and provide habitat for numerous fish, birds and mammals.
Last summer, scientists in scuba gear (with cameras in waterproof casings) jumped in at Redfish Rocks, shooting video and collecting samples of seaweeds.
They found more than 60 species, 12 of which had never been recorded in Oregon, and one that’s possibly new to science.
“The path toward healthy oceans requires using sound science and innovative approaches,” said Vander Schaaf. “With partners like POORT, we’re working to determine the most important places to protect in Oregon. I think we’ve got a great start at Redfish Rocks."
Melissa Roy-Hart is a writer and videographer for The Nature Conservancy.