Environmental Management

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 599–612 | Cite as

The Impacts of Human Visitation on Mussel Bed Communities Along the California Coast: Are Regulatory Marine Reserves Effective in Protecting These Communities?

  • Jayson R. Smith
  • Peggy Fong
  • Richard F. Ambrose


Rocky intertidal habitats frequently are used by humans for recreational, educational, and subsistence-harvesting purposes, with intertidal populations damaged by visitation activities such as extraction, trampling, and handling. California Marine Managed Areas, particularly regulatory marine reserves (MRs), were established to provide legal protection and enhancement of coastal resources and include prohibitions on harvesting intertidal populations. However, the effectiveness of MRs is unclear as enforcement of no-take laws is weak and no regulations protect intertidal species from other detrimental visitor impacts such as trampling. The goal of this study was two-fold: (1) to determine impacts from human visitation on California mussel populations (Mytilus californianus) and mussel bed community diversity; and (2) to investigate the effectiveness of regulatory MRs in reducing visitor impacts on these populations. Surveys of mussel populations and bed-associated diversity were compared: (1) at sites subjected to either high or low levels of human use, and (2) at sites either unprotected or with regulatory protection banning collecting. At sites subjected to higher levels of human visitation, mussel populations were significantly lower than low-use sites. Comparisons of mussel populations inside and outside of regulatory MRs revealed no consistent pattern suggesting that California no-take regulatory reserves may have limited effectiveness in protecting mussel communities. In areas where many people visit intertidal habitats for purposes other than collecting, many organisms will be affected by trampling, turning of rocks, and handling. In these cases, effective protection of rocky intertidal communities requires an approach that goes beyond the singular focus on collecting to reduce the full suite of impacts.


Marine reserves Anthropogenic disturbance Rocky intertidal Mytilus californianus Mussel bed community Trampling Collecting 



This project was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Minerals Management Service through the Coastal Marine Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We would like to thank the following people for their help in accessing sites and/or permitting sampling in this study: D. Richards, D. Lerma, and the Channel Islands National Park Services for Anacapa Island; P. Raimondi (University of California, Santa Cruz), M. Miner (University of California, Santa Cruz), and the Bixby Ranch for Government Point; M. Wells and Carlsbad State Beach; R. Fairfield, M. Nitzberg, and Natural Bridges State Beach; M. E. Dunaway (Minerals Management Service) for Bolinas and Kibesillah Hill; C. Sandoval and the Coal Oil Point UC Natural Reserve; and F. Sommer and the Hopkins Marine Station. We also thank three anonymous reviewers for constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jayson R. Smith
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peggy Fong
    • 1
  • Richard F. Ambrose
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biological ScienceCalifornia State University, FullertonFullertonUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Science and Engineering Program, Department of Environmental Health SciencesUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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