Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 259–278 | Cite as

A Regional Survey of the Extent and Magnitude of Eutrophication in Mediterranean Estuaries of Southern California, USA

  • K. McLaughlinEmail author
  • M. Sutula
  • L. Busse
  • S. Anderson
  • J. Crooks
  • R. Dagit
  • D. Gibson
  • K. Johnston
  • L. Stratton


The magnitude and extent of eutrophication was assessed at 27 segments in 23 estuaries in the Southern California Bight (SCB) between October 2008 and 2009. We applied thresholds from the existing assessment frameworks from both the European Union and the U.S. National Eutrophication Assessment to measurements of three indicators [macroalgae biomass and cover, phytoplankton biomass, and dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration] to categorize eutrophic condition in each estuary. Based on these frameworks, a large fraction of segments had moderate or worse eutrophic condition—78 % based on macroalgae, 39 % for phytoplankton, and 63 % for DO. Macroalgal biomass exceeding 70 g dw m−2 and 25 % cover was found at 52 % of sites during any sampling event and in 33 % of segments for 8 weeks or longer, a duration found to negatively impact benthic infauna. Duration of hypoxic events (DO < 4 mg L−1) was typically short, with most events less than one day; although 53 % of segments had at least one event longer than 24 h. Assessment frameworks of eutrophic condition are likely to evolve over time as the body of literature on eutrophication grows, including aspects such as the applicability of indicators in specific habitat types, indicator thresholds, and how event frequency and duration are incorporated. This paper informs this debate by discussing how eutrophic conditions in SCB estuaries are categorized using different indicators and thresholds. To this end, categorization of estuarine eutrophic condition was found to be very sensitive to the type of threshold, how data are integrated to represent duration or spatial extent, and how indicators are used as multiple lines of evidence.


Eutrophication Estuary Assessment Eutrophic indicator Mediterranean 



Data for this study were collected as a part of the Southern California Bight 2008 Regional Monitoring Program (Bight '08). The authors wish to thank the members of the Bight'08 Estuarine Eutrophication Workgroup for their guidance on objectives, design, sample analysis, data analysis, and report review. This study would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and exceptional skill of the field sampling team from the following organizations: Tijuana River Estuarine Research Reserve, San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, City of Los Angeles, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, California State University Channel Islands, University of California, Santa Barbara Reserve, and Ventura County. Funding for indicator assessment in San Diego County was provided through the Cleanup and Abatement Account (CAA) from the State Water Resources Control Board, Project# C/A 268. In addition, the Counties of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura provided sampling support for wet weather sampling to estimate nutrient loads. The authors also wish to express their gratitude to Becky Schaffner (SCCWRP) for assistance with map preparation and Karlene Miller (SCCWRP) for editing this document. This document was greatly improved by comments from two anonymous reviewers and Dr. Suzanne Bricker.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. McLaughlin
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. Sutula
    • 1
  • L. Busse
    • 2
  • S. Anderson
    • 3
  • J. Crooks
    • 4
  • R. Dagit
    • 5
  • D. Gibson
    • 6
  • K. Johnston
    • 7
  • L. Stratton
    • 8
  1. 1.Southern California Coastal Water Research ProjectCosta MesaUSA
  2. 2.San Diego Regional Water Quality Control BoardSan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.California State University, Channel IslandsCamarilloUSA
  4. 4.Tijuana River National Estuarine Research ReserveImperial BeachUSA
  5. 5.Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica MountainsAgoura HillsUSA
  6. 6.San Elijo Lagoon ConservancyEncinitasUSA
  7. 7.Santa Monica Bay Restoration CommissionLos AngelesUSA
  8. 8.Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological RestorationSanta BarbaraUSA

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