New Protections Under Consideration for Oregon’s Iconic Rocky Coast

by Joe Liebezeit, Staff Scientist & Avian Conservation Manager

Oregon’s iconic rocky habitats are both biologically and culturally important, making up 41% of the state’s 362-mile coastline. From famous Haystack Rock on the north coast to the numerous majestic sea stacks off Oregon’s beautiful south coast, rocky habitats support a wealth of marine life such as colonial nesting seabirds, kelp beds, and thousands of fish and invertebrate species. These breathtaking rocky features and headlands attract millions of visitors and recreationists each year.

Rocky Habitats Wildlife Tidepools
Rocky Habitats Wildlife Tidepools, photo by Thomas Shahan.

Oregon is currently updating its Rocky Habitat Management Plan, providing the opportunity to increase protections of these vital habitats. It’s been over 25 years since the original plan was developed, and a lot has changed. Growing impacts related to a changing climate—including marine heat waves, ocean acidification, low oxygen dead zones as well as growing human visitation—have placed increasing stress on these sensitive places. The Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) and an advisory working group is updating the plan with the intention of balancing site protections with human use.

The process is coming to a critical point now as 12 public-nominated site proposals were submitted to DLCD at the end of 2020 and are currently under evaluation. Proposals fit into one of three designation types: Marine Research Area (MRA), Marine Education Area (MEA), also called Marine Garden, and Marine Conservation Area (MCA). MCAs afford the strongest level of protection, starting with “no take” of marine life, though regulations can be tailored to the specific site.

Tufted Puffins
Tufted Puffins, photo by Isaac Sanchez.

Bird Alliance of Oregon has been at the forefront of this process, organizing advocacy efforts for stronger conservation policies and management practices. Important successes have included pushing to strengthen policies to protect submerged aquatic vegetation, ensuring a “no take” MCA option, and supporting tribal harvest rights not be impacted by any proposed designation. More recently we provided science, policy, and outreach support to coastal groups that crafted eight designation proposals. We commend their monumental effort. These groups include the North Coast Rocky Habitat Coalition, Bird Alliance of Oregon Society of Lincoln City, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, Shoreline Education for Awareness, and Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO).

Stay tuned for Bird Alliance of Oregon action alerts so you can provide public comment in support of the site proposals as they go through a multi-step evaluation process over the next few months. Ultimately new rocky habitat site protections will help safeguard ecosystem health so that locals and visitors alike can enjoy these amazing places for decades to come. You can help!

Photo courtesty of Oregon Marine Reserves.

Below is a summary of the eight proposals that coastal groups submitted with Bird Alliance of Oregon support (from north to south)

Ecola Point MCA (nominated by North Coast Rocky Habitat Coalition):

One of the most pristine sites left on the north coast, with dramatic rock formations, a rebounding population of ochre sea stars, and a secluded pinniped haul-out. “New proposed regulations limiting take of some marine life combined with non-regulatory measures will balance ecological protection and human use,” says Margaret Treadwell of the North Coast Rocky Habitat Coalition.

Chapman Point MCA (nominated by North Coast Rocky Habitat Coalition):

Located just south of Ecola Point, this complex of magnificent rock formations supports seabird colonies of high importance. It is located within one of the most visited stretches of rocky habitat on the coast, putting it at high risk of habitat degradation and high rates of nest failure for Black Oystercatchers. A key component of this proposal is to support increased public outreach to educate the public on best practices to minimize impacts.

Cape Lookout MCA (nominated by Bird Alliance of Oregon Society of Lincoln City):

Jutting nearly two miles into the ocean, this “crown jewel” of the Oregon Coast is known for its dramatic basalt cliffs, old-growth Sitka spruce forest, and the second largest colony of Common Murres in the state. Protection of ecological resources and education are key components of the site proposal.

Cape Foulweather MCA (nominated by Bird Alliance of Oregon Society of Lincoln City):

Dramatically rising 500 feet above the ocean, Cape Foulweather supports the largest Pelagic Cormorant colony in Oregon, features extensive bull kelp beds, and serves as a comparison area to the nearby Otter Rock Marine Reserve. “A key goal at this site is to improve the ecological integrity of bull kelp forests, which have dramatically declined across the west coast,” says Dawn Villaescusa, President of Bird Alliance of Oregon Society of Lincoln City.

Coquille Point MEA (nominated by Shoreline Education for Awareness):

Unique in its high density of prominent sea stacks, tide pools, seabird colonies, and a harbor seal pupping area situated almost within the city limits of Bandon. Formal designation as an MEA will facilitate efforts to better protect the habitat while educating the thousands of visitors that flock to this area every summer.

Blacklock Point MCA (nominated by South Coast Rock Shores Group):

Characteristics include unique landforms, diverse rocky habitats, threatened offshore kelp forests, and the long history of use by Tribes. Dr. Larry Basch, lead author, says “this proposal emphasizes no changes to existing uses and building a community-based volunteer stewardship program to educate visitors on ways to minimize impacts.” Larry adds, “This proposal is based on extensive south coast community input from outreach led by Jesse Jones, the Oregon Shores/CoastWatch Volunteer Coordinator.”

Processed with VSCO with l1 preset
Photo courtesy of Girl in the Water Photography.
Cape Blanco MRA (nominated by Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans – PISCO):

A remote headland forming the westernmost point in Oregon. Upwelling of nutrient-rich water at this site supports an intertidal hotspot of diverse algae and invertebrates. “A goal of this proposal is to keep the site as pristine as possible to support continued long-term research to help inform ocean conservation on climate change impacts and other stressors,” says Brittany Poirson of PISCO.

Crook Point-Mack Reef MCA (nominated by South Coast Rock Shores Group):

Includes an archipelago of offshore rocks supporting harbor seal haul-outs, a large kelp forest, and the second largest colony of seabirds in Oregon, with over 200,000 birds of 11 species. As at Blacklock Point, this proposal focuses on non-regulatory management measures to support agency and community efforts to minimize impacts to the site.

Next Steps?

See the rocky habitat proposals here:

Learn More