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Ocean Ecosystems

The Oregon coast is one of the wildest and most unique places in our state.

Tidepool - tammi miller
Tidepool - tammi miller

The Oregon coast is one of the wildest and most unique places in the state, and offers exceptional opportunities for viewing seabirds, marine mammals and other wildlife. It is also home to vast underwater kelp forests and rocky reefs that offer important habitat for the hundreds of fish species that live in Oregon's nearshore waters. Learn more.

The Audubon Society of Portland has a long legacy of protecting Oregon’s ocean and coastal ecosystems, from our work promoting the establishment of Three Arch Rocks to the designation of Oregon’s five marine reserves and protected areas. Our current ocean conservation program includes a variety of interlocking priorities. Below, you will find information about efforts to implement Oregon’s marine reserves and restore ocean habitat; in other sections of the website, you can learn about our related work to protect seabird populations, Marbled Murrelets and coastal habitat.

The Challenge

The Oregon coast and this important underwater habitat are threatened by climate change, oil spills, development pressure and overfishing. As with Oregon’s land-based habitat, we need to manage marine habitat in a manner that sustains and restores this great legacy.

Marine Reserves and Protected Areas

In February 2012, the Oregon Legislature approved a bill that added 38 square miles of marine reserves in Oregon's biologically rich territorial sea. Oregon is now home to five marine reserves: Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua and Redfish Rocks. View a map.

Marine reserves are areas in the ocean that fully protect fish, wildlife and their habitats from destruction within their borders. Marine protected areas are places in the ocean that have varying protection levels in keeping with a specific conservation purpose – for example, the Seabird Protection Area off the Oregon coast only prohibits the harvest of certain fish species that seabirds depend on for food. Benefits of marine reserves and protected areas include:

  • Reserves provide "insurance" by protecting our ocean resources and providing a buffer from human-caused impacts.
  • Marine reserves provide places where fish and other marine life can feed, breed and thrive.
  • Marine reserves provide a living and dynamic laboratory for research and education by providing a benchmark to assess the effects of fishing, oil drilling and other human-induced impacts.

A comprehensive review of more than 120 marine reserves has revealed that after reserves are established, they consistently produce relatively large, rapid and long-lasting increases in population size, number of species and reproductive output of marine animals and plants. The review found that the average biomass or weight of all animals and plants studied is more than four times larger in reserves than in unprotected areas.

Our Work

The Audubon Society of Portland played a key role in the 10-year process that led to the establishment of Oregon’s marine reserves and protected areas, and we have maintained a lead role in the implementation of the reserves. Audubon is now a member of the Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership, which works to ensure the successful implementation of Oregon's marine reserves by influencing decision makers, building community awareness and public participation, and supporting agency and academic research, management, and monitoring efforts. The effectiveness of marine reserve protections will be evaluated in 2023. The partnership also includes Surfrider, the Nature Conservancy, Coast Range Association, and Oregon Shores.

We also manage Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary on the coast near Yachats, Ore., advocate for stronger protections for forage fish species, and contribute to the work of the Ocean Policy Advisory Council. The council is charged with assessing sanctuary and marine reserve proposals.

September 1, 2015: The Audubon Society of Portland has played a key role in establishing Oregon's system of marine reserves and protected areas helping to protect key marine species and nearshore habitats along our coast.  This video highlights the beauty and conservation value of the Cape Perpetua marine reserve/protected area - Oregon's largest marine reserve.  The video is narrated by Audubon Society of Portland's Paul Engelmeyer, our coastal IBA Coordinator.

Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve - Oregon's Ocean Legacy from HYPERION on Vimeo.

Get Involved

There are ongoing opportunities to engage in the development of management plans for the marine reserves, marine protected areas and seabird protection area located adjacent to Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua and Redfish Rocks. For more information, contact:
Paul Engelmeyer, Audubon Society of Portland | pengelmeyer@peak.org | 541-547-4227
Joe Liebezeit, Audubon Society of Portland | jliebezeit@audubonportland.org | 971-222-6121

You can also learn more about ways to help by viewing the following training video, a resource provided by the Audubon Society of Portland to members of the public who want to learn about and help implement Oregon’s marine reserves and marine protected areas. It features a 2014 presentation by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police, and emphasizes marine habitat near Yachats, Ore.

Dolphins - Don Baccus
Dolphins - Don Baccus
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