MPA Monitoring via Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)
are used to conduct research in the deepwater along California's coast.



California’s MPAs encompass a range of habitats and depths, with over 65% of MPA water depths exceeding 60 feet. Deep ocean habitats contain a high diversity of species that are important commercially and recreationally. While these areas have been fished for decades, a lot less is known about these habitats and their associated communities compared to their shallower counterparts. Most SCUBA diving research occurs shallower than 100 feet which limits direct human observation to a narrow band of habitats near shore. SCUBA research is also constricted by safety factors including the time allotted underwater and presence of dangerous conditions. The emergence and use of underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technology offers a safe and innovative option for exploring California’s MPAs and the deeper ocean in general.

In development: More Information about ROV operations and ROV technology

CDFW's ROV History

In 1997, CDFW began using a ROV to conduct deep water research in and along California’s coast with the link opens in new tab or windowfirst explorations taking place in the former Punta Gorda Ecological Reserve (now Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Reserve?). ROV research was originally part of the Department’s Fishery Independent Research (FIR) and Cooperative Research and Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) group, offering valuable information used to evaluate and manage the status of ecosystems, and species of interest like abalone and sea urchin.

Focus of ROV research continued to evolve, expanding its reach to the monitoring of marine protected areas. Studies inside the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary began in 2003. In tandem, ROV survey methods continued to be developed and refined. ROV flights were substantiated with detailed sonar maps, a key component because the remarkably detailed maps along with ROVs spatial and tracking abilities allow researchers to return to the same site to monitor changes over time.

CDFW has worked with an extensive list of partners to finance and support the ROV survey efforts. Most recently, CDFW has worked with link opens in new tab or windowMarine Applied Research Exploration (MARE), a non-profit started in 2003 focused on the development of innovative deepwater technology. CDFW and MARE have cooperatively conducted studies in studies since such and such date.

Recent Surveys

CIAP Surveys

ROV surveys were conducted as a part of the California Statewide MPA Monitoring Program. Study sites were chosen within rocky habitat areas identified from seafloor mapping data. These sites typically ranged between 180 and 300 feet depth and were 1,500 feet wide by 3,000-6,000 feet long depending on the slope and depth range of the particular area. Along with collecting baseline characterization information, sites were also selected for their suitability as long-term monitoring index sites which can be revisited over time to measure ecological changes. Data gathered from ROV surveys will be complimentary to the MPA research conducted in other manners (e.g. scuba surveys); helping to paint a broader picture of the current status of California's MPAs. In addition, thousands of images have been captured during the past five research cruises conducted statewide. Each image has been cataloged with details about the habitat, species, prescence, depth, location, and rating. These photos offer an invaluable resource for future studies that analyze the ongoing changes within our coastal waters. 


Please contact with inquires regarding the use of these photos; all of which must be credited with the following "California Department of Fish and Wildlife photo by Marine Applied Research & Exploration"

Marine Region (Region 7)
Regional Manager: Dr. Craig Shuman
Main Office: 20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100, Monterey, CA  93940
Email CDFW's Marine Region  |  (831) 649-2870
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