Otter Rock: a marine reserve and scientific playground

Just off of Oregon's central coast is an ocean scientist's playground - a bill in the state legislature could better protect it and the amazing research that comes out of it.


Devil's Punchbowl, one of the terrestrial borders of Otter Rock Marine Reserve.

Less than 50 feet beneath the ocean waves crashing on Beverly Beach State Park lies an idyllic underwater world. Imagine large kelp forests concealing hungry seals on the hunt, sand dollars resting on the sandy bottom, and rocky shelves providing refuge for sea anemones, urchins, and rockfish. Well, this ecosystem exists – welcome to Oregon’s Otter Rock Marine Reserve!

Oregon’s Marine Reserve Program was established in 2008 based on Executive Order 08-07 from Gov. Kulongoski. It required Oregon to designate a handful of marine reserves within coastal waters. The program’s intent is to “conserve marine habitats and biodiversity, provide a framework for scientific research and effectiveness monitoring, and avoid significant adverse social and economic impacts on ocean users and coastal communities.” So, in 2009, Oregon legislators created one of the first marine reserves at Otter Rock. 

Otter Rock is the smallest of Oregon’s five marine reserves at just over 1.2 square miles and the area from Cape Foulweather to Otter Rock hosts one of the largest kelp forests in Oregon’s nearshore. It also contains impressive rock formations that conceal copper and quillback rockfish, as well as sandy intertidal habitats full of mussels, clams, and Dungeness crab. Overall, this reserve contains a wide array of ecosystems for such a small area, which is why the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) – the managers of the program – use it as a training ground for scientists and new nearshore monitoring methods. 

This reserve allows ocean scientists the perfect opportunity to develop their skills, try out new sampling and monitoring techniques, and even train new divers! All of this research and development happens in an area just over one square mile in size, and it’s all thanks to this amazing program. 

Last year, scientists from Oregon State University (OSU) conducted a 10 year review of the program, and overall, found that it’s serving the intended purpose, but it needs more time and more funding to maximize its effectiveness. This year, a bipartisan group of Oregon legislators introduced House Bill 2903 , which would allocate an additional $800,000 biannually, as well as establish an adaptive management plan for the reserves. Legislators drafted this bill based largely on recommendations from OSU and a close group of Oregon ocean policy experts. All in all, this bill would be a big step toward optimizing the Marine Reserve Program and better supporting the amazing ocean ecosystems it serves, and it should be passed.

By passing House Bill 2903, the Oregon legislature will help ensure that Otter Rock Marine Reserve gets the funding that it needs to allow scientists to further monitor the ever-changing ocean conditions, continue to improve their research capabilities and methods, as well as better engage and educate the general public and local communities of Oregon about the amazing kelp forests, intertidal areas, and sandy bottoms of Otter Rock. 



Ian Giancarlo

Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Advocate, Environment America

Ian works to protect our oceans and marine ecosystems. Ian lives in Denver, where he enjoys triathlons, hiking, and local breweries in his free time.

Celeste Meiffren-Swango

State Director, Environment Oregon

As director of Environment Oregon, Celeste develops and runs campaigns to win real results for Oregon's environment. She has worked on issues ranging from preventing plastic pollution, stopping global warming, defending clean water, and protecting our beautiful places. Celeste's organizing has helped to reduce kids' exposure to lead in drinking water at childcare facilities in Oregon, encourage transportation electrification, ban single-use plastic grocery bags, defend our bedrock environmental laws and more. She is also the author of the children's book, Myrtle the Turtle, empowering kids to prevent plastic pollution. Celeste lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and two daughters, where they frequently enjoy the bounty of Oregon's natural beauty.

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