Redfish Rocks: an ecological haven above and below the waves

Oregon's coastal ecosystems support incredible life both in and out of the water. The marine reserve at Redfish Rocks is an excellent example.

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A small boat sails in front of Redfish Rocks

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Ian Giancarlo
Ian Giancarlo

Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Advocate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Over 20,000 birds, nearly all common murres, resting on craggy rocks and soaring over crashing ocean waves. This, alongside a concert of bird calls, is what you’d experience at Redfish Rocks off the coast of central Oregon. 

Redfish Rocks is one of Oregon’s five marine reserves in the Marine Reserve Program. The program provides an opportunity for scientists at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (OFDW) to conserve marine habitats and biodiversity, as well as to protect, research, and monitor changing ocean ecosystems over time. 

A group of common murres perched on a cliffside.Photo by Ron Knight | CC-BY-2.0

At Redfish Rocks, scientists have the unique ability to interact with an immense number of birds like the common murre – which look like “flying penguins” –  in addition to the incredible wildlife below the waves. Beneath the surface, Redfish Rocks “includes emergent rocks and islands surrounded by high-relief rocky reef and bedrock, intermixed with cobble and boulder fields.” These environments provide the perfect habitat for black, blue, and canary rockfish that love the craggy rock formations of Redfish Rocks. Rockfish are a slow-growing group of groundfish which have the potential to live over 100 years, in some cases. As a result, they are vulnerable to overfishing because it takes a long time for them to become sexually mature.  

Currently, Oregon has a booming fishing industry that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually and employs thousands of fishers. This has placed intense pressure on fish populations in the area, particularly groundfish, which are sought after as a popular American food source. Thankfully, since its designation in 2009, research has shown Redfish Rocks to be a source of refuge for ocean creatures like groundfish, urchins, and sea stars – which will only be more important in the future, as demands continue to rise. 

In 2022, researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) compiled a synthesis report that reviewed the past 10 years of the reserve program and compared it to the original goals. What they found is encouraging – the reserves are working, but they need more money, and more time, to truly be a conservation success story. 

This year, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced House Bill 4132 , which will provide over $1,000,000 biannually to the program as well as require an adaptive management plan be developed for the future. House Bill 4132 was developed with the help of local ocean conservation groups alongside the recommendations provided by OSU. Overall, this bill would take the program to the next level, and provide more funding for better conservation, more research opportunities, and an enhanced ability for scientists to educate and engage the ocean-loving people of Oregon. 

Redfish Rocks is an amazing place. Thousands of common murres fly overhead and thousands of rockfish weave in and out of the craggy rock formations in the ocean below. Passing this bill will give this ecosystem, and the scientists who monitor it, the ability to thrive for the foreseeable future. 

Join us in calling on our legislators to pass House Bill 4132 swiftly.

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Ian Giancarlo

Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Advocate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

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

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