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Project Objectives

In 1997, we began a beach survey program using trained volunteers to survey beached marine birds and mammals monthly at selected sections of beaches throughout the Monterey Bay area. The program is a collaborative project between Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML), the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), and other state and federal agencies including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and US Geological Survey (USGS). The specific goal of the program is to use deposition of beach cast carcasses as an index of the health of the sanctuary. As of May 2023, we have more than 90 volunteers that survey beaches from Santa Cruz to San Diego. This program has been greatly successful, providing data for a number of scientific papers, contributing to the conservation of sanctuary resources, identifying and quantifying oiled wildlife, and a great many more accomplishments. For more information, use the links at the top of the page.

Baseline Information

Trained volunteers identify and quantify all dead birds and mammals on sandy beaches along the central and southern California coastline, between the San Mateo/Santa Cruz County line and San Diego. Beach surveys are conducted monthly at most locations and 2 times per month at selected beaches. These data provide a baseline for deposition rates along the California coast during all seasons.

Causes of Mortality

Volunteers note the cause of death (e.g. presence of oil or entanglement in fishing line) for each organism found. When possible, fresh specimens are collected for post-mortem examination by a veterinary pathologist from CDFW. Specimen collection is not currently conducted for volunteer safety due to the circulation of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

Abundance of Tar

The abundance of tar balls on beaches is determined and used as an indicator of amount of chronic or low-level oil deposition. In the case of large deposition of oil, volunteers are trained in the proper procedure for sample collection and storage. These samples will be used to determine the source of the oil (e.g. natural seeps or vessel traffic).

Early Detection

BeachCOMBERS consist of scientists, resource managers, and citizens that have formed a well-connected group. This allows the quick accumulation of information about the resources of California into a centralized location, and the rapid dissemination of information to the management and enforcement agencies (e.g., MBNMS, CDFW, NMFS).


BeachCOMBERS Headquarters

Vertebrate Ecology Lab
Moss Landing Marine Labs
8272 Moss Landing Rd.
Moss Landing, CA 95039
(831) 771-4422