Protecting ASBS: What is an ASBS?

This is the first of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.


Photo credit Isabelle Kay

I was a lucky kid. I grew up spending summers with my family in Fourth of July Cove off Santa Catalina Island, and on weekends my friends and I would soak up sun at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach. Now I live within minutes of La Jolla Shores, where on hot days I can dig my toes in the sand and get lost in a book.

There are reasons why these places are some of the most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike. The views are beautiful, the water is crisp and marine life is diverse. In fact, all three of these areas are part of California’s network of Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). The primary purpose of ASBS is to protect and uphold the quality of water in areas which are ecologically unique and vulnerable to damage by pollution. The State of California gave these ASBS special status in the 1970s (yes, they’re that old) as a means of conservation, to help endangered and threatened species recover, to create study areas for scientists, and to set aside places for our enjoyment. We can admire the beauty and see first-hand the amazing sea life by going snorkeling, diving, kayaking and, my personal favorite, tidepooling.

There are currently 34 ASBS along the California coast. Each one is unique, containing sensitive biological species and communities in their complex but fragile ecosystems. San Diego is home to two of these areas, including 88 acres of protected ocean at San Diego-Scripps and 450 acres at La Jolla.

While pollutants are banned in ASBS, the restrictions are largely ignored by major polluters. The animals and plants that depend on high-quality water are still threatened by sewage discharge, urban runoff and litter. These hazards add to the deterioration of ecosystems like kelp forests and tide pools, they poison wildlife and they make waters unsafe for us to play in. Polluters have been unwilling to provide the resources to clean up ASBS and have pushed for legislation that would weaken the laws protecting the fragile ocean areas. This is why organizations like San Diego Coastkeeper make efforts to change habits and spread the word about ASBS and the precious resources and wildlife they protect.

Pay a visit to La Jolla and see for yourself some of the features of our ASBS. This hotspot is protected due to its outstanding amount of marine diversity and its availability for public use and research. The kelp forest is home to bat rays, garibaldi, moray eels and shovelnose guitarfish (check out Birch Aquarium’s live Kelp Cam for a glimpse). Leopard sharks gather here to breed during the summer and gray whales pass through during their seasonal migrations. In the tidepools I can find sea cucumbers, sea anemones, hermit crabs, seastars, and, if I’m lucky, two-spot octopi. If, like me, you find yourself inspired by the sights, get involved, become a member and help fight the good fight for clean marine ecosystems!