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California Current Conservation Complex

Date of Submission: 12/04/2017
Criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
United States Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 6237

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The California Current Conservation Complex includes a contiguous group of federally-designated marine protected areas along the Central California coast:  Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries; marine waters and certain coastal areas of Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge; California Coastal National Monument; and a network of special marine protected areas designated by the State of California.  This upwelling system supports a highly productive and diverse ecosystem, including a broad mosaic of marine and coastal habitats such as offshore canyons, banks, seamounts and islands; rocky shorelines; and kelp forests. 

Point Reyes/Golden Gate                                  10 S     516018  4206512

Monterey Bay                                                  10 S     573957  4035398

Greater Farallones                                            10 S     500983  4186200

Cordell Bank                                                   10 S     465469  4209806

Farallon Islands                                               10 S     499704  4172409

California Coastal                                            10 S     606621  4058718 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Collectively, the protected areas of the California Current Conservation Complex conserve an extremely productive marine environment driven by strong upwelling within the California Current large marine ecosystem.  Seasonal upwelling initiates an annual productivity cycle that supports a rich resident biological community as well as migratory populations of sea turtles, fishes, sea birds, and marine mammals that travel thousands of miles to feed or breed in these fertile waters.  Many threatened and endangered species are highly dependent on these waters. The area is remarkable for its beauty, productivity, biodiversity, geologic features, and history of conservation management that reconciles diverse recreational and commercial uses with the protection of globally significant wildlife and habitat. 

Criterion (vii):  The coast and shoreline along the California Current Conservation Complex are of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.  These were a key factor in the designation of these sites as National Marine Sanctuaries, a National Recreation Area and a National Seashore, and state parks and state beaches.  The area includes some of the most stunning shorelines in the world, almost entirely accessible by the iconic U.S. Highway 1. 

Criterion (viii) :  The area includes Monterey Canyon, which contains geological process still being explored by scientists such as cold seeps – deep water areas fed by sulfur that seeps to the canyon walls through freshwater flows.  Smaller canyons intersect the continental shelf throughout the property, creating dynamic oceanographic processes.  Davidson Seamount and Cordell Bank are significant geomorphological features that dramatically influence deep sea ecology in this region.

Criterion (ix):  The California Current is one of only four eastern boundary currents affiliated with the majority of coastal upwelling on Earth, extremely productive areas in our global ocean. These ecosystems make up less than one percent of the world ocean, but support extraordinarily high productivity and biodiversity.

Criterion (x):  The area includes diverse ecological communities and habitat areas, many in near-pristine condition.  These waters protect and provide critical foraging habitat for almost a dozen different cetacean species and four sea turtles.  Subtidal reefs are essential to the survival and recovery of nearly a dozen endangered marine fish species or genetically distinct stocks.  Other ecologically important species abundant in the area include the great white shark and California sea otter.  Blue whales, endangered and also renowned as the largest animal to ever live, regularly visit the area to feed on high density krill aggregations.  The area also supports large and thriving seabird populations. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The area of the California Current Conservation Complex is a contiguous conservation zone from Point Arena in the north to Point Piedras Blancas in the south.  Intact ecological habitat and biological communities blend from north to south, from the coastline to offshore, and from the ocean’s surface to the deep abyssal plain. Moreover, the interwoven management regimes of the national marine sanctuaries, other federal protections and state conservation actions provide integrated marine management and conservation, while allowing numerous human uses.  The area includes 20 marine reserves managed by the State of California that prohibit all extractive uses to provide the highest level of resource protection.  The Complex demonstrates how sound resource management supports human use and enjoyment.  The greatest threat to the natural resources in this area comes from the impacts of climate change, in particular ocean acidification. 

Comparison with other similar properties

Of the 47 marine areas on the World Heritage list, only a small handful protect temperate waters, and none include the diverse habitats found in the California Current Conservation Complex. The only other large marine ecosystems now listed as World Heritage sites are the Great Barrier Reef, Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, all of which are warm tropical systems protecting largely coral reef ecosystems.  By contrast, the California Current is a temperate water ecosystem based largely on the upwelling of cool water.  As a site of major wildlife migrations, the California Current can be compared to the Serengeti (a large portion of which is included in two World Heritage Sites).  However, the migration of marine animals into and out of the California Current Conservation Complex greatly exceeds those found on the African savannah, both in terms of numbers and diversity of species, and the distances those species travel.