State of the Bay

Photo by Russ White

State of the Bay 2017—Explore our estuary through science!  




Every three years, the Estuary Program releases a State of the Bay report. This science-based assessment of the health of Morro Bay estuary and watershed presents data collected over five years. Through interesting articles, graphs, and illustrations, this publication shares what the data means for water quality, sedimentation, bird populations, eelgrass beds, and many other important aspects of a healthy bay. To accompany this State of the Bay report, the Estuary Program and our partners presented an exciting lineup of science-focused, hands-on activities, talks, walks, hikes throughout April.

Thank you event attendees, sponsors, and partners!

The next State of the Bay report will come out in 2020. Read the 2017 report, or check out current Estuary Program updates by subscribing to our weekly blog.




Pick up your copy at any of our State of the Bay events (details below), at our office, or from our Nature Center.

Cover image


Download the 2017 State of the Bay report (PDF)







Is water in the creeks and bay clean enough for fish and aquatic life?

Some areas are healthy and others are degraded.

How you can help:

•  Choose native plants for your yard and garden. They are naturally suited for our central coast environment and don’t require as many pesticides or fertilizers. Excess fertilizer and pesticide can make its way from your yard and garden into the creeks and bay, causing problems for bugs and other wildlife.

•  If you have property along a creek, pond, or other waterway, allow the trees and leafy plants lining its banks to continue growing there. This will shade the waters, keeping them cooler and allowing them to maintain higher levels of dissolved oxygen, which is good for aquatic plants and animals.


Is the bay filling in at an unnatural rate?  

Yes, the flow of sediment to the bay is accelerated by human activities within the watershed. In addition, rainfall patterns greatly influence how much sediment is deposited in any given year.

How you can help:

•  Stay on the trail. While it may not seem like a big deal, repeated use of off-trail areas can lead to erosion and damage to sensitive habitats.

•  Use ground cover in your yard and avoid having bare dirt that can be picked up by storm flows and carried into a local creek or the bay.


Is Morro Bay safe for swimming?

Yes, in most areas.

How you can help:

•  Pick up after your pet. Do your duty and pick it up, whether you’re at home, at the park, or on the beach. No matter where you are, dog poop can stick around for up to one year, sending harmful bacteria into storm drains, and out into the creeks and bay each time it rains.

•  Cat poop can also be a big problem. Cats sometimes carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that doesn’t hurt them, but that can kill otters. It is estiamted to account for 17% of otter deaths each year. Wastewater reclamation facilities don’t kill this parasite, so it’s important to pick up after your cat and put its waste in the trash, instead of flushing it down the drain.


Does Morro Bay support healthy eelgrass beds?

No, the amount of eelgrass in the bay declined rapidly. Though the rate of decline has stabilized, we have lost 97% of eelgrass in the bay.

How you can help:

•  Choose non-toxic options when maintaining your home and yard.

•  Be careful when launching your kayak or paddleboard along the estuary shoreline. Fragile beds of eelgrass grow along the bay, and frequent trampling can affect its growth.

•  Fix leaks in your car. Leaked oil and other fluids from vehicles collect on the streets, and rainfall carries them untreated into our bay.


Is the bay clean enough to support commercial shellfish farming?

Yes, in currently active harvesting areas.

How you can help:

•  Keep toxics out of our waters to help keep oysters safe to eat. At home, this means disposing of paint, old batteries, solvents, oil, and other hazardous materials properly.

•  On the water, this means clean boating. Bring used bilge socks and other absorbents to the Morro Bay Harbor Department for recycling, and exchange them for new ones. You can also drop off antifreeze, used oil, and other spent boating materials there. Call ahead for an appointment.


Are important natural areas being protected, enhanced, and restored?

Yes, over 4,000 acres have been protected and over 400 acres have been restored or enhanced.

How you can help:

•  Keep dogs on leashes. Dogs wandering off the trail can be distressing for wildlife.

•  Pack it in, pack it out. Remember to leave natural areas as they were by taking your trash with you.

•  Volunteer for trail work. Helping to maintain trails keep our beautiful open spaces accessible.


Are bird populations that depend on the bay habitat stable?

Yes, most bird populations in the Morro Bay watershed are stable, but some birds face difficult conditions.

How you can help:

•  View animals from a distance, for your safety and their comfort. Unnecessary disturbance can cause aggression and stress.

•  Don’t feed them. Unintended, negative consequences can result as animal diets are complicated and familiarity with humans can cause long-term problems.

•  Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs, big or small and calm or playful, can cause stress to wildlife whose instincts place canines in the predator category.

•  Don’t touch wild animals including lost babies or injured creatures. Often times the mother is nearby. Hurt animals should be handled by experts for their safety and yours. Report local injured birds to Pacific Wildlife Care.


How will climate change likely affect the Morro Bay watershed and estuary?

Predictions suggest changes in precipitation patterns and amounts, sea level rise, and loss of important habitats.

How you can help:

•  Buy locally. Choosing fresher product from nearby takes less energy to package and transport.

•  Walk or bike to the market to further reduce your carbon footprint.

•  Eat seasonal and organic. By using the natural cycles of seasons, farmers can more easily provide healthier harvests. Organic products require less help from fertilizers and pesticides to thrive, reducing impact on the land and consumer.

•  BYOBag. Bring your own shopping bags, and reusable containers and bottles for packed lunches and beverages.

•  Consider how different types of packaging can be reused in the future. Buying in bulk is one way to avoid excess packaging.


Does the estuary and watershed support a healthy population of steelhead?

No, the local steelhead population continues to be threatened even with some habitat improvements.

How you can help:

•  Conserve water in your home, yard, and garden to leave more water for fish in the streams.

•  Remove thirsty nonnative grasses and replace them with native dune grasses, which require less water and still provide a nice groundcover.

•  Replace old toilets with new, water-efficient ones.

•  Take your dirty car to the car wash instead of washing it at home. Car washes recycle most of their water, except for the final rinse, so you can keep dozens of gallons from going to waste by making this simple choice.


What are other ways you can help keep Morro bay clean and healthy?

  1. Keep trash in the can, reduce your water use, let only water go down the drain, and use biodegradable products.
  2. Donate to the Estuary Program to support our conservation, restoration, research, monitoring, education, and outreach work.
  3. Volunteer with the Estuary Program.



Morro Bay National Estuary Program brings together citizens, local governments, non-profits, agencies, and landowners to protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary.

Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.