North East Pacific Region

Region characteristics

The Northeast Pacific Region1 is defined as the marine and coastal waters from the Bering Strait in the north, down the west coast of North America including the Aleutian Archipelago, the Gulf of Alaska, and the nearshore (“inside”) waters of the Alexander Archipelago; the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound; San Francisco Bay, the Southern California Bight; the Golfo de California (or Sea of Cortez); the waters surrounding Baja California; and the waters along the west coast of Mexico to its border with Guatemala.


The Northeast Pacific Region includes subpolar, temperate, subtropical and tropical coastal realms. In the northern Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea the continental shelf is very wide, typically greater than 100 km in the Gulf and often greater than 400 km in the eastern Bering Sea. To the south of these regions the 200 meter isobath is generally close to shore, rarely more than 75 km off the coast; in some areas of Southern California and the Aleutian Islands it is less than 10 km offshore.


The oceanography of the region is varied and is influenced either by the cool North Pacific Drift or the warm Equatorial Counter Current. The cool water mass of the North Pacific Drift flows eastward across the North pacific Ocean mid-latitudes and splits into northward and southward cool temperature currents upon encountering the continental shelf of North America. The northward flowing portion, the Alaska Current, and the southward flowing portion, the California Current, dominate coastal regions and spread cool temperate water across a usually narrow continental shelf in a long arc from Point Conception in Southern California to the westernmost Aleutian Island in Alaska. Far to the south, an extension of the Equatorial Counter Current flows northward along the coast of Central America and brings warm tropical water up the coast of Mexico to the mouth of the Gulf of California and the southern tip of Baja California Sur. There, it is diverted mostly away from North America to become part of the North Equatorial Current. A portion of this warm water, however, continues northward along the Baja California coast as far as Southern California, forming a gyre in the Southern California Bight that is bounded to the west by the cool California Current that flows past Point Conception. Except for pockets of cool water upwelling just south of the US – Mexico border, coastal waters from Point Conception to the southern tip of Baja California Sur and the entire Golgo de California are warm temperate.


Ecosystems of importance to overall marine biodiversity include tidal marshes and eelgrass beds; sand and mudflats; upwelling and mixing areas; and interidal, subtidal, benthic, near-surface and mid-water habitats. In the northern reaches of the region important ice cover related habitats such as polynya, recurrent shore lead systems, and ice edges are present. In the central parts of the region ecosystems range from temperate to subtropical, becoming tropical in the south of the region along the coast of Mexico where ecosystem diversity is generally extremely high. Within the southern portions of the region, tropical habitats such as mangroves, coral reefs, rocky shores, sandy beaches, oceanic valleys and canyons, estuaries and coastal lagoons provide habitat for a wealth of species. Over a thousand fish species have been reported for the Pacific Coast of the Americas, and the North Pacific Region is known for its wide variety of marine mammals.


The Northeast Pacific Region has been shaped by the richness of the Aboriginal and First Nations cultures that have existed on the coast for tens of thousands of years. There are presently thousands of Aboriginal and First Nations people that live and work throughout the region.


The coastal waters of the North Pacific Region are increasingly under threat from increasing demands of growing populations, particularly in the southern portion of the region. There are many large urban centers within the region with some of the largest ports in the world. These are crucial economic hubs for marine shipping and transportation and include Anchorage, Prince Rupert, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Although offshore oil and gas exploration has been banned off the coast of California and a moratorium is in place in British Columbia waters, tanker traffic carrying hydrocarbons and other petrochemicals is common throughout the region.


Commercial and recreational fishing are major economic contributors to hundreds of coastal communities and cities the North Pacific Region. Similarly, tourism activities and recreation are commonplace, as the region contains some of the most popular holiday destinations in North America.


1The majority of oceanographic and ecological content for this section was taken directly from Croom, M., Wolotira, R. and W. Henwood (1995). Marine Region 15: Northeast Pacific in: A Global Representative System of Marine Protected Areas, Volume IV. Eds: G. Kelleher, C. Bleakley, and S. Wells. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, The World Bank, The World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Regional Pictures

Regional Initiatives

  • British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis (BCMCA)

    The British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis (BCMCA) is a collaborative project designed to provide resource managers, scientists, decision-makers, and those with a vested interest in the marine environment with better information to have discussions and/or make decisions about the ocean along the BC coast. The overall purpose of the BCMCA is to identify areas of high conservation utility and human use in BC’s marine waters.


    The BCMCA will involve two main components/products:


    Component A: Atlas of Known Ecological Values and Human Uses.


    The atlas will show all the data used in the analysis and will include:


    - Maps of all known and available ecological data layers, such as species distributions and habitats.

    - A Richness Map of Ecological Features (combined ecological data).

    - Maps of all known and available human use data layers.

    - A Richness Map of Human Use Components (combined human use data).

    - A map showing both ecological and human use components.


    Component B: Marxan Spatial Analysis.


    The Marxan spatial analysis will use the data from Component A to:


    - Identify potential areas of high conservation value (using ecological data only).

    - Identify areas of high conservation value that minimize impacts to marine users and coastal communities (using ecological and human use data).

    - Identify areas of high conservation utility by incorporating additional marine reserve design principles (For example, maximizing connectivity, minimizing edge to area ratio.)

  • The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI)

    The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) are a unique partnership of the California Department of Fish and Game, the NOAA Fisheries Service and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The organization was formed in 1949 to study the ecological aspects of the collapse of the sardine populations off California. Today its focus has shifted to the study of the marine environment off the coast of California and the management of its living resources. The organization hosts an annual conference, publishes data reports and a scientific journal and maintains a publicly accessible data server (

  • California Current Ecosystem-Based Management Initiative (CCEBM)

    The California Current Ecosystem-Based Management initiative (CCEBM) is a joint effort between the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) and the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


    The CCEBM initiative aims to advance the social and natural science needed to eventually implement comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Management along the west coast of the United States. This effort seeks to synthesize existing interdisciplinary scientific knowledge and catalyze the development of scientific research, tools, initiatives, and collaborations applicable to key coastal and marine management needs within the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.

  • Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO)

    PISCO is a large-scale marine research program that focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. West Coast. An interdisciplinary collaboration of scientists from four universities , PISCO integrates long-term monitoring of ecological and oceanographic processes at dozens of coastal sites with experimental work in the lab and field. We explore how individual organisms, populations, and ecological communities vary over space and time. PISCO's findings are applied to issues of ocean conservation and management, and are shared through our public outreach training programs.

  • Puget Sound Partnership

    The Puget Sound Partnership is a community effort of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists and businesses working together to restore and protect Puget Sound. Despite its size, Puget Sound is ecologically delicate; and while its symptoms of trouble are not easily visible, they are undeniable and getting worse.


    The charge given to the Puget Sound Partnership by Governor Gregoire and the Legislature is to create a real Action Agenda that turns things around and leads to a healthy Puget Sound. Our Action Agenda will prioritize cleanup and improvement projects, coordinate federal, state, local, tribal and private resources, and make sure that we are all working cooperatively. We will base decisions on science, focus on actions that have the biggest impact, and hold people and organizations accountable for results.


    Our goal is to make Puget Sound healthy again, and create a roadmap for how to get it done. If we work together, we can have both a thriving Puget Sound economy and a clean and healthy Puget Sound ecosystem.

  • California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)

    The California Resources Agency and California Department of Fish and Game have partnered with the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation in an initiative to achieve the goals of the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The MLPA directs the state to design and manage a network of marine protected areas in order to, among other things, protect marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage, as well as improve recreational, educational and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems. Scientists, resource managers, experts, stakeholders and members of the public all play important roles in guiding the outcomes of this public-private partnership. Marine protected areas include state marine reserves, state marine parks and state marine conservation areas.


    Implementation of the act will occur in five study regions, in the following order:


    - Central Coast (Pigeon Point to Point Conception)/li>

    - North Central Coast (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point)

    - South Coast (Point Conception to the California/Mexico border)

    - North Coast (California/Oregon border to Alder Creek near Point Arena)

    - San Francisco Bay(waters within San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge northeast to Carquinez Bridge)


  • Baja California to the Bering Sea Initiative

    In 2005, MCBI and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America released the study Marine Priority Conservation Areas: Baja California to the Bering Sea (B2B), highlighting the 28 most important places to protect along the North American coastline from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Tropical East Pacific. These sites include especially unique areas such as the Gulf of California, important migratory corridors like Unimak Pass, and areas rich in biodiversity such as Monterey Bay. Marine experts consider these areas essential to safeguarding the biological diversity of the West Coast of North America.


    This study, along with an associated map, cover a vast region governed by three nations. The conservation model resulting from this work focuses on doing marine conservation at a continental scale and also contains a framework for the first cooperative efforts in marine conservation among Mexico, the US and Canada.

  • B2B-NAMPAN Monitoring Initiative

    Canada, Mexico, and the United States are working to establish a North American Marine Protected Areas Network (NAMPAN) with the support of the Biodiversity Program of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The CEC is an international organization established by the three governments under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. It was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. The Agreement complements the environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

  • California Current LTER (Long Term Ecological Research)

    The CCE LTER program takes an interdisciplinary approach involving:


    - Oceanographic Field Studies

    - Modeling

    - Information Management

    - Education and Outreach

    There are three interwoven field research components:


    - Experimental Process Studies

    - Space-Resolving Time Series

    - Collaborative Nearshore Time Series Programs


    Related Research:


    - Ocean Gliders and Moving Vessel Profiler (Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation)

    - Social Informatics (NSF Human Social Dynamics)


  • PacMARA

    The Pacific Marine Analysis and Research Association (PacMARA) seeks to develop and encourage the use of cross-disciplinary marine science in ecosystem-based decision-making. PacMARA takes an impartial, non-advocacy approach, believing that access to data, good science, and clear results are at the heart of sustainable oceans management.


    Its “home waters” are the Pacific coast of British Columbia (BC), Canada, where a comprehensive marine planning process is about to begin. However, as evidenced by its international workshops and case studies, PacMARA also maintains a broader perspective in which to place its projects into context.

  • WWF & the Gulf of California

    WWF's vision: A healthy, productive and resilient Gulf of California that reliably produces the ecosystem goods and services needed to support human welfare, healthy economies and biological diversity.

  • The Nature Conservancy & Baja & The Gulf of California

    Where the desert meets the sea, this region is characterized by rugged coastlines, cardon cacti, sandy beaches, coastal lagoons, coral reefs and palm oases. The Baja California Peninsula and Gulf of California boast some of the most unique terrestrial and marine environments in the world. Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work and initiatives there.

  • The Nature Conservancy & California's Coastal and Marine Waters

    Diverse human communities and more than a thousand miles of coast make California an ideal living laboratory for the development of innovative approaches to marine conservation. Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work and initiatives there.

  • Marine Protection Area (MPnA) Decision Support Tool

    The Marine Protection Area Decision Support Tool is an online query and set of reporting tools that uses available marine spatial and attribute resource data to enable the rapid spatial assessment of the current Marine Protection Areas (MPnA) system and priority candidate sites in British Columbia, Canada.

    The MPnA Decision Support Tool was developed to provide a variety of user groups a transparent reporting tool to facilitate analyses and visualization of the characteristics of current MPnAs in Pacific Canada. This tool enables the user to produce detailed reports and tabular statistics on the social, cultural and ecological values for individual MPnAs, MPnA types and MPnAs in a given region and/or oceanographic domain. The tool also produces statistics relative to coast-wide values and facilitates a system-wide assessment of MPnAs.

  • Sylvia Earle Alliance - Hope Spots

    Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean, Earth's blue heart. Some of these Hope Spots are already protected, while others are important enough that it is imperative that they be protected. About 12% of the land around the world is now under some form of protection (as national parks, world heritage sites, monuments, etc.), while less than one percent of the ocean is protected in any way.

Popular Protected Areas within this region

Regional Coordinator

Kate Willis Ladell

Marine Planning and Protected Areas Specialist

Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement Branch Fisheries and Oceans Canada

contact by mail

200-401 Burrard Street
Vancouver, Canada V6C 3S4



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