A study was conducted on the impacts of the presence of the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC)/Pioneer Seamount cable on the benthos from nearshore waters adjacent to its origin at Pillar Point Air Force Station in Half Moon Bay, California to its terminus 95 km along its length on Pioneer Seamount. The coaxial Type SD cable was installed, unburied on the seafloor in 1995. Thirteen sites along the cable route were surveyed using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) ROVs Ventana and Tiburon equipped with cable-tracking tools. Quantitative comparisons of biological communities and seafloor features between cable and control sites were performed at nine stations. Forty-two hours of video footage and 138 push cores were collected over 15.1 km of seafloor. Approximately 12.1 km of the cable was observed (13% of the cable route).
This study documents the appearance and condition of the cable and the underlying seafloor, and the effects of the cable on biological communities along its route. Limited self-burial of the cable has occurred during the 8-year deployment, particularly over the continental shelf and upper slope. Cable strumming by nearshore wave action has incised rocky siltstone outcrops. Several observations of kinks and snags in the cable on the upper slope (240 m depth) suggest contact with trawling gear.
Few changes in the abundance or distribution of benthic fauna were detectable from video observations (epifaunal) and sediment core samples (infauna). Of 17 megafaunal groups and 19 infaunal taxa, no tests evaluating the overall effect of the cable were statistically significant. While these results indicate that the biological impacts of the cable are minor at most, three megafaunal groups exhibited cable-related changes at one or more stations. Actiniarians (sea anemones) colonized the cable when it was exposed on the seafloor, and were therefore generally more abundant on the cable than in surrounding, sediment-dominated seafloor habitats. Some fishes were also more abundant near the cable, apparently due to the higher habitat complexity provided by the cable. The study also documents general changes in the benthos across the Central California continental margin.