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More than 30 million dollars are expended annually to assess environmental quality of the Southern California Bight, yet only 5% of the Bight area is surveyed on an ongoing basis. Because decision makers lacked the data to make regional assessments of ecosystem condition, multiple stakeholders collaborated to create a Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program. The third survey in this program was conducted in 2003. A primary goal of this regional monitoring program was to determine the extent and magnitude of sediment contamination in the Southern California Bight, and to compare these assessments among several different habitats. A stratified random design was selected to provide unbiased areal assessments of environmental condition; 359 surficial sediments were collected, representing 12 different habitats that extend from shallow embayments and estuaries to deep offshore basins. Each sample was analyzed for grain size, total organic carbon and nitrogen, 15 trace metals, and a suite of persistent organic constituents (total dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane [DDT], total polychlorinated biphenyl [PCB], and total polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon [PAH]). The greatest accumulated mass of these constituents (76% on average; range 70% to 87%) was located at depths >200 m, which was proportional to its relatively large area (67% of entire Southern California Bight). The greatest sediment concentrations of trace metals, total PAH, and total PCB were observed in embayments (e.g., marinas, estuaries draining urbanized watersheds, and industrialized port facilities). These shallow habitats also contained a disproportionately high mass of contaminants relative to their area. Despite the relatively widespread anthropogenic enrichment of Southern California Bight sediments, only 1% of the Southern California Bight was at a moderate to high risk of adverse biological effects based on empirically derived sediment quality guidelines. Risk, however, was not evenly distributed throughout the Southern California Bight. The greatest risk of adverse biological effects was found in sediments of marinas, Los Angeles estuaries, and large publicly owned treatment works (POTWs); these were the only habitats for which the mean effects range-median quotient exceeded 0.5. The least risk was observed in sediments associated with the Channel Islands and small POTWs, for which all sites were considered to be at low risk of adverse biological effects.

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