Marine microscopic plastic (microplastic) debris is a modern societal issue, illustrating the challenge of balancing the convenience of plastic in daily life with the prospect of causing ecological harm by careless disposal. Here we develop the concept of microplastic as a complex, dynamic mixture of polymers and additives, to which organic material and contaminants can successively bind to form an ‘ecocorona’, increasing the density and surface charge of particles and changing their bioavailability and toxicity. Chronic exposure to microplastic is rarely lethal, but can adversely affect individual animals, reducing feeding and depleting energy stores, with knock-on effects for fecundity and growth. We explore the extent to which ecological processes could be impacted, including altered behaviours, bioturbation and impacts on carbon flux to the deep ocean. We discuss how microplastic compares with other anthropogenic pollutants in terms of ecological risk, and consider the role of science and society in tackling this global issue in the future.
The coastline of Qatar is a rich mosaic of productive and diverse ecosystems including mangrove forests, intertidal mudflats (sabkha), seagrass beds, and coral reefs. These ecologically interconnected ecosystems contain a substantial proportion of Qatar's total biodiversity, and support an estimated 97% of the >US$ 67 million in annual commercial fisheries, the highest value resource sector after petroleum. The extreme environmental conditions that characterize Qatar has led to fauna that are robust compared with other regions, but makes them highly sensitive to further pressure from anthropogenic stress. These vulnerable ecosystems have come under increasing pressure in recent decades as a result of dramatic expansion of coastal development, and threats to these ecosystems are likely to accelerate in the coming years as Qatar's economy and population continue to grow. Although environmental regulation had historically lagged behind the rapid pace of development, in recent years Qatar's leadership has aggressively expanded environmental management as a result of the growing awareness of the importance of coastal ecosystems. While these improvements are encouraging, management remains challenged by its current sectorial, project-driven focus. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) offers an opportunity to overcome these challenges by integrating impacts from across all major activities in multiple sectors and considering their cumulative effects on ecosystem services and products. While an EBM approach would require modest reprioritizing of existing processes and attention to addressing deficiencies in data needed to support decision making, it has the potential to greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of coastal zone management. The article closes by summarizing a recently initiated research project on coral reefs and seagrass beds in Qatar which can serve as a model for development of the EBM approach for other coastal ecosystems in Qatar.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a cornerstone of marine conservation. Globally, the number and coverage of MPAs are increasing, but MPA implementation lags in many human-dominated regions. In areas with intense competition for space and resources, evaluation of the effects of MPAs is crucial to inform decisions. In the human-dominated Mediterranean Sea, fully protected areas occupy only 0.04% of its surface. We evaluated the impacts of full and partial protection on biomass and density of fish assemblages, some commercially important fishes, and sea urchins in 24 Mediterranean MPAs. We explored the relationships between the level of protection and MPA size, age, and enforcement. Results revealed significant positive effects of protection for fisheries target species and negative effects for urchins as their predators benefited from protection. Full protection provided stronger effects than partial protection. Benefits of full protection for fish biomass were only correlated with the level of MPA enforcement; fish density was higher in older, better enforced, and —interestingly— smaller MPAs. Our finding that even small, well-enforced, fully protected areas can have significant ecological effects is encouraging for “crowded” marine environments. However, more data are needed to evaluate sufficient MPA sizes for protecting populations of species with varying mobility levels.
The management of underwater noise within the European Union's waters is a significant component (Descriptor 11) of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The indicator related to continuous noise, is the noise levels in two one-third octave bands centered at 63 Hz and 125 Hz. This paper presents an analysis of underwater noise in the Celtic Sea, a heavy shipping area which also hosts the seasonal Ushant thermal front. In addition to the MSFD recommended frequency bands, the analysis was extended to lower and upper frequency bands. Temporal and spatial variations as well as the influence of the properties of the water column on the noise levels were assessed. The noise levels in the area had a high dynamic range and generally exceeded 100 dB re 1 μPa. Finally, the results highlighted that oceanic mooring must be designed to minimize the pseudo-noise and consider the water column physical properties.
Sagittal otoliths are essential components of the sensory organs that enable all teleost fish to hear and maintain balance, and are primarily composed of calcium carbonate. A deformity, where aragonite (the normal crystal form) is replaced with vaterite, was first noted over 50 years ago but its underlying cause is unresolved. We evaluated the prevalence of vateritic otoliths from two captive rearing studies which suggested that fast growth, due to environmental rather than genetic control, led to vaterite development. We then tested this by varying light and temperature to create phenotypes with different growth rates, which resulted in fast growers (5 times larger) having 3 times more vaterite than slow growers. A decrease in either the ratio of otolith matrix proteins (otolin-1/OMM-64) or [Ca2+]/[CO32−] may explain why fast growth causes vaterite deposition. As vaterite decreases hearing sensitivity, reducing growth rates in hatcheries may improve the welfare of farmed fish and increase the success of conservation efforts.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designed to conserve and preserve the ecosystems and cultural resources of the ocean. In theory, protected populations flourish, replenish adjacent regions, and are self-sustaining. However, describing the efficacy of MPAs requires long-term monitoring. Queen conch Lobatus gigas are iconic Caribbean denizens with populations that have been decimated by overfishing and are slow to rebound due to density-dependent breeding. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) is a well-enforced, no-take, old, and large MPA. Surveys in 1994, 2011, and 2016 were used to track changes in the abundance, size, and age structure of conch within the park. Statistical models suggested that abundances of adults in 50 km of repeated towed-observer surveys had declined by 71% in 2016 relative to 2011. Further, the remaining conch populations were associated with tidal channels, and these model results agreed with independent observations in 40 km of expanded survey area. Measurements of shell lip thickness, an estimator of relative age, showed an increase relative to 1994 with the greatest effect in 2016, indicating senescence. The ECLSP population appears to be slowly dying of old age, and an early life history process has been altered. Upstream populations have been heavily fished while habitats within the park remain productive, suggesting that low local retention and a lack of exogenous larval sources are driving the decline. A network of MPAs encompassing the entire life cycle and dispersal envelope of targeted organisms is needed for proper conch conservation. Surveys focused on tidal channels could locate candidate upstream populations of conch.
Queen conch (Lobatus gigas) is an important food source and export product for Belize, where extraction is regulated by shell length (SL) and market clean weight (MCW) limits. However, lip thickness (LT) limits are used to manage juvenile mortality and reduce risk of growth overfishing in other countries. Empirical studies suggest relationships between LT and sexual maturity vary spatially and need to be determined locally. This study was conducted to determine the most reliable, easily measurable proxy indicator(s) of maturity and associated target size limits in L. gigas that can effectively restrict harvest of juveniles. Morphological measures (SL, LT, lip width, unprocessed meat weight, MCW, operculum dimensions), gonadosomatic index (GSI) and histological evaluations were recorded from L. gigas collected in PHMR before, during, and after the L. gigas closed season. Upon determining Period 2 (during closed season) as the peak reproductive period, relationships between these variables in Period 2 were examined. No relationship was found in males between SL and maturity, and was weak in females, whereas there were significant curvilinear relationships between LT and GSI for both sexes, suggesting urgent need to base size limits on LT not SL. LT at which 50% of the population was mature (LT50) was 15.51 mm for females and 12.33 mm for males, therefore a 16 mm LT limit is recommended. MCW of female L. gigas was also significantly related to GSI, indicating MCW may be an appropriate management tool in conjunction with LT as it can be measured at landing sites whereas shells are usually discarded at sea. However, MCW at which 50% of females were mature (MCW50) was 199 g and many individuals exceeding LT50 had MCW <199 g, suggesting the current 85 g MCW limit is too low to protect juveniles yet 199 g MCW limit would be too high to substitute the recommended LT limit at landing sites. To minimize short-term impacts yet maximize long-term benefits to fishers' livelihoods, multi-stage adaptive management is recommended that integrates initial catch reductions, followed by introduction of size limits of 16 mm LT, and 150 g MCW. Adjustable LT and MCW limits determined by fishery simulation could later be introduced.
In the last decade, a range of drivers within the seafood sector have incentivized the application of traceability to issues beyond food safety and inventory management. Some of the issues motivating the expanded use of traceability within the global seafood sector include: increased media attention on the legal and social risks within some seafood supply chains, governmental traceability requirements, private-sector sustainability commitments, and others. This article begins with an overview of these topics in the seafood industry, and why many nongovernment organizations (NGOs), companies, and government actors have turned to traceability as a tool to address them. We discuss how traceability connects to key requirements of environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Later, we review the range of traceability services, tools, software solutions, and the due diligence measures that are currently being leveraged within the seafood sector. The paper concludes with a discussion of several NGO- and industry-led traceability initiatives that are examples of seafood traceability improvements.
Artificial reefs are increasingly being used around the globe to attract recreational divers, for both environmental and commercial reasons. This paper examines artificial coral reefs as recreational ecosystem services (RES) by evaluating their attractiveness and effectiveness and by examining divers' attitudes toward them. An online survey targeted at divers in Israel (n = 263) indicated that 35% of the dives in Eilat (a resort city on the shore of the Red Sea) take place at artificial reefs. A second study monitored divers' behavior around the Tamar artificial reef, one of the most popular submerged artificial reefs in Eilat, and juxtaposed it with divers' activities around two adjacent natural reefs. Findings show that the average diver density at the artificial reef was higher than at the two nearby natural knolls and that the artificial reef effectively diverts divers from natural knolls. A third study that examined the attitudes towards natural vs. artificial reefs found that the artificial reefs are considered more appropriate for training, but that divers feel less relaxed around them. By utilizing the RES approach as a framework, the study offers a comprehensive methodology that brings together the aesthetic, behavioral, and attitudinal aspects in terms of which artificial reefs can be evaluated.
Emergy analysis was applied to three municipalities (Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo) of the Liguria Region coast, where tourism and cruise tourism are thriving. The results were compared with traditional economic indices. The territorial assessment of the municipalities was analysed by comparing the environmental costs with the economic benefits, focusing on tourism and cruise tourism. Similarities and differences among the case studies emerged. The three economies resulted as being driven by the tertiary sector, but consequences from the different development strategies came to light. Portofino has developed an elite type of tourism with greater attention devoted to the environment. This is mirrored by a sort of safeguarding of tourism and natural resources and by the detriment of the productive sector’s success, on the contrary, in Rapallo. Santa Margherita lies in a boundary condition. The cruise tourism sector was analysed in these contexts. The ecological and economic impacts of the cruise sector were revealed to be significant only in Portofino, being less than 1% in Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure. The load imposed on the local environment by cruise ship tourism was calculated, and Portofino showed a limited condition, while Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo exceeded the local carrying capacity. This is due to the different management approaches pursued: only in Portofino is the territory more able to absorb the impact, although the limit is currently reached. As a consequence it appears to be evident that such phenomena as cruise tourism, albeit economically promising in the short term, should be managed with a long-term perspective, integrating them into the local context and setting up strategies for impact reduction or mitigation.