Marine litter presents a global problem, with increasing quantities documented in recent decades. The distribution and abundance of marine litter on the seafloor off the United Kingdom's (UK) coasts were quantified during 39 independent scientific surveys conducted between 1992 and 2017. Widespread distribution of litter items, especially plastics, were found on the seabed of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea. High variation in abundance of litter items, ranging from 0 to 1835 pieces km−2of seafloor, was observed. Plastic tems such as bags, bottles and fishing related debris were commonly observed across all areas. Over the entire 25-year period (1992–2017), 63% of the 2461 trawls contained at least one plastic litter item. There was no significant temporal trend in the percentage of trawls containing any or total plastic litter items across the long-term datasets. Statistically significant trends, however, were observed in specific plastic litter categories only. These trends were all positive except for a negative trend in plastic bags in the Greater North Sea - suggesting that behavioural and legislative changes could reduce the problem of marine litter within decades.
Current methods in conservation planning for promoting the persistence of biodiversity typically focus on either representing species geographic distributions or maintaining connectivity between reserves, but rarely both, and take a focal species, rather than a multispecies, approach. Here, we link prioritization methods with population models to explore the impact of integrating both representation and connectivity into conservation planning for species persistence. Using data on 288 Mediterranean fish species with varying conservation requirements, we show that: (2) considering both representation and connectivity objectives provides the best strategy for enhanced biodiversity persistence and (2) connectivity objectives were fundamental to enhancing persistence of small-ranged species, which are most in need of conservation, while the representation objective benefited only wide-ranging species. Our approach provides a more comprehensive appraisal of planning applications than approaches focusing on either representation or connectivity, and will hopefully contribute to build more effective reserve networks for the persistence of biodiversity.
A major challenge for coral reef conservation and management is understanding how a wide range of interacting human and natural drivers cumulatively impact and shape these ecosystems. Despite the importance of understanding these interactions, a methodological framework to synthesize spatially explicit data of such drivers is lacking. To fill this gap, we established a transferable data synthesis methodology to integrate spatial data on environmental and anthropogenic drivers of coral reefs, and applied this methodology to a case study location–the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Environmental drivers were derived from time series (2002–2013) of climatological ranges and anomalies of remotely sensed sea surface temperature, chlorophyll-a, irradiance, and wave power. Anthropogenic drivers were characterized using empirically derived and modeled datasets of spatial fisheries catch, sedimentation, nutrient input, new development, habitat modification, and invasive species. Within our case study system, resulting driver maps showed high spatial heterogeneity across the MHI, with anthropogenic drivers generally greatest and most widespread on O‘ahu, where 70% of the state’s population resides, while sedimentation and nutrients were dominant in less populated islands. Together, the spatial integration of environmental and anthropogenic driver data described here provides a first-ever synthetic approach to visualize how the drivers of coral reef state vary in space and demonstrates a methodological framework for implementation of this approach in other regions of the world. By quantifying and synthesizing spatial drivers of change on coral reefs, we provide an avenue for further research to understand how drivers determine reef diversity and resilience, which can ultimately inform policies to protect coral reefs.
The Mediterranean region has long been recognized for its natural and cultural heritage. Representing less than 1% of the area of the world’s oceans, the Mediterranean Sea accounts for over 10% of all known species, including many endemic species. It hosts a remarkable diversity of life and is a vital breeding area for key pelagic species, some of which are endangered. At the same time, the Mediterranean Sea has been described as one of the areas most affected by marine litter in the world. The problem is exacerbated by the basin’s limited exchanges with other oceans and its densely populated coasts and highly developed tourism; 30% of the world’s maritime traffic passes through it and various additional inputs of litter reach it from rivers and very urbanized areas. Plastic, which is the main litter component, has now become ubiquitous in the region and may comprise up to 95% of the waste accumulated on shorelines, the ocean surface, or the sea floor. Of particular concern is the presence of microplastics, which have been found in quantities very comparable to those encountered in the oceanic gyres, also known as “plastic soups”. Marine litter can have severe consequences for the Mediterranean’s biological resources and the human communities that depend on them, from a health, environmental and economic perspective. Increasingly, studies are showing that marine litter directly affects living organisms, especially through entanglement with macro-plastics and the ingestion of micro-plastics. There is also growing evidence that plastic particles may carry and transfer toxic substances (in particular, persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruptors) to marine organisms, mainly when ingested, and, currently, scientists are focusing on the risk of possibly hazardous plastic particles being transferred via food chains. The most recent assessment report on marine litter in the Mediterranean undertaken by UNEP/MAP (2015) indicates that most marine litter originates from land-based rather than sea-based sources. The report concludes that despite the uncertainties and knowledge gaps, existing evidence is more than sufficient to justify immediate action toward preventing and reducing marine litter and its impact on the marine and coastal environment. Within the UNEP/MAP Barcelona Convention, marine litter is addressed specifically through the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean. Moreover, current production and consumption patterns are at the very heart of this problem, an issue which is being tackled by another instrument fostering circular economy in the region: the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Action Plan for the Mediterranean. With a view to responding to this emerging and problematic issue, SCP/RAC (Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production), with the support of the SwitchMed Programme (www.switchmed.eu), has identified the 25 best existing ecoinnovative solutions to prevent or minimize the use of persistent plastics liable to end up as marine litter in the Mediterranean. Innovative solutions capable of generating revenues from all parts of the globe have been prioritized through a multi-criteria analysis of their effectiveness and replicability in the MENA region. They are showcased here as a way of inspiring businesses, entrepreneurs and civil society organizations in the Mediterranean region to take action against marine litter. Through this publication, SCP/RAC calls on green entrepreneurs, committed CSOs, innovators and change-makers in the Mediterranean to develop and scale the most adaptable solutions with the support of the SwitchMed Programme. In order to promote action, the programme will enable the pilot actions inspired by these initiatives to be implemented in the region.
Global changes in climate, connectivity, and commerce are having profound impacts on the Arctic environment and inhabitants. There is widespread recognition of the value of incorporating different worldviews and perspectives when seeking to understand the consequences of these impacts. In turn, attention to local needs, perspectives, and cultures is seen as essential for fostering effective adaptation planning, or more broadly, the resilience of local peoples. The emerging literature on “knowledge co-production” identifies factors that can help incorporate such local information. This field focuses on how different models of what has been termed the “science-policy interface” can incorporate multiple epistemologies. Such an approach goes beyond observing or assessing change from different scales and perspectives, to defining conditions that support the co-production of actionable knowledge. This approach requires the development of response tools that can accommodate the dynamic relationships among people, wildlife, and habitats that straddle cultures, timescapes, and sometimes, national boundaries. We use lessons from seven Alaskan cases studies to describe a typology of five elements important for the co-production of locally relevant actionable knowledge. Three elements are consistent with earlier work, including 1) evolving communities of practice, 2) iterative processes for defining problems and solutions, and 3) presence of boundary organizations, such as a government agency, university, or co-management council. Our results for the Alaskan Arctic also emphasize the critical need to incorporate 4) the consistent provision of sufficient funds and labor that may transcend any one specific project goal or funding cycle, and 5) long temporal scales (sometimes decades) for achieving the co-production of actionable knowledge. Our results have direct relevance to understanding the mechanisms that might foster greater success in more formalized co-management regimes.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be defined as the DNA pool recovered from an environmental sample that includes both extracellular and intracellular DNA. There has been a significant increase in the number of recent studies that have demonstrated the possibility to detect macroorganisms using eDNA. Despite the enormous potential of eDNA to serve as a biomonitoring and conservation tool in aquatic systems, there remain some important limitations concerning its application. One significant factor is the variable persistence of eDNA over natural environmental gradients, which imposes a critical constraint on the temporal and spatial scales of species detection. In the present study, a radiotracer bioassay approach was used to quantify the kinetic parameters of dissolved eDNA (d-eDNA), a component of extracellular DNA, over an annual cycle in the coastal Northwest Mediterranean. Significant seasonal variability in the biological uptake and turnover of d-eDNA was observed, the latter ranging from several hours to over one month. Maximum uptake rates of d-eDNA occurred in summer during a period of intense phosphate limitation (turnover <5 hrs). Corresponding increases in bacterial production and uptake of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) demonstrated the microbial utilization of d-eDNA as an organic phosphorus substrate. Higher temperatures during summer may amplify this effect through a general enhancement of microbial metabolism. A partial least squares regression (PLSR) model was able to reproduce the seasonal cycle in d-eDNA persistence and explained 60% of the variance in the observations. Rapid phosphate turnover and low concentrations of bioavailable phosphate, both indicative of phosphate limitation, were the most important parameters in the model. Abiotic factors such as pH, salinity and oxygen exerted minimal influence. The present study demonstrates significant seasonal variability in the persistence of d-eDNA in a natural marine environment that can be linked to the metabolic response of microbial communities to nutrient limitation. Future studies should consider the effect of natural environmental gradients on the seasonal persistence of eDNA, which will be of particular relevance for time-series biomonitoring programs.
Microplastics are a ubiquitous pollutant in our seas today and are known to have detrimental effects on a variety of organisms. Over the past decade numerous studies have documented microplastic ingestion by marine species with more recent investigations focussing on the secondary impacts of microplastic ingestion on ecosystem processes. However, few studies so far have examined microplastic ingestion by mesopelagic fish which are one of the most abundant pelagic groups in our oceans and through their vertical migrations are known to contribute significantly to the rapid transport of carbon and nutrients to the deep sea. Therefore, any ingestion of microplastics by mesopelagic fish may adversely affect this cycling and may aid in transport of microplastics from surface waters to the deep-sea benthos. In this study microplastics were extracted from mesopelagic fish under forensic conditions and analysed for polymer type utilising micro-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (micro-FTIR) analysis. Fish specimens were collected from depth (300–600 m) in a warm-core eddy located in the Northwest Atlantic, 1,200 km due west of Newfoundland during April and May 2015. In total, 233 fish gut contents from seven different species of mesopelagic fish were examined. An alkaline dissolution of organic materials from extracted stomach contents was performed and the solution filtered over a 0.7 μm borosilicate filter. Filters were examined for microplastics and a subsample originating from 35 fish was further analysed for polymer type through micro-FTIR analysis. Seventy-three percent of all fish contained plastics in their gut contents with Gonostoma denudatum having the highest ingestion rate (100%) followed by Serrivomer beanii (93%) and Lampanyctus macdonaldi (75%). Overall, we found a much higher occurrence of microplastic fragments, mainly polyethylene fibres, in the gut contents of mesopelagic fish than previously reported. Stomach fullness, species and the depth at which fish were caught at, were found to have no effect on the amount of microplastics found in the gut contents. However, these plastics were similar to those sampled from the surface water. Additionally, using forensic techniques we were able to highlight that fibres are a real concern rather than an artefact of airborne contamination.
Human fishing effort is size-selective, preferentially removing the largest individuals from harvested stocks. Intensive, size-specific fishing mortality induces directional shifts in phenotypic frequencies towards the predominance of smaller and earlier-maturing individuals, which are among the primary causes of declining fish biomass. Fish that reproduce at smaller size and younger age produce fewer, smaller, and less viable larvae, severely reducing the reproductive capacity of harvested populations. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are extensively utilized in coral reefs for fisheries management, and are thought to mitigate the impacts of size-selective fishing mortality and supplement fished stocks through larval export. However, empirical evidence of disparities in fitness-relevant phenotypes between MPAs and adjacent fished reefs is necessary to validate this assertion. Here, we compare key life-history traits in three coral-reef fishes (Acanthurus nigrofuscus, Ctenochaetus striatus, and Parupeneus multifasciatus) between MPAs and fished reefs in the Philippines. Results of our analyses support previous hypotheses regarding the impacts of MPAs on phenotypic traits. Asymptotic length (Linf) and growth rates (K) differed between conspecifics in MPAs and fished reefs, with protected populations exhibiting phenotypes that are known to confer higher fecundity. Additionally, populations demonstrated increases in length at 50% maturity (L50) inside MPAs compared to adjacent areas, although age at 50% maturity (A50) did not appear to be impacted by MPA establishment. Shifts toward advantageous phenotypes were most common in the oldest and largest MPAs, but occurred in all of the MPAs examined. These results suggest that MPAs may provide protection against the impacts of size-selective harvest on life-history traits in coral-reef fishes.
The increasing demand for protein from aquaculture will trigger a global expansion of the sector in coastal and offshore waters. While contributing to food security, potential conflicts with other traditional activities such as fisheries or tourism are inevitable, thus calling for decision-support tools to assess aquaculture planning scenarios in a multi-use context. Here we introduce the AquaSpace tool, one of the first Geographic Information System (GIS)-based planning tools empowering an integrated assessment and mapping of 30 indicators reflecting economic, environmental, inter-sectorial and socio-cultural risks and opportunities for proposed aquaculture systems in a marine environment. A bottom-up process consulting more than 350 stakeholders from 10 countries across southern and northern Europe enabled the direct consideration of stakeholder needs when developing the GIS AddIn. The AquaSpace tool is an open source product and builds in the prospective use of open source datasets at a European scale, hence aiming to improve reproducibility and collaboration in aquaculture science and research. Tool outputs comprise detailed reports and graphics allowing key stakeholders such as planners or licensing authorities to evaluate and communicate alternative planning scenarios and to take more informed decisions. With the help of the German North Sea case study we demonstrate here the tool application at multiple spatial scales with different aquaculture systems and under a range of space-related development constraints. The computation of these aquaculture planning scenarios and the assessment of their trade-offs showed that it is entirely possible to identify aquaculture sites, that correspondent to multifarious potential challenges, for instance by a low conflict potential, a low risk of disease spread, a comparable high economic profit and a low impact on touristic attractions. We believe that a transparent visualisation of risks and opportunities of aquaculture planning scenarios helps an effective Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) process, supports the licensing process and simplifies investments.
Wild animals in their natural environment could provide a big source of information, but sampling can be very challenging, above all for protected species, like marine mammals. Nevertheless, significant data can be obtained sampling stranded animals right after their death, taking into account proper sampling time and methodology.
RNA samples from the skin of 12 individuals including the species Stenellacoeruleoalba, Tursiops truncatus, and Grampus griseus were used to test 4 potential gene markers of anthropogenic contaminants exposure. The individuals were sampled in 3 geographic areas: the Adriatic, Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. Three out of the 4 genes tested showed higher expression in the samples collected from the Adriatic Sea. Minute skin samples tell the story of the specific geographic location where the marine mammal spent its life, thanks to the different impact on gene expression exerted by different contamination levels.