Due to the occurrence of more frequent and widespread toxic cyanobacteria events, the ability to predict freshwater cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms (cyanoHAB) is of critical importance for the management of drinking and recreational waters. Lake system specific geographic variation of cyanoHABs has been reported, but regional and state level variation is infrequently examined. A spatio-temporal modeling approach can be applied, via the computationally efficient Integrated Nested Laplace Approximation (INLA), to high-risk cyanoHAB exceedance rates to explore spatio-temporal variations across statewide geographic scales. We explore the potential for using satellite-derived data and environmental determinants to develop a short-term forecasting tool for cyanobacteria presence at varying space-time domains for the state of Florida. Weekly cyanobacteria abundance data were obtained using Sentinel-3 Ocean Land Color Imagery (OLCI), for a period of May 2016–June 2019. Time and space varying covariates include surface water temperature, ambient temperature, precipitation, and lake geomorphology. The hierarchical Bayesian spatio-temporal modeling approach in R-INLA represents a potential forecasting tool useful for water managers and associated public health applications for predicting near future high-risk cyanoHAB occurrence given the spatio-temporal characteristics of these events in the recent past. This method is robust to missing data and unbalanced sampling between waterbodies, both common issues in water quality datasets.
Subtropical reefs are important habitats for many marine species and for tourism and recreation. Yet, subtropical reefs are understudied, and detailed habitat maps are seldom available. Citizen science can help fill this gap, while fostering community engagement and education. In this study, 44 trained volunteers conducted an ecological assessment of subtropical Flinders Reef using established Reef Check and CoralWatch protocols. In 2017, 10 sites were monitored to provide comprehensive information on reef communities and to estimate potential local drivers of coral community structure. A detailed habitat map was produced by integrating underwater photos, depth measurements, wave-exposure modelling and satellite imagery. Surveys showed that coral cover ranged from 14% to 67%. Site location and wave exposure explained 47% and 16% respectively, of the variability in coral community composition. Butterflyfishes were the most abundant fish group, with few invertebrates being observed during the surveys. Reef impacts were three times lower than on other nearby subtropical reefs. These findings can be used to provide local information to spatial management and Marine Park planning. To increase the conservation benefits and to maintain the health of Flinders Reef, we recommend expanding the current protection zone from 500- to a 1000-m radius.
The effect of long-term use on the catch efficiency of biodegradable gillnets was investigated during commercial fishing trials and in controlled lab aging tests. The relative catch efficiency between biodegradable and nylon gillnets was evaluated over three consecutive fishing seasons for Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) in Norway. The biodegradable gillnets progressively lost catch efficiency over time, as they caught 18.4%, 40.2%, and 47.4% fewer fish than the nylon gillnets during the first, second, and third season, respectively. A 1000-hour aging test revealed that both materials began to degrade after just 200 h and that biodegradable gillnets degraded faster than the nylon gillnets. Infrared spectroscopy revealed that the chemical structure of the biodegradable polymer changed more than the nylon. Although less catch efficient than nylon gillnets, biodegradable gillnets have great potential for reducing both capture in lost fishing gear and plastic pollution at sea, which are major problems in fisheries worldwide.
The marine environment is particularly at risk from the intentional and unintentional introduction and spread of invasive alien species (IAS); preventing their introduction and spread from occurring is therefore, a key component in the on-going management of marine IAS. Ensuring legislation is coherent and consistent is essential to the success of managing the existing and future impacts of marine IAS. We explore the coherence (determined as consistency and interaction) of marine biosecurity legislation for IAS at different geopolitical scales. There was consistency between both the Bern Convention and Convention on Biological Diversity and European and national legislation that had been created in response. There was a lack of interaction evidenced by the Ballast Water Management Convention, which had not yet been transposed into regional (mainly European) or national legislation. Implementation measures such as legislation should be coherent as any failure in the chain could potentially weaken the overall effort to establish and maintain biosecurity and achieve behaviour change.
Asset-intensive industries (including water and power utilities, mineral resources and energy) are those which require significant levels of capital investment in their assets in order to operate. These industries face challenges from uncertainty in resource availability and demand for end products, the intricate and complicated nature of their assets, and the complexity of the economic, ecological and social settings in which they operate. In these industries, the application of decision frameworks that account for this uncertainty and complexity in guiding asset investment and development is standard practice. Lessons from asset-intensive industries were applied during the concept feasibility phase of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) to establish the investment case for research and development into interventions to help the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) resist, adapt to, and recover from the impacts of climate change. The authors worked with RRAP partners to define a decision framework that included structured decision-making processes (SDM), a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), and a value of information (VoI) analysis, to establish the investment case for intervening on the GBR which led to success in securing Australian Government commitment for the next phase of the Program. With climate change expected to drive increased demand for significant levels of restoration and adaptation investment in large integrated social, ecological and economic assets (such as the GBR), the lessons from RRAP offer insights for the application of decision frameworks to inform public and private investment priorities.
The deep ocean is the largest biome on Earth and faces increasing anthropogenic pressures from climate change and commercial fisheries. Our ability to sustainably manage this expansive habitat is impeded by our poor understanding of its inhabitants and by the difficulties in surveying and monitoring these areas. Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding has great potential to improve our understanding of this region and to facilitate monitoring across a broad range of taxa. Here, we evaluate two eDNA sampling protocols and seven primer sets for elucidating fish diversity from deep sea water samples. We found that deep sea water samples (> 1400 m depth) had significantly lower DNA concentrations than surface or mid-depth samples necessitating a refined protocol with a larger sampling volume. We recovered significantly more DNA in large volume water samples (1.5 L) filtered at sea compared to small volume samples (250 mL) held for lab filtration. Furthermore, the number of unique sequences (exact sequence variants; ESVs) recovered per sample was higher in large volume samples. Since the number of ESVs recovered from large volume samples was less variable and consistently high, we recommend the larger volumes when sampling water from the deep ocean. We also identified three primer sets which detected the most fish taxa but recommend using multiple markers due the variability in detection probabilities and taxonomic resolution among fishes for each primer set. Overall, fish diversity results obtained from metabarcoding were comparable to conventional survey methods. While eDNA sampling and processing need be optimized for this unique environment, the results of this study demonstrate that eDNA metabarcoding can facilitate biodiversity surveys in the deep ocean, require less dedicated survey effort per unit identification, and are capable of simultaneously providing valuable information on other taxonomic groups.
Comanagement is recognized, practiced, and recommended as an effective, equitable approach to place-based protection of marine resources. Despite acknowledged benefits and its potential for improved management outcomes, in the U.S., comanagement of marine protected areas (MPAs) is a relatively new approach, with limited applications. This paper reveals social, ecological and institutional conditions that enabled, or hindered, development of comanagement as an outcome of collaborative processes undertaken by community-based actors and state-based resource managers in three U.S. MPA case studies. A mixed method design, consisting of a literature review, in-depth interviews and document analysis was used to analyze MPAs in Hawai‘i, California and Florida where: (1) comanagement systems have developed between state government and community-based partners, (2) protected area boundaries and objectives are clearly defined, and, (3) marine habitat protection is a primary management objective. Eight enabling conditions were present in all three cases. Four of these conditions were consistent with preconditions identified in a published conceptual framework for comanagement arrangements synthesized from the literature and direct observations – an opportunity for negotiation, a legally mandated or brokered incentive, a willingness by local users to contribute, and leadership. Four more enabling conditions emerged from this study – connection to place, a capacity crisis, government willingness to partner, and a clear and just process. As managers strive to protect marine ecosystem function in the face of chronic environmental stressors and limited government support for environmental protection, applying these findings to leverage conditions that enable comanagement can help build community-based capacity to effectively manage MPAs.
Coral reef ecosystems are under increasing pressure from local and regional stressors and a changing climate. Current management focuses on reducing stressors to allow for natural recovery, but in many areas where coral reefs are damaged, natural recovery can be restricted, delayed or interrupted because of unstable, unconsolidated coral fragments, or rubble. Rubble fields are a natural component of coral reefs, but repeated or high-magnitude disturbances can prevent natural cementation and consolidation processes, so that coral recruits fail to survive. A suite of interventions have been used to target this issue globally, such as using mesh to stabilise rubble, removing the rubble to reveal hard substrate and deploying rocks or other hard substrates over the rubble to facilitate recruit survival. Small, modular structures can be used at multiple scales, with or without attached coral fragments, to create structural complexity and settlement surfaces. However, these can introduce foreign materials to the reef, and a limited understanding of natural recovery processes exists for the potential of this type of active intervention to successfully restore local coral reef structure. This review synthesises available knowledge about the ecological role of coral rubble, natural coral recolonisation and recovery rates and the potential benefits and risks associated with active interventions in this rapidly evolving field. Fundamental knowledge gaps include baseline levels of rubble, the structural complexity of reef habitats in space and time, natural rubble consolidation processes and the risks associated with each intervention method. Any restoration intervention needs to be underpinned by risk assessment, and the decision to repair rubble fields must arise from an understanding of when and where unconsolidated substrate and lack of structure impair natural reef recovery and ecological function. Monitoring is necessary to ascertain the success or failure of the intervention and impacts of potential risks, but there is a strong need to specify desired outcomes, the spatial and temporal context and indicators to be measured. With a focus on the Great Barrier Reef, we synthesise the techniques, successes and failures associated with rubble stabilisation and the use of small structures, review monitoring methods and indicators, and provide recommendations to ensure that we learn from past projects.
Increasing coastal populations and urban development have led to the loss of estuarine habitats for fish and wildlife. Specifically, a decline in complexity and heterogeneity of tidal marshes and creeks is thought to negatively impact fish communities by altering the function of nursery grounds, including predator refuge and prey resources. To offset these impacts, numerous agencies are restoring degraded habitats while also creating new ones where habitat has been lost. To improve understanding of what contributes to a successful restoration, six quarterly sampling events using two gear types to collect small- and large-bodied fishes were conducted to compare the fish community structure and habitat characteristics at three natural, three restored, and three impacted (i.e. ditched) areas along the coast of Tampa Bay, Florida. Overall, impacted sites had significantly lower small-bodied and juvenile fish diversity than natural and restored areas, while restored sites harbored a greater number of fish species than impacted sites for both large- and small-bodied fish. Habitat features such as shoreline slope differentiated impacted and restored from natural areas. Although we did not find a direct correlation, habitat heterogeneity likely played a role in structuring fish communities. These findings provide guidance for future coastal restoration or modification of existing projects. Specifically, the habitat mosaic approach of creating a geographically compact network of heterogenous habitat characteristics is likely to support fish diversity, while decreasing shoreline slope in a greater amount of area within coastal wetland restorations would more closely mimic natural areas.
Most literature exploring the biological effects of ocean acidification (OA) has focused on macroscopic organisms and far less is known about how marine microbial communities will respond. Studies of OA and microbial community composition and diversity have examined communities from a limited number of ocean regions where the ambient pH is near or above the global average. At San Juan Island (Salish Sea), a region that experiences naturally low pH (average = 7.8), the picoplankton (cell diameter is 0.2–2μm) community was predicted to show no response to experimental acidification in a three-week mesocosm experiment. Filtered seawater mesocosms were maintained via semicontinuous culturing. Three control mesocosms were maintained at pH 8.05 and three acidified mesocosms were maintained at pH 7.60. Total bacteria was quantified daily with a flow cytometer. Microbial communities were sampled every two days via filtration followed by DNA extraction, 16S rRNA amplification, and MiSeq sequencing. There was no significant difference in total bacteria between pH treatments throughout the experiment. Acidification significantly reduced Shannon’s diversity over time. During the final week of the experiment, acidification resulted in a significant decrease in Shannon’s diversity, Faith’s phylogenetic distance, and Pielous’s Evenness. ANCOM results revealed four bacterial ASVs (amplicon sequence variants), in families Flavobaceriaceae and Hyphomonadaceae that significantly decreased in relative frequency under acidification and two bacterial ASVs, in families Flavobacteriaceae and Alteromonadaceae, that significantly increased under acidification. This is the first OA study on the microbial community of the Salish Sea, a nutrient rich, low pH region, and the first of its kind to report a decrease in both picoplankton richness and evenness with acidification. These findings demonstrate that marine microbial communities that naturally experience acidic conditions are still sensitive to acidification.
Understanding impacts of global warming on phytoplankton–the foundation of marine ecosystems–is critical to predicting changes in future biodiversity, ocean productivity, and ultimately fisheries production. Using phytoplankton community abundance and environmental data that span ∼90 years (1931–2019) from a long-term Pacific Ocean coastal station off Sydney, Australia, we examined the response of the phytoplankton community to long-term ocean warming using the Community Temperature Index (CTI), an index of the preferred temperature of a community. With warming of ∼1.8°C at the site since 1931, we found a significant increase in the CTI from 1931–1932 to 2009–2019, suggesting that the relative proportion of warm-water to cold-water species has increased. The CTI also showed a clear seasonal cycle, with highest values at the end of austral summer (February/March) and lowest at the end of winter (August/September), a pattern well supported by other studies at this location. The shift in CTI was a consequence of the decline in the relative abundance of the cool-affinity (optimal temperature = 18.7°C), chain-forming diatom Asterionellopsis glacialis (40% in 1931–1932 to 13% in 2009 onward), and a substantial increase in the warm-affinity (21.5°C), also chain-forming diatom Leptocylindrus danicus (20% in 1931–1932 to 57% in 2009 onward). L. danicus reproduces rapidly, forms resting spores under nutrient depletion, and displays a wide thermal range. Species such as L. danicus may provide a glimpse of the functional traits necessary to be a “winner” under climate change.
Human activities are changing ecosystems at an unprecedented rate, yet large-scale studies into how local human impacts alter natural systems and interact with other aspects of global change are still lacking. Here we provide empirical evidence that local human impacts fundamentally alter relationships between ecological communities and environmental drivers. Using tropical coral reefs as a study system, we investigated the influence of contrasting levels of local human impact using a spatially extensive dataset spanning 62 outer reefs around inhabited Pacific islands. We tested how local human impacts (low versus high determined using a threshold of 25 people km−2 reef) affected benthic community (i) structure, and (ii) relationships with environmental predictors using pre-defined models and model selection tools. Data on reef depth, benthic assemblages, and herbivorous fish communities were collected from field surveys. Additional data on thermal stress, storm exposure, and market gravity (a function of human population size and reef accessibility) were extracted from public repositories. Findings revealed that reefs subject to high local human impact were characterised by relatively more turf algae (>10% higher mean absolute coverage) and lower live coral cover (9% less mean absolute coverage) than reefs subject to low local human impact, but had similar macroalgal cover and coral morphological composition. Models based on spatio-physical predictors were significantly more accurate in explaining the variation of benthic assemblages at sites with low (mean adjusted-R2 = 0.35) rather than high local human impact, where relationships became much weaker (mean adjusted-R2 = 0.10). Model selection procedures also identified a distinct shift in the relative importance of different herbivorous fish functional groups in explaining benthic communities depending on the local human impact level. These results demonstrate that local human impacts alter natural systems and indicate that projecting climate change impacts may be particularly challenging at reefs close to higher human populations, where dependency and pressure on ecosystem services are highest.
The temperate seagrass species eelgrass Zostera marina can be infected by the wasting disease pathogen Labyrinthula zosterae, which is believed to have killed about 90% of the seagrass in the Atlantic Ocean in the 1930s. It is not known why this opportunistic pathogen sometimes becomes virulent, but the recurrent outbreaks may be due to a weakening of the Z. marina plants from adverse environmental changes. This study investigated the individual and interactive effects of multiple extrinsic factors (temperature, light, and tissue damage) on the host-pathogen interaction between Z. marina and L. zosterae in a fully crossed infection experiment. The degree of infection was measured as both lesion coverage and L. zosterae cell concentration. We also investigated if the treatment factors affect the chemical defense of the host, measured as the inhibitory capacity of seagrass extracts in bioassays with L. zosterae. Finally, gene expression of a set of targeted genes was quantified in order to investigate how the treatments change Z. marina’s response to infection. Light had a pronounced effect on L. zosterae infection measured as lesion coverage, where reduced light conditions increased lesions by 35%. The response to light on L. zosterae cell concentration was more complex and showed significant interaction with the temperature treatment. Cell concentration was also significantly affected by physical damage, where damage surprisingly resulted in a reduced cell concentration of the pathogen. No treatment factor caused detectable decrease in the inhibitory capacity of the seagrass extracts. There were several interactive effects between L. zosterae infection and the treatment factors on Z. marina growth, and on the expression of genes associated with immune defense, phenol synthesis and primary metabolism, showing that the molecular reaction toward L. zosterae infection depends on prevailing environmental conditions. Our study shows that individual or interactive effects of light, temperature and tissue damage can affect multiple aspects of host-pathogen interactions in seagrasses. These results highlight the complexity of marine host-pathogen systems, showing that more multi-factorial investigations are needed to gain a better understanding of disease in marine plants under different environmental conditions.
Illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing is a major contributor to global overfishing, threatening food security, maritime livelihoods, and fisheries sustainability. An emerging narrative in the literature posits that IUU fishing is associated with additional organized criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, slavery, and arms smuggling. We explored this narrative through a systematic literature review to identify the empirical evidence of the association between illegal fisheries activities and organized crimes. Here we show that there is minimal evidence of organized crimes being linked to IUU fishing. Due to the covert nature of both organized crime and IUU fishing, we supplemented the literature review with analysis of media reports on illegal fishing from 2015 to 2019. We reviewed more than 330 individual media reports from 21 countries. From this database, < 2% reported crimes associated with illegal fishing. The predominantly associated crime mentioned were violations of worker's rights, forced labor and/or modern slavery. We resolve the contradiction between the common narrative that fisheries and other crimes are linked by presenting three distinct business models for maritime criminal activities. These models explain why certain crimes such as forced labor are associated with illegal fishing, while other crimes such as trafficking or smuggling are less likely to be linked to fishing activities. By disentangling these crimes from one another we can better focus on solutions to reduce illegal behavior on the sea, protect those vulnerable to fisheries exploitation, and enhance livelihoods and social well-being.
In South Australia, discrete populations of bottlenose dolphins inhabit two large gulfs, where key threats and population estimates have been identified. Climate change, habitat disturbance (shipping and noise pollution), fishery interactions and epizootic events have been identified as the key threats facing these populations. The Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) framework has been developed to understand how disturbances can influence population dynamics. We used population estimates combined with population specific bioenergetics models to undertake a partial PCoD assessment, comparing how the two populations respond to the identified regional threats. Populations were modeled over a 5 year period looking at the influence of each disturbance separately. As expected, the most extreme epizootic and climate change disturbance scenarios with high frequency and intensity had the biggest influence on population trends. However, the magnitude of the effect differed by population, with Spencer Gulf showing a 43% and Gulf St Vincent a 23% decline under high frequency and high impact epizootic scenarios. Epizootic events were seen to have the strongest influence on population trends and reproductive parameters for both populations, followed by climate change. PCoD modeling provides insights into how disturbances may affect different populations and informs management on how to mitigate potential effects while there is still time to act.
For Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to be effective in conservation their zoning and management needs to be based on scientific data. Obtaining information on spatio-temporal occurrence patterns of cetaceans can be especially challenging. This study used platforms of opportunity (i.e., fishing monitoring vessels) from May 2004 to May 2012 as a cost-effective way to address this knowledge gap in the Wakatobi National Park (WNP) at the heart of Coral Triangle, an important area for cetaceans in Indonesia. A database was created of cetacean sightings per surveyed days at sea, allowing for an analysis of species diversity and habitat use around the islands. Of the 11 cetacean species identified, spinner and bottlenose dolphins were sighted most often, followed by melon-headed and sperm whales. Spinner dolphin showed a wide distribution in the area, whilst bottlenose dolphin and melon-headed whale occupied the waters between the main islands and south atolls. Sperm whales occurred mostly in waters north of the main islands and as melon-headed whales, mostly in deep waters. Most cetacean sightings occurred in the zones designated for human use, indicating where potential conflicts might occur. No sightings were found in the Park core zone, suggesting a mismatch between WNP design and the cetacean ecological needs. Based on a sub-sample of the dedicated fishing monitoring sightings a sighting frequency was derived. Small and large cetaceans were reported mostly during inter-monsoonal seasons, possibly related to increased prey availability due to seasonal upwelling and increased survey activity. Inter-annual occurrence of cetaceans was variable, with no large cetaceans being sighted in 2010–2012, likely due to reduced survey efforts. In areas with limited resources for designated surveys, the use of platforms of opportunity can be a cost-effective tool to provide valuable data on cetacean occurrence. While data collection protocols in the WNP can be improved further, the results presented here already help identify potentially important areas as well as highlight where to direct designated research efforts. We advise to protect currently unprotected cetacean important habitats, and strictly regulate human activities in the current use zones for future WNP rezoning processes.
The use of small cetaceans as bait is a practice that has been reported worldwide, affecting the conservation status of vulnerable species. In Peru specifically, it has been documented since at least the late 1990s. Here we document the various contemporary uses of small cetaceans, including targeted capture for subsequent use as fishing bait. We designed a survey addressing fishery characteristics, bycatch and the use as bait of small cetaceans, and the history of these practice. We surveyed 147 fishers based in the four Peruvian ports of Paita, Salaverry, Pucusana, and Ilo and held in-depth interviews with 12 fishers from Salaverry and Pucusana. Results from our surveys show that the majority of fishers have had small cetacean bycatch while fishing and that bycaught individuals in gillnets are commonly found dead (Salaverry: 100% of fishers, Pucusana: 58%) whereas in longlines small cetaceans are found alive (Paita: 74%, Ilo: 53%). We found that the use of dolphins as bait is still common in both gillnet and longline shark fisheries along the coast of Peru and that it is more frequent in northern ports. Gillnet fishers reported using one to four dolphins as bait per trip (10–15 sets) from bycatch events and discarding the rest if they have excessive bycatch, while longline fishers reported using 10–20 dolphins per fishing trip from either direct take by harpooning or the exchange of carcasses from gillnet vessels. Bycatch and use as bait mainly affects four species, the dusky, bottlenose and common dolphins and the Burmeister’s porpoise. We identified three drivers of the use of dolphins as bait: effectiveness, availability and cost. These factors will have to be addressed in parallel if this practice is to be reduced. We recommend combining legislative and community-led strategies to reduce bait use and thus further the conservation of small cetacean populations in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.
Negative impacts of global climate change are predicted for a range of taxa. Projections predict marked increases in sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification (OA), arguably placing calcifying organisms at most risk. While detrimental impacts of environmental change on the growth and ultrastructure of bivalve mollusk shells have been shown, rapid and diel fluctuations in pH typical of coastal systems are often not considered. Mytilus edulis, an economically important marine calcifier vulnerable to climate change, were exposed to current and future OA (380 and 1000 ppm pCO2), warming (17 and 20°C), and ocean acidification and warming (OAW) scenarios in a seawater system incorporating natural fluctuations in pH. Both macroscopic morphometrics (length, width, height, volume) and microscopic changes in the crystalline structure of shells (ultrastructure) using electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) were measured over time. Increases in seawater temperature and OAW scenarios led to increased and decreased shell growth respectively and on marginal changes in cavity volumes. Shell crystal matrices became disordered shifting toward preferred alignment under elevated temperatures indicating restricted growth, whereas Mytilus grown under OAW scenarios maintained single crystal fabrics suggesting OA may ameliorate some of the negative consequences of temperature increases. However, both elevated temperature and OAW led to significant increases in crystal size (grain area and diameter) and misorientation frequencies, suggesting a propensity toward increased shell brittleness. Results suggest adult Mytilus may become more susceptible to biological determinants of survival in the future, altering ecosystem structure and functioning.
Dissolution of anthropogenic CO2 into the oceans results in ocean acidification (OA), altering marine chemistry with consequences for primary, secondary, and tertiary food web producers. Here we examine how OA could affect the food quality of primary producers and subsequent trophic transfer to second and tertiary producers. Changes in food quality induced by OA are often related to secondary metabolites in primary producers, such as enriched phenolics in microalgae and iodine in brown algae. These biomolecules can then be transferred to secondary producers, potentially affecting seafood quality and other marine ecosystem services. Furthermore, shifts in dominant functional groups of primary producers under the influence of OA would also impact higher trophic levels through food web interactions. It is challenging to understand how these complex food chain effects of OA may be expressed under the influence of fluctuating environments or multiple drivers, and how these effects can be scaled up through marine food webs to humans.
Like most ocean regions today, the European and contiguous seas experience cumulative impacts from local human activities and global pressures. They are largely in poor environmental condition with deteriorating trends. Despite several success stories, European policies for marine conservation fall short of being effective. Acknowledging the challenges for marine conservation, a 4-year multi-national network, MarCons, supported collaborative marine conservation efforts to bridge the gap between science, management and policy, aiming to contribute in reversing present negative trends. By consolidating a large network of more than 100 scientists from 26 countries, and conducting a series of workshops over 4 years (2016–2020), MarCons analyzed challenges, opportunities and obstacles for advancing marine conservation in the European and contiguous seas. Here, we synthesize the major issues that emerged from this analysis and make 12 key recommendations for policy makers, marine managers, and researchers. To increase the effectiveness of marine conservation planning, we recommend (1) designing coherent networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the framework of marine spatial planning (MSP) and applying systematic conservation planning principles, including re-evaluation of existing management zones, (2) designing MPA networks within a broader transboundary planning framework, and (3) implementing integrated land-freshwater-sea approaches. To address inadequate or poorly informed management, we recommend (4) developing and implementing adaptive management plans in all sites of the Natura 2000 European conservation network and revising the Natura 2000 framework, (5) embedding and implementing cumulative effects assessments into a risk management process and making them operational, and (6) promoting actions to reach ‘good environmental status’ in all European waters. To account for global change in conservation planning and management, we further recommend (7) developing conservation strategies to address the impacts of global change, for example identifying climate-change refugia as high priority conservation areas, and (8) incorporating biological invasions in conservation plans and prioritizing management actions to control invasive species. Finally, to improve current practices that may compromise the effectiveness of conservation actions, we recommend (9) reinforcing the collection of high-quality open-access data, (10) improving mechanisms for public participation in MPA planning and management, (11) prioritizing conservation goals in full collaboration with stakeholders, and (12) addressing gender inequality in marine sciences and conservation.