Costa Rica is considering expanding their marine protected areas (MPAs) to conserve marine resources. Due to the importance of households’ responses to an MPA in defining the MPA’s ecological and economic outcomes, this paper uses an economic decision framework to interpret data from near-MPA household surveys to inform this policy discussion. The model and data suggest that the impact of expanding MPAs relies on levels of enforcement and on-shore wages. If larger near-shore MPAs can produce high wages through increased tourism, MPA expansions could provide ecological benefits with low burdens to communities. Due to distance costs and gear investments, however, MPAs farther off-shore may place high burdens on off-shore fishers.
It is acknowledged that an effective path to globally protect marine ecosystems is through the establishment of eco-regional scale networks of MPAs spanning across national frontiers. In this work we aimed to plan for regionally feasible networks of MPAs that can be ecologically linked with an existing one in a transboundary context. We illustrate our exercise in the Ensenadian eco-region, a shared marine ecosystem between the south of California, United States of America (USA), and the north of Baja California, Mexico; where conservation actions differ across the border. In the USA, California recently established a network of MPAs through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), while in Mexico: Baja California lacks a network of MPAs or a marine spatial planning effort to establish it. We generated four different scenarios with Marxan by integrating different ecological, social, and management considerations (habitat representation, opportunity costs, habitat condition, and enforcement costs). To do so, we characterized and collected biophysical and socio-economic information for Baja California and developed novel approaches to quantify and incorporate some of these considerations. We were able to design feasible networks of MPAs in Baja California that are ecologically linked with California's network (met between 78.5 and 84.4% of the MLPA guidelines) and that would represent a low cost for fishers and aquaculture investors. We found that when multiple considerations are integrated more priority areas for conservation emerge. For our region, human distribution presents a strong gradient from north to south and resulted to be an important factor for the spatial arrangement of the priority areas. This work shows how, despite the constraints of a data-poor area, the available conservation principles, mapping, and planning tools can still be used to generate spatial conservation plans in a transboundary context.
The benefit of engaging volunteers in marine citizen science projects goes beyond generation of data and has intrinsic value with regards to community capacity-building and education. Yet, despite the documented benefits of citizen science, there can be barriers to the process of developing strategic citizen science projects and translating data into valued results with natural resource management applications. This paper presents four case-studies from fifteen years of Reef Check Australia (RCA) marine citizen science research and education projects. These case studies convey approaches and lessons-learned from the process of designing, implementing and sharing citizen science programs with the goal to create valuable social and environmental outcomes:
(1) Demonstrating citizen science data quality through a precision study on data and analysis of 15 years of standardized Reef Check (RC) reef health data in Queensland, Australia.
(2) Identifying and responding to data gaps through volunteer monitoring of sub-tropical rocky reefs in South East Queensland, Australia.
(3) Adapting citizen science protocols to enhance capacity building, partnerships and strategic natural resource management applications through reef habitat mapping.
(4) Tailoring new pathways for sharing citizen science findings and engaging volunteers with the community via a Reef Check Australia Ambassadors community outreach program.
These case studies offer insights into considerations for developing targeted and flexible citizen science projects, showcasing the work of volunteers and project stakeholders, and collaborating with partners for applications beneficial to research, management and education.
Marine protected areas (MPA) that are created opportunistically must be evaluated in an ecological context to ensure that conservation goals and societal expectations are achievable. This study used acoustic telemetry to investigate movements of reef fish relative to the boundary of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (VICRNM) in Coral Bay, U.S. Virgin Islands. Although created to enhance ecosystem protection, VICRNM boundaries were established purely on the basis of adjacency to public versus privately owned lands. Transmitters were implanted into a diversity of reef fish species representative of the local community whose movements were logged for one year on an array of acoustic-receivers that were positioned within, outside, and along the MPA boundary. Results indicate that the boundary has coincidentally aligned with a deep sandy area that does not cross through continuous reef or mangrove habitat. This acted as a natural barrier to movements of species such as Lutjanus griseus, Epinephelus guttatus, Cephalopholus cruentatus, Holocentrus rufus, and Sparisoma aurofrenatum. Other species were more mobile and were routinely detected outside VICRNM, especially at night, such as L. synagris, Haemulon plumierii, and H. sciurus. In addition to fish movements in relation to the VICRNM boundary, network analysis revealed several hotspots of concentrated fish activity including a reef promontory and bay mouths. Investment in enforcement of existing regulations to protect fish is warranted to realize the full potential of this MPA. Using these types of data, management actions in this and other MPAs can be focused on those species and locations that would experience the greatest benefit.
Over the past decades, much research has focused on understanding the critical factors for marine extinctions with the aim of preventing further species losses in the oceans. Although conservation and management strategies are enabling several species and populations to recover, others remain at low abundance levels or experience further declines. To understand these discrepancies, we asked which intrinsic and extrinsic factors are critical for the recovery of marine mammals. Building on a published database on abundance trends of 137 marine mammal populations worldwide, we compiled data on 28 potential critical factors and used random forests and additive mixed models in our analytical approach. Our results highlight that a mix of life-history characteristics, ecological traits, phylogenetic relatedness, population size, geographic range, human impacts and management efforts were important in explaining why populations recover or not. Generally, species with lower age at maturity and intermediate habitat area were more likely to recover, which is consistent with life-history and ecological theory. Body size and ocean basin were also important, as well as trophic level, social interactions, the dominant habitat and habitat disturbance. Overall, our results highlight that not one or two, but a range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors are important for recovery, pointing to cumulative effects. This new line of research provides important information for improving conservation and management strategies particularly for those populations that have been unable to recover to date.
The incorporation of local and traditional knowledges into environmental governance regimes is increasingly recognised as a critical component of effective and equitable conservation efforts. However, there remain significant barriers to integration of community-based knowledge within mainstream environmental governance. This paper explores community-based knowledge in the context of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a widely-used governance tool designed to predict and manage the impacts of development. Drawing on a social survey and interviews, the paper documents local community knowledge of environmental changes associated with dredging and the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants in a large industrial harbour located in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and compares this knowledge with public consultation opportunities offered throughout the project lifecycle, including during assessment and after project approval. The findings highlight a misalignment between community knowledge of environmental change, which is acquired largely after impacts become apparent, and the public participation opportunities afforded through EIA, which generally occur before construction or dredging is undertaken.
In recent decades, the flow of fixed—that is, biologically usable—nitrogen from human activities into the environment has grown substantially. The sources include excess production and use of nitrogen fertilizers; ammonia emitted from animal husbandry and sewage; and nitrogen oxides emitted by automobiles, airplanes, and fossil fuel power plants. The resulting nitrogen flux into the ocean may approach the magnitude of natural sources (1–3). However, it is difficult to specify the integrated increase over natural sources precisely because there is very little data for when nitrogen sources were mostly natural. On page 749 of this issue, Ren et al. use the nitrogen isotope composition of a 50-year coral core from the South China Sea to show that the natural upwelling flux of fixed nitrogen has risen by 20% during the past two decades (4).
Due to rapid declines of shark populations across many species and regions of the world, the need for large-scale conservation measures has become widely recognized. Some coastal states have opted to implement ‘Shark Sanctuaries’, which prohibit commercial shark fishing and the export of shark products across large areas, typically their entire Exclusive Economic Zones. Although shark sanctuaries cover almost as much area globally as marine protected areas (MPAs), their success has yet to be evaluated. Here, key features and regulatory details for eleven shark sanctuaries (covering 3% of global ocean area) are summarized, highlighting their commonalities and differences. Catch data are then used to shed light on the impact current shark sanctuaries could have on shark catch, foreign fleets, trade and abundance. Based on this comparative analysis, recommendations are made to implement program evaluation measures within existing and future shark sanctuaries that would explicitly outline goals and measures of success or failure. In summary, although shark sanctuaries may have the intended effect of reducing shark mortality, there appears a need to address bycatch within shark sanctuary regulations, and to collect baseline data that can be used to monitor sanctuary effectiveness.
Vegetated marine habitats are globally important carbon sinks, making a significant contribution towards mitigating climate change, and they provide a wide range of other ecosystem services. However, large gaps in knowledge remain, particularly for seagrass meadows in Africa. The present study estimated biomass and sediment organic carbon (Corg) stocks of four dominant seagrass species in Gazi Bay, Kenya. It compared sediment Corg between seagrass areas in vegetated and un-vegetated ‘controls’, using the naturally patchy occurence of seagrass at this site to test the impacts of seagrass growth on sediment Corg. It also explored relationships between the sediment and above-ground Corg, as well as between the total biomass and above-ground parameters. Sediment Corg was significantly different between species, range: 160.7–233.8 Mg C ha-1 (compared to the global range of 115.3 to 829.2 Mg C ha-1). Vegetated areas in all species had significantly higher sediment Corg compared with un-vegetated controls; the presence of seagrass increased Corg by 4–6 times. Biomass carbon differed significantly between species with means ranging between 4.8–7.1 Mg C ha-1 compared to the global range of 2.5–7.3 Mg C ha-1. To our knowledge, these are among the first results on seagrass sediment Corg to be reported from African seagrass beds; and contribute towards our understanding of the role of seagrass in global carbon dynamics.
As increasingly large extents of the global oceans are being managed through spatial measures, it is important to identify area characteristics underlying network distributions. Studies discerning spatial patterns in marine management have disproportionately focused on global networks. This paper instead considers the single country context of Japan to illuminate within-country drivers of area-based conservation and fishery management. A dataset containing potentially relevant socioeconomic, environmental, and fisheries factors was assembled and used to model prefecture-level counts of marine protected areas (MPAs) and territorial use rights for fisheries (TURFs) throughout Japan's waters. Several factors were found to significantly influence the number of TURFs in a particular area, whereas MPA patterns of use remain largely unexplained. TURFs are frequently noted as more suitable for managing fisheries of low mobility species and our analysis finds greater use of TURFs in areas that rely heavily on benthic catch. The number of trading ports was also found to be positively related to TURF distributions, suggesting economic infrastructure may influence the use of this fisheries management tool. In-line with global analyses, MPA patterns of use were not found to be significantly related to any of the potential explanatory variables after correcting for the number of statistical comparisons that were carried out. Differences in our ability to model the use of TURFs and MPAs may arise due to the narrower objectives associated with the former (e.g., income, employment) in comparison to the often broad and varied goals that motivate use of the latter.
The Horizon 2020 COLUMBUS project aims to identify and transfer unexploited knowledge, generated by EU funded science and technology research, to actors with the potential to capitalise on it resulting in measurable value creation. Marine knowledge is generated, to a large extent, through analyses and application of the data and information obtained through monitoring and observation of seas and oceans. The COLUMBUS project is structured around nine areas of competency, or nodes. The Monitoring and Observation node has been focusing on identifying some of the bottlenecks and challenges to greater uptake and application of marine data and information by users, in particular by industry. Building on the knowledge of the partners involved, significant work has been carried out to engage with actors from the private sector, establishing their general and specific needs and to what extent observatories and marine data-sharing initiatives can or should adapt to meet them. This document is based on desk-top research resulting in COLUMBUS Deliverable D4.1, attendance at trade fairs and workshops, one-on-one meetings with representatives from the private sector, a COLUMBUS brokerage event in the context of SeaTech Week (2016) and contributions from partners’ own experience.
Every year, the sum of humanity’s knowledge increases exponentially. And as we learn more, we also learn there is much we still don’t know. Plastic litter in our oceans is one area where we need to learn more, and we need to learn it quickly but we already know enough to take action. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. As the Marine Litter Vital Graphics report explains, we need to act now if we want to avoid living in a sea of plastic by mid-century – even if we don’t know everything about what it’s doing to the health of people or the environment.
As part of a national research program studying the sources, distribution, and effects of litter entering the ocean, we established a national citizen science program engaging nearly 7000 primary and secondary students, teachers and corporate participants in collecting marine debris data around Australia's coastline. Citizen scientists undertook a one-day training program, which addressed data collection skills and academic topics in the national science curriculum. A subset of teachers and corporate sponsor staff participated in an intensive multi-day training program with researchers before venturing into the field.
Data collected by citizen scientists were compared with data collected by researchers at nearby locations. We found the citizen science data were of equivalent quality to those collected by researchers, but there were differences among students. Primary school students detected more debris than did older secondary students. Students detected small items (< 1 cm2), and were as accurate as researchers in identifying debris type and size categories. However, sampling approach was important — students detected more debris during quadrat searches than during strip transects. Comparing researcher effort to volunteer-collected data, citizen scientists were often more efficient (per m2) than researchers at collecting marine debris, but the results varied among methods. Researchers made more surveys within a given day (0.8 surveys/person-day). However, participants of one day programs working with secondary students or adults were nearly as efficient (0.6 surveys/person-day). This study shows that engaging with citizen scientists can broaden the coverage and increase the sampling power of coastal litter and other ecological survey assessments without compromising the data.
The presence of microplastics in the marine environment poses a great threat to the entire ecosystem and has received much attention lately as the presence has greatly impacted oceans, lakes, seas, rivers, coastal areas and even the Polar Regions. Microplastics are found in most commonly utilized products (primary microplastics), or may originate from the fragmentation of larger plastic debris (secondary microplastics). The material enters the marine environment through terrestrial and land-based activities, especially via runoffs and is known to have great impact on marine organisms as studies have shown that large numbers of marine organisms have been affected by microplastics. Microplastic particles have been found distributed in large numbers in Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, India, South Africa, North America, and in Europe. This review describes the sources and global distribution of microplastics in the environment, the fate and impact on marine biota, especially the food chain. Furthermore, the control measures discussed are those mapped out by both national and international environmental organizations for combating the impact from microplastics. Identifying the main sources of microplastic pollution in the environment and creating awareness through education at the public, private, and government sectors will go a long way in reducing the entry of microplastics into the environment. Also, knowing the associated behavioral mechanisms will enable better understanding of the impacts for the marine environment. However, a more promising and environmentally safe approach could be provided by exploiting the potentials of microorganisms, especially those of marine origin that can degrade microplastics.
Urchins are the last abundant grazers of macroalgae on most Caribbean reefs following the historical overexploitation of herbivorous fishes. The long-spined urchin Diadema antillarum was particularly effective at controlling macroalgae and facilitating coral dominance on Caribbean reefs until its ecological extinction from a catastrophic disease epidemic in the early 1980s. Despite their important role in the structure and functioning of Caribbean reef ecosystems, the natural dynamics of Caribbean reef urchin communities are poorly known due to the paucity of ecological survey data prior to large-scale human disturbances and the Diadema dieoff. To help resolve the baseline abundances and ecological roles of common urchin taxa, we track changes in urchin abundance and composition over the past 3000 yr from analysis of subfossil urchin spines preserved in reef matrix cores collected in Caribbean Panama. Echinometra consistently dominated the subfossil spine assemblage, while Diadema was consistently rare in the subfossil record in this region. Rather than increasing during a period of heightened human exploitation of their fish competitors and predators, Diadema began declining over a millennium ago. Convergent cross mapping (CCM) causality analyses reveal that Diadema abundance is causally related to coral community composition. Diadema is negatively affected by Acropora cervicornis dominance, likely due to the tight association between this coral and the threespot damselfish, an effective Diadema competitor. Conversely, Diadema positively affects the abundance of the coral Madracis mirabilis, possibly via its control of macroalgae. Causal relationships were not detected among abundances of individual urchin taxa, indicating that inter-specific echinoid competition is not a factor limiting Diadema recovery. Our detailed record of prehistorical and historical urchin community dynamics suggests that the failure of Diadema to recover over 30 yr after its mass mortality event may be due in part to the prey release of damselfish following the long-term overfishing of piscivorous fishes.
While reported losses of climate-related hazards are at historically high levels, climate change is likely to enhance the risk posed by extreme weather events. Several regions are likely to be exposed to multiple climate hazards, yet their modeling in a joint scheme is still at the early stages. A multi-hazard framework to map exposure to multiple climate extremes in Europe along the twenty-first century is hereby presented. Using an ensemble of climate projections, changes in the frequency of heat and cold waves, river and coastal flooding, streamflow droughts, wildfires and windstorms are evaluated. Corresponding variations in expected annual exposure allow for a quantitative comparison of hazards described by different process characteristics and metrics. Projected changes in exposure depict important variations in hazard scenarios, especially those linked to rising temperatures, and spatial patterns largely modulated by local climate conditions. Results show that Europe will likely face a progressive increase in overall climate hazard with a prominent spatial gradient towards south-western regions mainly driven by the rise of heat waves, droughts and wildfires. Key hotspots emerge particularly along coastlines and in floodplains, often highly populated and economically pivotal, where floods and windstorms could be critical in combination with other climate hazards. Projected increases in exposure will be larger for very extreme events due to their pronounced changes in frequency. Results of this appraisal provide useful input for forthcoming European disaster risk and adaptation policy.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are established to conserve important ecosystems and protect marine species threatened in the wider ocean. However, even MPAs in remote areas are not wholly isolated from anthropogenic impacts. “Upstream” activities, possibly thousands of kilometers away, can influence MPAs through ocean currents that determine their connectivity. Persistent pollutants, such as plastics, can be transported from neighboring shelf regions to MPAs, or an ecosystem may be affected if larval dispersal is reduced from a seemingly remote upstream area. Thus, improved understanding of exactly where upstream is, and on what timescale it is connected, is important for protecting and monitoring MPAs. Here, we use a high-resolution (1/12°) ocean general circulation model and Lagrangian particle tracking to diagnose the connectivity of four of the UK's largest MPAs: Pitcairn; South Georgia and Sandwich Islands; Ascension; and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). We introduce the idea of a circulation “connectivity footprint”, by which MPAs are connected to upstream areas. Annual connectivity footprints were calculated for the four MPAs, taking into account seasonal and inter-annual variability. These footprints showed that, on annual timescales, Pitcairn was not connected with land, whereas there was increasing connectivity for waters reaching South Georgia, Ascension, and, especially, BIOT. BIOT also had a high degree of both seasonal and inter-annual variability, which drastically changed its footprint, year-to-year. We advocate that such connectivity footprints are an inherent property of all MPAs, and need to be considered when MPAs are first proposed or their viability as refuges evaluated.
A generic framework (FW) for the monitoring and evaluation of spatially managed areas (here defined as marine areas subject to a planning and management regime) was developed and tested in nine marine areas of 13 European countries under the EU funded project MESMA (Monitoring and Evaluation of Spatially Managed Areas). This paper describes the lessons learned in the use of the FW and draws conclusions for its future use and development. The selected case studies represented diverse spatial scales, management status and complexity, ranging from sub-national areas to entire national coastlines, and large offshore regions. The application of the FW consisted of seven steps: starting with (i) context setting and (ii) gathering of relevant ecosystem information, human activities and management goals; it continues with (iii) indicator selection and (iv) risk assessment; and the final steps considers the (v) analysis of findings and (vi) the evaluation of management effectiveness, to end up with (vii) the revision and proposal of adaptation to current management. The lessons learnt through the application of the FW in the case studies have proved the value of the FW. However, difficulties rose due to the diversity of the nature and the different stages of development in planning and management in the case study areas; as well as, limited knowledge on ecosystem functioning needed for its implementation. As a conclusion the FW allowed for a flexible and creative application and provided important gap analyses.
The Convention on Biological Diversity aspires to designate 10% of the global oceans as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), but so far, few MPAs protect pelagic species in the high seas. Transparent scientific approaches are needed to ensure that these encompass areas with high biodiversity value. Here we used the distribution of all globally threatened seabirds breeding in a centrally located archipelago (Tristan da Cunha) to provide guidance on where MPAs could be established in the South Atlantic Ocean. We combined year-round tracking data from six species, and used the systematic conservation-planning tool, ‘Zonation’, to delineate areas that would protect the largest proportion of each population. The areas used most intensively varied among species and seasons. Combining the sites used by all six species suggested that the most important areas of the South Atlantic are located south of South Africa, around the central South Atlantic between 30°S and 55°S, and near South America. We estimated that the longline fishing effort in these intensively used areas is around 11 million hooks on average each year, highlighting the need for improved monitoring of seabird bycatch rates and the enforcement of compliance with bird bycatch mitigation requirements by fisheries. There was no overlap between the identified areas and any of the existing MPAs in the South Atlantic. The conservation of these highly mobile, pelagic species cannot be achieved by single countries, but requires a multi-national approach at an ocean-basin scale, such as an agreement for the conservation of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction under the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The dynamic relationship between reefs and the people who utilize them at a subsistence level is poorly understood. This paper characterizes atoll-scale patterns in shallow coral reef habitat and fish community structure, and correlates these with environmental characteristics and anthropogenic factors, critical to conservation efforts for the reefs and the people who depend on them. Hierarchical clustering analyses by site for benthic composition and fish community resulted in the same 3 major clusters: cluster 1–oceanic (close proximity to deep water) and uninhabited (low human impact); cluster 2–oceanic and inhabited (high human impact); and cluster 3–lagoonal (facing the inside of the lagoon) and inhabited (highest human impact). Distance from village, reef exposure to deep water and human population size had the greatest effect in predicting the fish and benthic community structure. Our study demonstrates a strong association between benthic and fish community structure and human use across the Ulithi Atoll (Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia) and confirms a pattern observed by local people that an ‘opportunistic’ scleractinian coral (Montipora sp.) is associated with more highly impacted reefs. Our findings suggest that small human populations (subsistence fishing) can nevertheless have considerable ecological impacts on reefs due, in part, to changes in fishing practices rather than overfishing per se, as well as larger global trends. Findings from this work can assist in building local capacity to manage reef resources across an atoll-wide scale, and illustrates the importance of anthropogenic impact even in small communities.