The European Atlas of the Seas is a web-based coastal and marine information system, originally aimed at the general public, but capable also of supporting non-specialist professionals in addressing environmental matters, human activities and management policies related to the sea. It is based on a combination of data (and metadata), which present a snapshot of both natural and socio-economic elements of coastal and marine regions in the European Union and its Outermost Regions. The first idea of a European Atlas of the Seas was set forward in 2007 with the launch of the Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union. Early work on the Atlas was conducted by the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs of the European Commission, while further development of system architecture, data collection, map services and descriptive text was assigned in 2013 to the Joint Research Centre, with the aim to offer new services and features, as well as the interaction with other available information tools. The present European Atlas of the Seas consists of background data layers designed to be displayed as map backdrop, as well as a number of thematic data layers, classified under 8 main categories: geography, nature, tourism, security and safety, people and employment, transport and energy, governance and European policies, fisheries and aquaculture. These can be used to compose customized maps, as user-defined ad hoc indicators, and to probe them with tools such as product-to-product correlations, or time series visualisation. Non-specialist professional users can use such analysis and interpretation capabilities to couple data into ecological and socio-economic indicators for a wide range of applications. The thematic map collection provided a common baseline that can be used by Member States of the European Union in getting started with the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive requirements. As this is seen as a pre-requisite for Blue Growth, the European Atlas of the Seas will help the sustainable use of marine ecosystem services and resources.
The following titles are freely-available, or include a link to a preprint or postprint.
Consideration of whether to completely remove an oil and gas production platform from the seafloor or to leave the submerged jacket as a reef is an imminent decision for California, as a number of offshore platforms in both state and federal waters are in the early stages of decommissioning. Laws require that a platform at the end of its production life be totally removed unless the submerged jacket section continues as a reef under state sponsorship. Consideration of the eventual fate of the populations of fishes and invertebrates beneath platforms has led to global reefing of the jacket portion of platforms instead of removal at the time of decommissioning. The construction and use of artificial reefs are centuries old and global in nature using a great variety of materials. The history that led to the reefing option for platforms begins in the mid-20th century in an effort for general artificial reefs to provide both fishing opportunities and increase fisheries production for a burgeoning U.S. population. The trend toward reefing platforms at end of their lives followed after the oil and gas industry installed thousands of standing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico where they had become popular fishing destinations. The National Fishing Enhancement Act and subsequent National Artificial Reef Plan laid the foundation for Rig-to-Reefs. Reefing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico is a well-established practice that is also applied globally. Deliberation of reefing decommissioned platforms and many years of scientific study beneath California platforms has culminated in a California State law that now allows consideration of the concept. This paper summarizes the history, practices, published science, and available information involved when considering the reefing option. It is hoped that this material will inform the public, policy makers, and regulators about their upcoming decisions.
To implement ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM), there is a need to comprehensively examine fundamental components of fisheries ecosystems and ascertain the characteristics and strategies facilitating this more systematic approach. Coupled natural and human factors, inherent biological productivities, and systematic governance measures all influence living marine resource (LMR) and socioeconomic status within a given socio-ecological system (SES). Determining the relative prominence of these factors remains a challenge. Examining these facets to determine how much EBFM and wise LMR management occurs is timely and warranted given the many issues facing marine fisheries ecosystems. Here we characterize major United States (U.S.) marine fishery ecosystems by examining these facets and compiling a consistent, multidisciplinary view of these coupled SESs using commonly available, integrated data for each ecosystem. We then examine if major patterns and lessons emerge when comparing across SESs. This work also seeks to elucidate what are the determinants of successful LMR management. Although U.S.-centric, the breadth of the ecosystems explored here are likely globally applicable. Overall, we observed that inherent biological productivity was a major driver determining the level of fisheries biomass, landings, and LMR economic value for a given region, but that human interventions can offset basal production. We observed that good governance could overcome certain ecosystem limitations, and vice versa, especially as tradeoffs within regions have intensified over time. We also found that all U.S. regions are performing well in terms of certain aspects of LMR management, with unique successes and challenges observed in all regions. Although attributes of marine fisheries ecosystems differ among regions, there are commonalities that can be applied and transferred across them. These include having: clear stock status identified; relatively stable but attentive management interventions; clear tracking of broader ecosystem considerations; landings to biomass exploitation rates at typically < 0.1; areal landings at typically < 1 t km2year−1; ratios of landings relative to primary production at typically < 0.001; and explicit consideration of socio-economic factors directly in management. Integrated, cross-disciplinary perspectives and systematic comparative syntheses such as this one offer insight in determining regionally-specific and overarching approaches for successful LMR management.
Protected areas (PAs) are a frequently used conservation strategy, yet their socioeconomic impacts on local communities remain contentious. A shift toward increased participation by local communities in PA governance seeks to deliver benefits for human well‐being and biodiversity. Although participation is considered critical to the success of PAs, few researchers have investigated individuals’ decisions to participate and what this means for how local people experience the costs and benefits of conservation. We explored who participates in PA governance associations and why; the perceived benefits and costs to participation; and how costs and benefits are distributed within and between communities. Methods included 3 focus groups, 37 interviews, and 217 questionnaire surveys conducted in 3 communities and other stakeholders (e.g., employees of a nongovernmental organization and government officials) in PA governance in Madagascar. Our study design was grounded in the theory of planned behavior (TPB), the most commonly applied behavior model in social psychology. Participation in PA governance was limited by miscommunication and lack of knowledge about who could get involved and how. Respondents perceived limited benefits and high costs and uneven distribution of these within and between communities. Men, poorer households, and people in remote villages reported the highest costs. Our findings illustrate challenges related to comanagement of PAs: understanding the heterogeneous nature of communities; ensuring all households are represented in governance participation; understanding differences in the meaning of forest protection; and targeting interventions to reach households most in need to avoid elite capture.
Recruitment and connectivity are important criteria for designing effective marine protected areas, as coastal fish populations must be sustained by settling juveniles. However, patterns of recruitment are difficult to observe, and adults and juveniles may occupy distinct habitats. We examined patterns of adult black rockfish Sebastes melanops abundance with respect to habitat and spatiotemporal variability in recruitment of young-of-the-year (YOY) to determine how these variables influence population density in and around a rockfish conservation area (RCA). For most year classes, there was no relationship between the density of YOY and the density of 1 yr olds or the density of adults, and instead habitat variables such as topological complexity and the amount of rocky substrate predicted adult black rockfish abundance. For 1 year class of moderate abundance at the YOY stage but high abundance at the 1 yr old stage, a significant relationship between 1 yr olds and subsequent adults was observed. We surmise that overwinter survival of YOY fish may be an important determinant for year-class strength in black rockfish. Although a companion study found low recruitment of YOY inside the RCA, our data indicate that the density of many species of rockfish was higher inside the RCA. These results highlight how the density of adults can be determined by post-recruitment processes such as movement into suitable habitat and mortality, rather than by recruitment of YOY, and have implications for the design of marine reserve networks.
Ecosystem-based management (EBM) necessarily requires a degree of coordination across countries that share ocean ecosystems, and among national agencies and departments that have responsibilities relating to ocean health and marine resource utilization. This requires political direction, legal input, stakeholder consultation and engagement, and complex negotiations. Currently there is a common perception that within and across national jurisdictions there is excessive legislative complexity, a relatively low level of policy coherence or alignment with regards to ocean and coastal EBM, and that more aligned legislation is needed to accelerate EBM adoption. Our Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance (AORA) task group was comprised of a small, focused and interdisciplinary mix of lawyers, social scientists, and natural scientists from Canada, the USA, and the EU. We characterized, compared, and synthesized the mandates that govern marine activities and ocean stressors relative to facilitating EBM in national and international waters of the North Atlantic, and identified formal mandates across jurisdictions and, where possible, policy and other non-regulatory mandates. We found that irrespective of the detailed requirements of legislation or policy across AORA jurisdictions, or the efficacy of their actual implementation, most of the major ocean pressures and uses posing threats to ocean sustainability have some form of coverage by national or regional legislation. The coverage is, in fact, rather comprehensive. Still, numerous impediments to effective EBM implementation arise, potentially relating to the lack of integration between agencies and departments, a lack of adequate policy alignment, and a variety of other socio-political factors. We note with concern that if challenges regarding EBM implementation exist in the North Atlantic, we can expect that in less developed regions where financial and governance capacity may be lower, that implementation of EBM could be even more challenging.
Over 25 years ago the first satellite tracking studies of sea turtles were published. The technology and attachment methods have now come of age with long-term tracks over a year being commonplace and the ability to relay high resolution GPS locations via the Argos satellite system along with behavioral (e.g., diving and activity) and environmental (e.g., temperature) data. Early studies focused on breeding females because they come ashore to nest, allowing individuals to be restrained relatively easily for tag attachment. However, today the development of methods for the capture of turtles at sea are increasingly allowing studies on both adult male turtles as well as immature turtles as small as 11 cm carapace length. Here we review the extent of work after many thousands of individual turtles have been tracked. We consider the state-of-the-art equipment for satellite tracking turtles and how this technology is being used to tackle key questions. We highlight some of the emerging opportunities arising from improved spatial resolution of tracking, increased robustness and miniaturization of tags as well as increasing availability of environmental data. We highlight the huge potential for big-data studies to make use of the thousands of tracks that exist, although we discuss the long-standing challenges surrounding data accessibility.
As a response to increasing human pressures on marine ecosystems, the legislation aimed at improving the conservation and management of marine coastal areas in European and Contiguous Seas (ECS) underwent crucial advances. ECS, however, still remain largely affected by increasing threats leading to biodiversity loss. Here, by using emblematic case studies and expert knowledge, we review current conservation tools, comparing their application in different areas to assess their effectiveness, potential for synergies, and contradictions. Despite regional differences in their application, the existing legislative frameworks have the potential to regulate human activities and to protect marine biodiversity. However, four challenges remain to be addressed to fully achieve environmental policy goals: (1) Lack of shared vision representing a limitation in transboundary collaboration. Although all EU countries are committed to fulfil EU Directives and other binding international legislative acts, a remarkable heterogeneity exists among countries in the compliance with the common legislation on conservation and in their degree of implementation. (2) Lack of systematic procedures for the selection of protected marine sites. Regional and national approaches in designating Natura 2000 sites and nationally designated marine protected areas (MPAs) reflect varying conservation targets and importance of conservation issues in political agendas. (3) Lack of coherent ecological networks. Natura 2000 sites and other MPAs are still far from reaching the status of effective networks in all considered case studies. (4) Hotspot of conflicts with private economic interests prevailing over conservation aims. Recommendations are given to overcome the fragmented approach still characterizing the conservation and management of coastal marine environments. Holistic, integrated, ecosystem-based, cross-cutting approaches can avoid conflicts among institutions so as to provide effective and timely solutions to current and future challenges concerning the conservation and management of marine ecosystems and associated goods and services.
Marine benthic habitats are modified by a number of human-related disturbances. When these disturbances occur at large scales over areas of high environmental variability, it is difficult to assess impacts using metrics such as species richness or individual species distributions because of varying species-specific responses to environmental drivers (e.g., exposure, sediment, temperature). Impact assessment can also be problematic when assessed at broad spatial scales because of regional heterogeneity of species pools. Even when effects on individual species can be detected, it is difficult to upscale from individual species to ecosystem scale effects. Here, we use a functional group approach to assess broad scale patterns in ecological processes with respect to fishing and environmental drivers. We used data from field surveys of benthic communities from two large, widely separated areas in New Zealand’s EEZ (Chatham Rise and Challenger Plateau). We assigned 828 taxonomic units (most identified to species) into functional groups related to important ecosystem processes and likely sensitivity to, and recovery from, fishing disturbance to the seafloor. These included: opportunistic early colonists; substrate stabilisers (e.g., tube mat formers); substrate destabilisers; shell hash-creating species; emergent epifauna; burrowers; and predators and scavengers. Effects of fishing disturbance on benthic functional composition were observed, even at this broad spatial scale. Responses varied between functional groups, with some being tolerant of fishing impacts and others showing rapid declines with minimal fishing effort. The use of a functional group approach facilitates assessment of impacts across regions and species, allowing for improved generalisations of impacts to inform management and decision making.
Offshore wind is gaining momentum in the United States as a viable source for meeting domestic energy needs. Although offshore wind farms have been developed in Europe and Asia, the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF) is the first offshore wind farm built in North America. To improve marine resource management, it is critical to understand the impacts of the wind farm on marine resource users in context. Little is known about the impacts of offshore wind farms on marine resource users in the United States. This study investigates recreational and commercial fishers' perceptions of the impacts of the BIWF on the local marine ecosystem. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 fishers, mostly based out of Block Island or Point Judith, Rhode Island (US), in the summer and fall of 2017. During the interviews, fishers were asked about their perceptions of changes in the marine ecology of the wind farm area during and after the offshore wind turbines were constructed, and how their activities in the area have changed since the wind farm was installed. Results indicate that there were perceived impacts of the BIWF on the local ecosystem and the behavior of the marine resource users. For some recreational fishers, the wind farm functioned as a destination or target and served as an artificial reef for spearfishing. For some commercial fishers, the increase in recreational fishing due to the establishment of the BIWF crowded out commercial fishers in these areas. As the offshore wind farm industry expands within US waters, findings from this study and others like it can provide valuable insights on the potential impacts of these wind farms on marine resource users.
Sexually produced larvae are used in various fields of coral research. Because the vast majority of scleractinians reproduces only on one or few occasions per year through simultaneous release of gametes, and because an ex situspawning induction is still very hard to achieve, great efforts are required to obtain planula larvae. Brooding corals have been used to harvest planulae although their larvae often differ in various traits from most spawning corals, e.g., in settlement behavior. Other cnidarians, such as Aiptasia spp., have been substituting for scleractinians in many aspects of coral research. However, organisms such as Aiptasia differ strongly from scleractinians, thus limiting the transferability of obtained results. This study examines the potential of Leptastrea purpurea as a reliable source of larvae for coral research. Larval output as well as settlement behavior of planulae was investigated. Our results show that colonies of L. purpurea released a daily average of 3.7 (±0.2) larvae during a period of 65 days, thus allowing continual access to planula larvae. We collected a total of 58127 larvae from our broodstock of 243 colonies. Larval settlement is induced by the same and/or similar cues as in many spawning species which increases the transferability of conclusions. We discuss the utility of L. purpurea for research on scleractinian physiology, ecology and larval settlement and conclude that L. purpurea is a well-suited organism to accelerate progress in many fields of coral research.
Global initiatives have been increasingly focusing on mainstreaming the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels. Due to the accelerated rate at which biodiversity is declining and its consequences for the functioning of ecosystems and subsequently, the services they provide, there is need to develop comprehensive assessments of the services and the benefits nature delivers to society. Based on expert evaluation, we identified relevant flow linkages in the supply-side of the socio-ecological system, i.e. from biodiversity to ecosystem services supply for eight case studies across European aquatic ecosystems covering freshwater, transitional, coastal and marine waters realms. Biological mediated services were considered, as well as those reliant on purely physical aspects of the ecosystem, i.e. abiotic outputs, since both have implications for spatial planning, management and decision-making. Due to the multidimensional nature of ecosystems and their biodiversity, our approach used ecosystem components such as habitats and biota as proxies for biodiversity and as the focal point for linkage identification. Statistical analysis revealed the importance of considering mobile biota in the spatial assessment of habitats. Contrary to literature evidences so far, our results showed significantly different and complementary ecosystem services supply patterns across the continuum of aquatic realms. The implemented score of ecosystem services supply has a high potential for integrated aquatic ecosystem service supply assessments in the context of ecosystem-based management.
Aquatic ecosystems are indispensable for life on earth and yet despite their essential function and services roles, marine and freshwater biomes are facing unprecedented threats from both traditional and emerging anthropogenic stressors. The resultant species and ecosystem-level threat severity requires an urgent response from the conservation community. With their care facilities, veterinary and conservation breeding expertise, reintroduction and restoration and public communication reach, stand-alone aquariums and zoos holding aquatic taxa have great collective potential to help address the current biodiversity crisis, which is now greatest in freshwater than land habitats. However, uncertainty regarding the number of species kept in such facilities hinders assessment of their conservation value. Here we analyzed standardized and shared data of zoological institution members of Species360, for fish and Anthozoa species (i.e. Actinopterygii, Elasmobranchii, Holocephali, Myxini, Sarcopterygii and Anthozoa). To assess the conservation potential of populations held in these institutions, we cross-referenced the Species360 records with the following conservation schemes: the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the IUCN Red List, Climate Change Vulnerability, Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) and The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE). We found that aquariums hold four of the six fish species listed by the IUCN Red List as ‘Extinct in the Wild’, 31% of Anthozoa species listed by Foden et al. (2013) as Vulnerable to Climate Change, 19 out of the 111 Anthozoa EDGE species, and none of the species prioritized by the AZE. However, it’s very likely that significant additional species of high conservation value are held in aquariums that do not manage their records in standardized, sharable platforms such as Species360. Our study highlights both the great value of aquarium and zoo collections for addressing the aquatic biodiversity crisis, as well as the importance that they maintain comprehensive, standardised, globally-shared taxonomic data.
Seafood from capture fisheries can be assessed in many ways and for different purposes, with sometimes divergent views on what characterizes “sustainable use”. Here we use two systems analysis tools—Ecological Risk Assessment for Effects of Fishing (ERAEF) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)—over the historical development of the Australian Patagonian toothfish fishery at Heard and McDonald Islands since the start in 1997. We find that ecological risks have been systematically identified in the management process using ERAEF, and with time have been mitigated, resulting in a lower risk fishery from an ecological impact perspective. LCA inventory data from the industry shows that fuel use per kilo has increased over the history of the fishery. Our results suggest that LCA and ERAEF may provide contrasting and complementary perspectives on sustainability and reveal trade-offs when used in combination. Incorporation of LCA perspectives in assessing impacts of fishing may facilitate refinement of ecosystem-based fisheries management, such as improved integration of the different perspectives of supply chain stakeholders.
The general purpose of assessment is to provide decision-makers with the best valuable data, information, and predictions with which management decisions will be supported. Using case studies taken from four scientific projects and dealing with the management of marine bivalve resources, lessons learned allowed identifying some issues regarding assessment approaches. The selected projects also introduced methodological or institutional frameworks: ecosystem approach to aquaculture (EAA), system approach framework (SAF), marine spatial planning (MSP), and valuation of ecosystem services (ES).
The study on ecosystem services linked ES to marine habitats and identified ES availability and vulnerability to pressures. The results were displayed as maps of resulting potential services with qualitative metrics. The vulnerability value is an alternative to monetary valuation and, in addition to identifying the most suitable areas for each type of ES, this metric allows identifying the management strategies that will most probably maintain or affect each individual ES.
The MSP example focused on bivalve farming activity and accounted for several criteria: habitat suitability, growth performance, environmental and regulation constraints and presence of other activities. The ultimate endpoint of such an approach is a map with qualitative values stating whether a location is suitable or not, depending on the weight given to each criterion.
In the EAA case study, the indicator was defined by the growth performance of cultivated bivalves in different locations. This indicator is affected by distant factors – e.g. populations of marine organisms competing for the same food resource, nutrient inputs from rivers, time to renew water bodies under the action of tidal currents. The role and interactions of these factors were assessed with a dynamical ecosystem model.
Examples illustrate that the assessment is often multi-dimensional, and that multiple variables would interact and affect the response to management options. Therefore, the existence of trade-offs, the definition of the appropriate spatial scale and resolution, the temporal dynamics and the distant effects of factors are keys to a policy-relevant assessment. EA and SAF examples show the interest of developing models relating response to input variables and testing scenarios. Dynamic models would be preferred when the relationship between input and output variables may be masked by non-linear effects, delay of responses or differences of scales.
When decision-making requires economic methods, monetary values are often of poor significance, especially for those ecosystem services whose loss could mean the end of life, and appear to be a comfortable oversimplification of reality of socio-ecological systems which cannot be summarized in single numbers. Alternative methods, such as the ones proposed in the SAF and ES examples, would preferably consider institutional analysis or multicriteria assessment rather than single monetary values.
Case studies also highlighted that credibility of assessment tools benefit from the association of stakeholders at different stages, among which: identification of the most critical policy issues; definition of system characteristics including ecological, economical and regulation dimensions; definition of modelling scenarios to sort out the most effective management options; assessment of models and indicators outputs.
Plastics have been accumulated offshore and in the deep oceans at an unprecedented scale. Microbial communities have colonized the plastisphere, which has become a reservoir for both antibiotic and metal resistance genes (ARGs and MRGs). This is the first analysis of the diversity, abundance, and co-occurrence of ARGs and MRGs, and their relationships within the microbial community, using metagenomic data of plastic particles observed in the North Pacific Gyre obtained from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive database. The abundance of ARGs and MRGs in microbial communities on the plastics were in the ranges 7.07 × 10−4–1.21 × 10−2 and 5.51 × 10−3–4.82 × 10−2 copies per 16S rRNA, respectively. Both the Shannon-Wiener indices and richness of ARGs and MRGs in plastics microbiota were significantly greater than those of ARGs and MRGs in seawater microbiota in the North Pacific Gyre via one-way analysis of variance. Multidrug resistance genes and multi-metal resistance genes were the main classes of genes detected in plastic microbiota. There were no significant differences in the abundance or diversity of ARGs and MRGs between macroplastics biota and microplastics biota, indicating that particle size had no effect on resistance genes. Procrustes analysis suggested that microbial community composition was the determining factor of the ARG profile but not for MRG. Some ARGs and MRGs had a higher incidence of non-random co-occurrence, suggesting that the co-effects of selection for antibiotic or metal resistance are important factors influencing the resistome of the microbiota on the plastic particles.
Ecosystem-based management emerged in the 1980s, as an alternative to traditional resource management approaches that focused on limited species or had narrow political boundaries. Since then, ecosystem-based management has grown at a rapid pace, requiring the practices of science, communication and management to work together. It does not replace the existing strategies and methods, but it emphasizes the links between the environment and society.
Ecosystem-based management means engaging a broad range of people and organizations that have a stake in how an ecosystem is being managed, from the private and public sectors, to conservation communities, scientists and the policymaking arena. Stakeholders are involved throughout the planning stages, decision-making process and final management decisions. This is often challenging because each stakeholder group might operate by and respond to different mandates, timescales and authorities. The approach therefore requires cross-sectoral coordination and the integration of multi-and intersectoral concerns, in order to build institutional linkages, thereby avoiding conflicts
Freshwater biodiversity is declining, despite national and international efforts to manage and protect freshwater ecosystems. Ecosystem-based management (EBM) has been proposed as an approach that could more efficiently and adaptively balance ecological and societal needs. However, this raises the question of how social and ecological objectives can be included in an integrated management plan. Here, we present a generic model-coupling framework tailored to address this question for freshwater ecosystems, using three components: biodiversity, ecosystem services (ESS), and a spatial prioritisation that aims to balance the spatial representation of biodiversity and ESS supply and demand. We illustrate this model-coupling approach within the Danube River Basin using the spatially explicit, potential distribution of (i) 85 fish species as a surrogate for biodiversity as modelled using hierarchical Bayesian models, and (ii) four estimated ESS layers produced by the Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES) platform (with ESS supply defined as carbon storage and flood regulation, and demand specified as recreation and water use). These are then used for (iii) a joint spatial prioritisation of biodiversity and ESS employing Marxan with Zones, laying out the spatial representation of multiple management zones. Given the transboundary setting of the Danube River Basin, we also run comparative analyses including the country-level purchasing power parity (PPP)-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) and each country’s percent cover of the total basin area as potential cost factors, illustrating a scheme for balancing the share of establishing specific zones among countries. We demonstrate how emphasizing various biodiversity or ESS targets in an EBM model-coupling framework can be used to cost-effectively test various spatially explicit management options across a multi-national case study. We further discuss possible limitations, future developments, and requirements for effectively managing a balance between biodiversity and ESS supply and demand in freshwater ecosystems.
Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) require states and competent authorities to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), ecologically important habitats in the deep sea that are considered to be especially at risk from anthropogenic disturbances such as fishing. The lack of data concerning the location and extent of VMEs poses a significant obstacle to their protection. Habitat suitability modeling is increasingly used in spatial management planning due to its ability to predict the distribution and niche of marine organisms based on limited input data. We generated broad-scale, medium-resolution (1 km2) ensemble models for ten VME indicator taxa within the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone and a portion of the South Pacific Regional Fishery Management Organisation (SPRFMO) convention area. Ensemble models were constructed using a weighted average of three habitat suitability model types: Boosted Regression Trees, Maximum Entropy, and Random Forest. All models performed well, with area under the curve scores above 0.9, and ensemble models marginally outperformed any of the individual modeling approaches. Highly suitable habitat for each VME indicator taxa was predicted to occur in relatively small areas throughout the region, typically associated with elevated seafloor features with steep slopes. Determining the spatial distribution of VME indicator taxa is critical for assessing the current and historical extent of bottom trawling impacts on benthic communities, and for supporting the improved spatial management of fisheries in the South Pacific Ocean. Given the additional threats of climate change and ocean acidification to VME indicator taxa throughout the deep sea, habitat suitability modeling is likely to play an increasing role in designing effective, long-term protection measures for cumulative impacts on VMEs.
Extreme climatic events are expected to become more frequent under current conditions of increasing global temperatures and climate variability. A key challenge of fisheries management is understanding and planning for the effect of anomalous oceanic conditions on the distributions of protected species and their interactions with fishing gear. Atypical marine states can cause non-target species to shift outside of their normal distribution patterns, leading to unwanted bycatch events that threaten fisheries sustainability. Environmental indicators can serve as early warning signals that allow for proactive management responses before significant bycatch occurs. Marine heatwaves in the Pacific have caused shifts in the distributions of endangered loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), increasing overlap with California’s Drift Gillnet fishery and thereby the risk of turtle bycatch events. To reduce bycatch, a fishery closure offshore of Southern California – The Loggerhead Conservation Area – Is enacted when an El Niño event has been declared and local sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are warmer than normal. However, this regulation was based on qualitative assessment of bycatch that occurred during past El Niño events, and no explicit threshold for SST anomalies was defined. Additionally, closures enacted under the current regulation rely on structured expert decision-making. Providing a quantitative indicator could help to refine future decisions. We developed and evaluated potential new indicators to guide the Loggerhead Conservation Area closure timing based on thermal indices in three different regions: the equatorial Pacific, regional areas offshore of Southern California, and temperate pelagic areas off the US west coast. Our objectives were to: 1) quantify thermal indicators and their respective thresholds to guide closure timing, and 2) hindcast closure scenarios based on these indicator thresholds to evaluate efficacy in terms of opportunity costs to fishers and ability to avoid turtle interactions. The best indicator in terms of avoiding historical turtle interactions while minimizing opportunity cost to fishers was a six-month average local SST anomaly indicator with closures enacted above a threshold of 0.77 °C. This result can improve upon the current closure guidelines by providing a quantified and spatially-explicit indicator and threshold to supplement the structured decision-making process. Our analysis demonstrates a novel approach to developing fisheries management strategies for species with a paucity of data. Issues with data comprehensiveness are frequently present in fisheries management exercises, and precautionary approaches are needed to allow adherence with legislation while considering the best available science.