Digital imaging has become one of the most important techniques in environmental monitoring and exploration. In the case of the marine environment, mobile platforms such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are now equipped with high-resolution cameras to capture huge collections of images from the seabed. However, the timely evaluation of all these images presents a bottleneck problem as tens of thousands or more images can be collected during a single dive. This makes computational support for marine image analysis essential. Computer-aided analysis of environmental images (and marine images in particular) with machine learning algorithms is promising, but challenging and different to other imaging domains because training data and class labels cannot be collected as efficiently and comprehensively as in other areas. In this paper, we present Machine learning Assisted Image Annotation (MAIA), a new image annotation method for environmental monitoring and exploration that overcomes the obstacle of missing training data. The method uses a combination of autoencoder networks and Mask Region-based Convolutional Neural Network (Mask R-CNN), which allows human observers to annotate large image collections much faster than before. We evaluated the method with three marine image datasets featuring different types of background, imaging equipment and object classes. Using MAIA, we were able to annotate objects of interest with an average recall of 84.1% more than twice as fast as compared to “traditional” annotation methods, which are purely based on software-supported direct visual inspection and manual annotation. The speed gain increases proportionally with the size of a dataset. The MAIA approach represents a substantial improvement on the path to greater efficiency in the annotation of large benthic image collections.
The following titles are freely-available, or include a link to a preprint or postprint.
Marine environments are complex and dynamic social-ecological systems, where social perceptions of ocean stewardship are diverse, resource use is potentially unsustainable, and conservation efforts rely strongly on public support or acceptance. Decreasing trust in science in recent years has led to weakened social acceptance and approval of marine conservation science. Social licence is a concept that reflects informal, unwritten public expectations about the impacts and benefits of industry and government practises, including research, on natural resources, including the ocean. Working toward improving social licence may provide opportunity to bolster support for marine conservation, by allowing communities to engage with marine issues and marine science, and voice their concerns and views. Here, we argue that marine conservation requires social licence and we highlight science advocacy, accomplished through outreach, as a means to achieve this. We identify a role for marine conservation science to engage with the public through advocacy to improve understanding and perceptions of conservation. Drawing from the literature, we describe how science advocacy can enhance social licence for marine conservation research and outline four steps that can advise marine conservation scientists to achieve and promote social licence for their research and the wider marine conservation community.
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) constitute a worldwide problem, affecting aquatic ecosystems, public health and local economies. Supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2009, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela, have integrated a regional network for early warning of HABs and biotoxins in seafood. Technical capacities have been developed at regional level to identify toxic species, evaluate biota toxicity, and to perform retrospective analysis of HAB occurrence. This network involves 58% of the coastal LAC countries, two regional reference centers (in El Salvador and Cuba), 14 well equipped institutions, and 177 professionals trained to contribute to the operation of HAB and biotoxin monitoring programs. All countries from the network have reported planktonic and benthic toxic species, and in selected cases, associated with toxin in biota. Dinocyst abundance analysis in 210Pb-dated sediment cores have shown that some harmful species have been present in the region for at least 100 years ago, and that both coastal water pollution and climate change are important drivers for HAB occurrence. Efforts must be made to enrich the data base records on HAB events occurred in LAC, better understand key environmental variables that control HABs and expand coverage of HAB monitoring to all coastal countries in LAC to promote sustainable development of the region.
Marine snakes represent the most speciose group of marine reptiles and are a significant component of reef and coastal ecosystems in tropical oceans. Research on this group has historically been challenging due to the difficulty in capturing, handling, and keeping these animals for field- and lab-based research. Inexplicable declines in marine snake populations across global hotspots have highlighted the lack of basic information on this group and elevated multiple species as conservation priorities. With the increased interest in research on marine snakes, we conducted a systematic survey of experts to identify twenty key questions that can direct future research. These questions are framed across a wide array of scientific fields to produce much-needed information relevant to the conservation and management of marine snakes.
Expanding urbanization in estuaries and the increase in pollutants from anthropogenic point sources can affect nearby benthic assemblages. Using a paired impact-control design, we assessed the effects of pollution from anthropogenic point sources (marinas, storm-water drains, sewage outfalls and fish farms) on algal and sessile invertebrate recruits to pavers placed in an industrialized Tasmanian estuary. Species number and cover of native recruits were lower after 12 months at sites outside marinas relative to paired control sites, whereas non-native and cryptogenic recruits were significantly higher outside marinas and near sewage outfalls. The cover of fast-growing, opportunistic species was significantly higher at sites near fish farms and sewage outfalls, and the cover of native species was also greater at sites near sewage outfalls relative to the paired control sites. Our results suggest an increased management focus on controlling pollution from marinas and sewage outfalls is warranted to limit the spread of non-native and cryptogenic species.
Scleractinian corals’ microbial symbionts influence host health, yet how coral microbiomes assembled over evolution is not well understood. We survey bacterial and archaeal communities in phylogenetically diverse Australian corals representing more than 425 million years of diversification. We show that coral microbiomes are anatomically compartmentalized in both modern microbial ecology and evolutionary assembly. Coral mucus, tissue, and skeleton microbiomes differ in microbial community composition, richness, and response to host vs. environmental drivers. We also find evidence of coral-microbe phylosymbiosis, in which coral microbiome composition and richness reflect coral phylogeny. Surprisingly, the coral skeleton represents the most biodiverse coral microbiome, and also shows the strongest evidence of phylosymbiosis. Interactions between bacterial and coral phylogeny significantly influence the abundance of four groups of bacteria–including Endozoicomonas-like bacteria, which divide into host-generalist and host-specific subclades. Together these results trace microbial symbiosis across anatomy during the evolution of a basal animal lineage.
For millennia Indigenous communities worldwide have maintained diverse knowledge systems informed through careful observation of dynamics of environmental changes. Although Indigenous communities and their knowledge systems are recognized as critical resources for understanding and adapting to climate change, no comprehensive, evidence-based analysis has been conducted into how environmental studies engage Indigenous communities. Here we provide the first global systematic review of levels of Indigenous community participation and decision-making in all stages of the research process (initiation, design, implementation, analysis, dissemination) in climate field studies that access Indigenous knowledge. We develop indicators for assessing responsible community engagement in research practice and identify patterns in levels of Indigenous community engagement. We find that the vast majority of climate studies (87%) practice an extractive model in which outside researchers use Indigenous knowledge systems with minimal participation or decision-making authority from communities who hold them. Few studies report on outputs that directly serve Indigenous communities, ethical guidelines for research practice, or providing Indigenous community access to findings. Further, studies initiated with (in mutual agreement between outside researchers and Indigenous communities) and by Indigenous community members report significantly more indicators for responsible community engagement when accessing Indigenous knowledges than studies initiated by outside researchers alone. This global assessment provides an evidence base to inform our understanding of broader social impacts related to research design and concludes with a series of guiding questions and methods to support responsible research practice with Indigenous and local communities.
Seagrasses, flowering marine plants that form underwater meadows, play a significant global role in supporting food security, mitigating climate change and supporting biodiversity. Although progress is being made to conserve seagrass meadows in select areas, most meadows remain under significant pressure resulting in a decline in meadow condition and loss of function. Effective management strategies need to be implemented to reverse seagrass loss and enhance their fundamental role in coastal ocean habitats. Here we propose that seagrass meadows globally face a series of significant common challenges that must be addressed from a multifaceted and interdisciplinary perspective in order to achieve global conservation of seagrass meadows. The six main global challenges to seagrass conservation are (1) a lack of awareness of what seagrasses are and a limited societal recognition of the importance of seagrasses in coastal systems; (2) the status of many seagrass meadows are unknown, and up-to-date information on status and condition is essential; (3) understanding threatening activities at local scales is required to target management actions accordingly; (4) expanding our understanding of interactions between the socio-economic and ecological elements of seagrass systems is essential to balance the needs of people and the planet; (5) seagrass research should be expanded to generate scientific inquiries that support conservation actions; (6) increased understanding of the linkages between seagrass and climate change is required to adapt conservation accordingly. We also explicitly outline a series of proposed policy actions that will enable the scientific and conservation community to rise to these challenges. We urge the seagrass conservation community to engage stakeholders from local resource users to international policy-makers to address the challenges outlined here, in order to secure the future of the world’s seagrass ecosystems and maintain the vital services which they supply.
Deep seabed mining is a major new intersection of human enterprise and deep-ocean ecosystems. This paper reviews the concept and process for a holistic approach to planning environmental management in the deep sea based on Strategic Environmental Goals and Objectives. Strategic planning around the environment can establish a vision for the future condition of the ocean floor for which the International Seabed Authority (ISA) can draw on a wealth of precedents and experience. By engaging stakeholders and applying current knowledge of deep ecosystems, the ISA can build meaningful strategic environmental goals and objectives that give guidance to its own operation and those of its contractors. This framework builds understanding of the organization’s aspirations at global, regional and contractor levels. Herein, some examples are suggested, but we focus on the process. To operationalize these goals and objectives, progress must be measurable; thus, targets are set, reports are assessed, and appropriate responses are awarded. Many management tools and actions are applicable for achieving environmental goals. To date, the ISA has considered marine spatial planning largely around the current exploration contract blocks. Other elements of environmental management, including the requirements for baseline studies, impact assessment, post-impact monitoring and the treatment of harmful effects and serious harm need to be implemented to support well-defined environmental goals and objectives. We suggest that this planning be executed for scales larger than individual blocks, through a Strategic Environmental Management Plan, to ensure sustainable use of ocean resources across the Area.
Modern ecosystem-based forms of marine management such as Marine Spatial Planning(MSP) deal with various complex systems and often with huge amounts of data. Software-based simulative and analytical tools are therefore frequently mentioned in the scientific literature on marine management approaches. But in addition to the evolution of management approaches, the requirements for more integrated tools are also progressing. MSP, for instance, comes with different spatial resolutions, an increased need to consider multiple interdepencies, and increased requirements for validity than most of the previous marine management questions. We reviewed seven well-known Decision Support Tools (DSTs) by asking 59 MSP practitioners from at least 25 countries worldwide about their experience with these tools. The results revealed that, while respondents were mostly positive about the use of DSTs in MSP processes, DSTs are still mainly used in the academic realm and have not yet found their way into everyday MSP practice. There is a broad range of reasons for not using DSTs, including the complexity of these tools, the resources required to operate them, low stakeholder confidence in DST outcomes, and the lack of additional value in using DSTs.
Marine plant communities such as kelp forests produce significant amounts of detritus, most of which is exported to areas where it can constitute an important trophic subsidy or potentially be sequestered in marine sediments. Knowing the vertical transport speed of detrital particles is critical to understanding the potential magnitude and spatial extent of these linkages. We measured sinking speeds for Laminaria hyperborea detritus ranging from whole plants to small fragments and sea urchin faecal pellets, capturing the entire range of particulate organic matter produced by kelp forests. Under typical current conditions, we determined that this organic material can be transported 10 s of m to 10 s of km. We show how the conversion of kelp fragments to sea urchin faeces, one of the most pervasive processes in kelp forests globally, increases the dispersal potential of detritus by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude. Kelp detritus sinking speeds were also faster than equivalent phytoplankton, highlighting its potential for rapid delivery of carbon to deep areas. Our findings support arguments for a significant contribution from kelp forests to subsidizing deep sea communities and the global carbon sink.
Fishery managers worldwide are evaluating methods for incorporating climate, habitat, ecological, social, and economic factors into current operations in order to implement Ecosystem Approaches to Fishery Management (EAFM). While this can seem overwhelming, it is possible to take practical steps toward EAFM implementation that make use of existing information and provide managers with valuable strategic advice. Here, we describe the process used by the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) to develop an ecosystem-level risk assessment, the initial step proposed in their recently adopted EAFM guidance document. The Council first defined five types of Risk Elements (ecological, economic, social, food production, management) and identified which management objectives aligned with each element. Based on an existing ecosystem status report for the region and other existing sources (including expert opinion), potential ecological, social, economic, and management indicators were identified for each risk element. Finally, low, low-moderate, moderate-high, and high risk criteria were defined for each indicator, and the indicator data were used to score each risk element using the criteria. The ultimate outcome is a ranked risk assessment in order to focus on the highest risk issues for further evaluation and mitigation. The risk assessment highlights certain species and certain management issues as posing higher cumulative risks to meeting Council management objectives when considering a broad range of ecological, social, and economic factors. Tabular color coded summaries of risk assessment results will be used by the Council to prioritize further EAFM analyses as well as research plans over the coming 5 years. As ecosystem reporting and operational EAFM continue to evolve in future years, the Council foresees integrating these efforts so that ecosystem indicators are refined to meet the needs of fishery managers in identifying and managing risks to achieving ecological, social, and economic fishery objectives. Overall, ecosystem indicator-based risk assessment is a method that can be adapted to a wide range of resource management systems and available information, and therefore represents a promising way forward in the implementation of EAFM.
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.
Despite the attention given to genetic biodiversity in international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Strategic Plan and the Aichi Targets, previous research points at a “conservation genetics gap,” indicating that scientific insights into genetic biodiversity are poorly integrated into practical management. Both researchers and managers call for platforms for knowledge exchange between science and practice. However, few scientific studies on the potential effects of such knowledge transfer have been conducted. The present study is a follow-up to Lundmark et al. (2017), which identified significant effects of two forms of knowledge communication on conservation managers’ concerns and beliefs in regard to Baltic Sea genetic biodiversity. This study departs from Lundmark et al. (2017) and explores (a) whether the identified alterations in knowledge and beliefs persist over time, and (b) whether potential stability differs between different types of policy beliefs as well as between two types of knowledge communication (lecture and group deliberation). The results of this follow-up study show that the positive impacts on managers’ self-assessed knowledge remained, while the effects on policy beliefs largely had vanished a few months after the knowledge communication. Thus, changes in beliefs seem perishable, suggesting that continuity is more important than the form of educational efforts.
A third of global fish stocks are overexploited and many are economically underperforming, resulting in potential unrealized net economic benefits of USD 51 to 83 billion annually. However, this aggregate view, while useful for global policy discussion, may obscure the view for those actors who engage at a regional level. Therefore, we develop a method to associate large companies with their fishing operations and evaluate the biological sustainability of these operations. We link current fish biomass levels and landings to the revenue streams of the companies under study to compute potentially unrealized fisheries revenues and profits at the level of individual firms. We illustrate our method using two case studies: anchoveta (Engraulis ringens; Engraulidae) in Peru and menhaden in the USA (Brevoortia patronus and B. tyrannus;Clupeidae). We demonstrate that both these fisheries could potentially increase their revenues compared to the current levels of exploitation. We estimate the net but unrealized fishery benefits for the companies under question. This information could be useful to investors and business owners who might want to be aware of the actual fisheries performance options of the companies they invest in.
Peru is one of the world’s leading fishing nations and its seafood industry relies on the trade of a vast variety of aquatic resources, playing a key role in the country’s socio-economic development. DNA barcoding has become of paramount importance for systematics, conservation, and seafood traceability, complementing or even surpassing conventional identification methods when target organisms show similar morphology during the early life stages, have recently diverged, or have undergone processing. Aiming to increase our knowledge of the species diversity available across the Peruvian supply chain (from fish landing sites to markets and restaurants), we applied full and mini-barcoding approaches targeting three mitochondrial genes (COI, 16S, and 12S) and the control region to identify samples purchased at retailers from six departments along the north-central Peruvian coast. DNA barcodes from 131 samples were assigned to 55 species (plus five genus-level taxa) comprising 47 families, 24 orders, and six classes including Actinopterygii (45.03%), Chondrichthyes (36.64%), Bivalvia (6.87%), Cephalopoda (6.11%), Malacostraca (3.82%), and Gastropoda (1.53%). The identified samples included commercially important pelagic (anchovy, bonito, dolphinfish) and demersal (hake, smooth-hound, Peruvian rock seabass, croaker) fish species. Our results unveiled the marketing of protected and threatened species such as whale shark, Atlantic white marlin, smooth hammerhead (some specimens collected during closed season), shortfin mako, and pelagic thresher sharks. A total of 35 samples (26.72%) were mislabeled, including tilapia labeled as wild marine fish, dolphinfish and hake labeled as grouper, and different shark species sold as “smooth-hounds”. The present study highlights the necessity of implementing traceability and monitoring programs along the entire seafood supply chain using molecular tools to enhance sustainability efforts and ensure consumer choice.
September open water fraction in the Arctic is analyzed using the satellite era record of ice concentration (1979–2017). Evidence is presented that three breakpoints (shifts in the mean) occurred in the Pacific sector, with higher amounts of open water starting in 1989, 2002, and 2007. Breakpoints in the Atlantic sector record of open water are evident in 1971 in longer records, and around 2000 and 2011. Multiple breakpoints are also evident in the Canadian and Russian halves. Statistical models that use detected breakpoints of the Pacific and Atlantic sectors, as well as models with breakpoints in the Canadian and Russian halves and the Arctic as a whole, outperform linear trend models in fitting the data. From a physical standpoint, the results support the thesis that Arctic sea ice may have critical points beyond which a return to the previous state is less likely. From an analysis standpoint, the findings imply that de-meaning the data using the breakpoint means is less likely to cause spurious signals than employing a linear detrend.
Major climate and ecological changes affect the world’s oceans leading to a number of responses including increasing water temperatures, changing weather patterns, shrinking ice-sheets, temperature-driven shifts in marine species ranges, biodiversity loss and bleaching of coral reefs. In addition, ocean pH is falling, a process known as ocean acidification (OA). The root cause of OA lies in human policies and behaviours driving society’s dependence on fossil fuels, resulting in elevated CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. In this review, we detail the state of knowledge of the causes of, and potential responses to, OA with particular focus on Swedish coastal seas. We also discuss present knowledge gaps and implementation needs.
A seafood fraud campaign was launched by an ocean conservation group to increase transparency in global seafood supply chains by enacting policies on full chain boat-to-plate traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. As part of this campaign, online members of the group were recruited to document and collect commercial seafood samples as part of a large investigation of U.S. seafood mislabeling, specifically species substitution. Following an iterative project design including several rounds of pilot testing of sample preservation methods and outreach materials, 1058 of the more than 55,000 members solicited signed up to be a “seafood sleuth” and were mailed seafood testing kits, containing supplies to submit two fish samples of their choice. On average, 33.4% (353/1058) of these citizen scientists in 11 metropolitan areas returned kits that contained 631 samples, or nearly half of the 1263 samples collected in the overall study. Assessment of the quality of citizen science data revealed comparable rates of sample integrity, data completeness and mislabeling compared to samples and data collected by trained scientists. Citizen science outreach provided a more informed and engaged online member population, who continued to take actions to advance seafood traceability policies with their decision makers. Citizen science outreach was an integral part of a successful campaign that included science, communication strategies to garner mass media attention and advocacy to promote seafood traceability which resulted in the first seafood traceability regulation in the U.S.
Climate change related natural disasters pose serious threats and risks to livelihoods of fishermen and women as well as to food security in the Caribbean. To respond to these threats and risks, the FAO, the Department of State of the United States of America and the World Bank introduced an initiative on climate risk insurance for the Caribbean Fisheries sector as part of a global initiative on Blue Growth.
In support of this initiative a survey was conducted to identify fisheries assets that could be insured, value these assets, identify climate smart fisheries investments and practices and carry out an insurance needs and demand survey. This Circular presents survey findings from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Some of the key findings are that: 97 percent of the fishing vessels and fishing assets were not insured, while in each of the CARICOM countries there is at least one local insurer offering marine insurance; 83 percent of the fishers would purchase insurance coverage for their vessels if it would be more affordable; only 17 percent of the fishers had a health insurance and 20 percent had an life insurance policy. Moreover, more than one-third of the fishers would be interested to invest in safe harbor, anchorage, haul out and vessel storage facilities, including installation of bumper rails on piers and the use of fenders on boats and piers, if this would reduce insurance premiums.
Based on the findings of the insurance demand survey, an organizational arrangement for a Caribbean Fisheries Risk Insurance Facility (CFRIF) was developed, presented at various regional fora and shared with interested stakeholders.