Scientific research and expertise play a critical role in informing legislative decisions and guiding effective policy. However, significant communication gaps persist between scientists and policymakers. While interest in science policy among researchers has substantially increased in recent decades, traditional academic and research careers rarely provide formal training or exposure to the inner workings of government, public policy, or communicating scientific findings to broad audiences. Here, we offer 10 practical steps for scientists who want to engage in science policy efforts, with a focus on state and federal policy in the United States. We first include a primer to government structure and tailoring science communication for a policymaker audience. We then provide action-oriented steps that focus on arranging and successfully navigating meetings with government officials. Finally, we suggest structural steps in academia that would provide resources and support for students, researchers, and faculty who are interested in policy. We offer our perspective, as early-career marine scientists who have participated in policy discussions at state and federal levels and through the American Geophysical Union’s “Voices for Science” program. This guide offers potential pathways for engagement in science policy, and provides researchers with tangible actions to effectively reach stakeholders. Lastly, we hope to activate further conversations on best practices for policy engagement, particularly for researchers interested in careers at the science policy interface.
Elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can alter ecologically important behaviors in a range of marine invertebrate taxa; however, a clear mechanistic understanding of these behavioral changes is lacking. The majority of mechanistic research on the behavioral effects of elevated CO2 has been done in fish, focusing on disrupted functioning of the GABAA receptor (a ligand-gated ion channel, LGIC). Yet, elevated CO2 could induce behavioral alterations through a range of mechanisms that disturb different components of the neurobiological pathway that produces behavior, including disrupted sensation, altered behavioral choices and disturbed LGIC-mediated neurotransmission. Here, we review the potential mechanisms by which elevated CO2 may affect marine invertebrate behaviors. Marine invertebrate acid–base physiology and pharmacology is discussed in relation to altered GABAA receptor functioning. Alternative mechanisms for behavioral change at elevated CO2 are considered and important topics for future research have been identified. A mechanistic understanding will be important to determine why there is variability in elevated CO2-induced behavioral alterations across marine invertebrate taxa, why some, but not other, behaviors are affected within a species and to identify which marine invertebrates will be most vulnerable to rising CO2 levels.
Predicting the distribution of oil, buoyant plastics, flotsam, and marine organisms near the ocean surface remains a fundamental problem of practical importance. This manuscript synthesizes progress in this area during the time of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI; 2012–2019), with an emphasis on the accumulation of floating material into highly concentrated streaks on horizontal scales of meters to 10's of kilometers. Prior to the GoMRI period, two new paradigms emerged: the importance of submesoscale frontal dynamics on the larger scales and of surface-wave-driven Langmuir turbulence on the smaller scales, with a broad transition occurring near 100 m. Rapid progress resulted from the combination of high resolution numerical modeling tools, mostly developed before GoMRI, and new observational techniques developed during GoMRI. Massive deployments of inexpensive and biodegradable satellite-tracked surface drifters combined with aerial tracking of oil surrogates (drift cards) enabled simultaneous observations of surface ocean velocities and dispersion over scales of 10 m to 10's of kilometers. Surface current maps produced by ship-mounted radar and aerial optical remote sensing systems, combined with traditional oceanographic tools, enabled a set of coordinated measurement programs that supported and expanded the new paradigms. Submesoscale fronts caused floating material to both accumulate at fronts and to disperse as they evolved, leading to higher local concentrations, but increased overall dispersion. Analyses confirmed the distinct submesoscale dynamics of this process and the complexity of the resulting fields. Existing tools could be developed into predictive models of submesoscale statistics, but prediction of individual submesoscale features will likely remain limited by data. Away from fronts, measured rates of accumulation of material in and beneath surface windrows was found to be consistent with Langmuir turbulence, but highly dependent on the rise rate of the material and thus, for oil, on the droplet size. Models of this process were developed and tested and could be further developed into predictive tools. Both the submesoscale and Langmuir processes are sensitive to coupling with surface waves and air-sea flux processes. This sensitivity is a promising area for future studies.
There is a disconnect between ambition and achievement of the UN Agenda 2030 and associated Sustainable Development Goals that is especially apparent when it comes to ocean and coastal health. While scientific knowledge is critical to confront and resolve contradictions that reproduce unsustainable practices at the coast and to spark global societal change toward sustainability, it is not enough in itself to catalyze large scale behavioral change. People learn, understand and generate knowledge in different ways according to their experiences, perspectives, and culture, amongst others, which shape responses and willingness to alter behavior. Historically, there has been a strong connection between art and science, both of which share a common goal to understand and describe the world around us as well as provide avenues for communication and enquiry. This connection provides a clear avenue for engaging multiple audiences at once, evoking emotion and intuition to trigger stronger motivations for change. There is an urgent need to rupture the engrained status quo of disciplinary divisions across academia and society to generate transdisciplinary approaches to global environmental challenges. This paper describes the evolution of an art-science collaboration (Catching a Wave) designed to galvanize change in the Anthropocene era by creating discourse drivers for transformations that are more centered on society rather than the more traditional science-policy-practice nexus.
Small-scale fisheries are an important source of food, income and cultural identity to millions of people worldwide. Despite many fisher people observing declining catches, a lack of data remains a barrier to understanding the status of small-scale fisheries and their effective management in many places. Where data exist, complex analyses and stock assessments are often beyond the capacity and budgets of local managers. Working with small-scale fisheries in western Madagascar, we analyze landings data to provide a description of the fishery and evaluate the top twenty most commonly caught species for evidence of overfishing. Using length composition data, we use Froese’s three simple rules: Let them spawn, let them grow and let the mega-spawners live, as well as Cope and Punt’s decision tree to infer if spawning biomass is less than target reference points. We then use length-based parameters to calculate fishing mortality and compare with published estimates of natural mortality to assess overfishing (F > M). Over 17,000 fishing trips were registered over a 2-year period (2010–2012), landing just short of 2 million individual fish. Length data were recorded for a sample of over 120,000 individuals. Fish comprised 95% of landings, with the remainder comprised of other groups including crustaceans (mostly shrimp, crab, and lobster), cephalopods, and holothurians. We provide some of the first evidence that fish species caught in the small-scale fisheries of the Menabe region of Madagascar are experiencing overfishing. The most notable result is that for 13 of the 20 most common species, fishing mortality exceeds natural mortality. Many species had a large proportion of individuals (in some cases 100%) being caught before they reached maturity. Very few species were fished at their optimal size, and there were low numbers of large individuals (mega-spawners) in catches. Overfishing in western Madagascar presents a serious threat to the income, food security and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The results of this paper support the call for improved management. However, management approaches should take account of overlapping fisheries and be inclusive to ensure the impacts of management do not undermine the rights of small-scale fishers. Further data are needed to better understand the trends and to improve management but should not hinder pragmatic action.
Marine debris is a growing problem in the world’s deep ocean. The naturally slow biological and chemical processes operating at depth, coupled with the types of materials that are used commercially, suggest that debris is likely to persist in the deep ocean for long periods of time, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years. However, the realized scale of marine debris accumulation in the deep ocean is unknown due to the logistical, technological, and financial constraints related to deep-ocean exploration. Coordinated deep-water exploration from 2015 to 2017 enabled new insights into the status of deep-sea marine debris throughout the central and western Pacific Basin via ROV expeditions conducted onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and RV Falkor. These expeditions included sites in United States protected areas and monuments, other Exclusive Economic Zones, international protected areas, and areas beyond national jurisdiction. Metal, glass, plastic, rubber, cloth, fishing gear, and other marine debris were encountered during 17.5% of the 188 dives from 150 to 6,000 m depth. Correlations were observed between deep-sea debris densities and depth, geological features, and distance from human-settled land. The highest densities occurred off American Samoa and the main Hawaiian Islands. Debris, mostly consisting of fishing gear and plastic, were also observed in most of the large-scale marine protected areas, adding to the growing body of evidence that even deep, remote areas of the ocean are not immune from human impacts. Interactions with and impacts on biological communities were noted, though further study is required to understand the full extent of these impacts. We also discuss potential sources and long-term implications of this debris.
Globally, the exploitation of marine mammals has shifted from hunting to viewing over the last few decades. While refraining from actively killing animals may have a positive effect on marine mammal populations, whale and dolphin watching can induce changes such as displacement from preferred habitat and disruption of foraging that may also have severe fitness costs. Under some circumstances, this non-lethal disturbance may affect populations in a manner similar to directed mortality. Here, we focus on inshore dolphin populations that are known to show short-term behavioral responses to boat approaches. Long-term fitness effects have only been clearly identified in a small number of these populations, and all share certain characteristics, i.e., closed, small and food-limited. This raises the question of importance of context when considering the long-term effects of disturbance, since many dolphin populations may be open, large, and/or free from resource restriction. We explored the effect of disturbance based on the characteristics of populations using the population consequences of disturbance (PCoD) framework. PCoD was developed to link short-term changes in individual behavior and physiology to presumed long-term effects on population dynamics. To ensure our scenarios were biologically plausible, they reflected the ecological context of four well-studied populations of dolphins, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand, Sarasota Bay, United States, Durban Bay, South Africa, and Jervis Bay, Australia, in terms of their size, closure, and food resources. We found that the characteristics of the populations being disturbed are important with regards to the level of disturbance that could be tolerated. Closed populations were most sensitive, while large, open populations with no food limitation appeared to be able to withstand a higher probability of disturbance. This implies that population characteristics should be accounted for when determining the suitability of whale and dolphin watching operations in a given area.
Multiple stressors caused by human-induced disturbances can affect the foraging opportunities of cetaceans, potentially depleting their energy stores, and ultimately impact survival and reproductive success. Currently, blubber thickness and lipid composition is used as measure of health and nutritional status in cetaceans. This assumes that blubber functions in the same manner as adipose tissue in terrestrial mammals. However, cetaceans have evolved to have thickened blubber which serves as thermoregulation, buoyancy and energy store. In addition, blubber is composed of several layers and regions that have different physiological functions. We currently lack a clear understanding of how blubber biology contributes to maintaining energy status in cetaceans and several studies show blubber thickness, and composition in some body regions, is an inappropriate measure of health. Before new markers of health can be identified, we need to understand how environmental stressors influence blubber biology and particularly unravel its complex signaling roles with other organs. Currently, we do not understand how changes in energy status drive changes in health in cetaceans, and eventually population dynamics. This review synthesizes recent developments in cetacean blubber biology to propose potential directions to develop novel cetacean health markers.
Cold-seep benthic communities in the Arctic exist at the nexus of two extreme environments; one reflecting the harsh physical extremes of the Arctic environment and another reflecting the chemical extremes and strong environmental gradients associated with seafloor seepage of methane and toxic sulfide-enriched sediments. Recent ecological investigations of cold seeps at numerous locations on the margins of the Arctic Ocean basin reveal that seabed seepage of reduced gas and fluids strongly influence benthic communities and associated marine ecosystems. These Arctic seep communities are mostly different from both conventional Arctic benthic communities as well as cold-seep systems elsewhere in the world. They are characterized by a lack of large specialized chemo-obligate polychetes and mollusks often seen at non-Arctic seeps, but, nonetheless, have substantially higher benthic abundance and biomass compared to adjacent Arctic areas lacking seeps. Arctic seep communities are dominated by expansive tufts or meadows of siboglinid polychetes, which can reach densities up to >3 × 105 ind.m–2. The enhanced autochthonous chemosynthetic production, combined with reef-like structures from methane-derived authigenic carbonates, provides a rich and complex local habitat that results in aggregations of non-seep specialized fauna from multiple trophic levels, including several commercial species. Cold seeps are far more widespread in the Arctic than thought even a few years ago. They exhibit in situ benthic chemosynthetic production cycles that operate on different spatial and temporal cycles than the sunlight-driven counterpart of photosynthetic production in the ocean’s surface. These systems can act as a spatio-temporal bridge for benthic communities and associated ecosystems that may otherwise suffer from a lack of consistency in food quality from the surface ocean during seasons of low production. As climate change impacts accelerate in Arctic marginal seas, photosynthetic primary production cycles are being modified, including in terms of changes in the timing, magnitude, and quality of photosynthetic carbon, whose delivery to the seabed fuels benthic communities. Furthermore, an increased northward expansion of species is expected as a consequence of warming seas. This may have implications for dispersal and evolution of both chemosymbiotic species as well as for background taxa in the entire realm of the Arctic Ocean basin and fringing seas.
Coral reefs are severely threatened by climate change and recurrent mass bleaching events, highlighting the need for a better understanding of the factors driving recovery and resilience both at the community and species level. While temperature variability has been shown to promote coral heat tolerance, it remains poorly understood whether this also influences coral recovery capacity. Similarly, few studies have investigated how the presence of cryptic species influences bleaching and recovery responses. Using an integrated ecological, physiological, and genetic approach (i.e., reef-wide coral health surveys as well as chlorophyll a concentration and cryptic species diversity of Acropora aspera), we examined the recovery of both coral communities and their dominant species from the 2016 mass bleaching event in the macrotidal Kimberley region, NW Australia. We show that recovery of coral communities inhabiting adjacent but environmentally contrasting reef habitats differed dramatically following unprecedented bleaching in 2016. Both intertidal (thermally extreme) and subtidal (thermally moderate) habitats experienced extensive bleaching (72–81%), but subtidal coral communities had a greater percentage of severely bleached corals than the intertidal community (76 versus 53%). Similarly, subtidal A. aspera corals suffered much greater losses of chlorophyll a than intertidal conspecifics (96 versus 46%). The intertidal coral community fully recovered to its prebleaching configuration within 6 months, whereas the adjacent subtidal suffered extensive mortality (68% loss of live coral cover). Despite the presence of three cryptic genetic lineages in the dominant coral species, the physiological response of A. aspera was independent of host cryptic genetic diversity. Furthermore, both intertidal and subtidal A. aspera harbored symbionts in the genus Cladocopium (previously clade C). Our findings therefore highlight the important role of tidally controlled temperature variability in promoting coral recovery capacity. While the underlying physiological and molecular mechanisms require further investigation, we propose that shallow reef environments characterized by strong environmental gradients may generally promote coral resilience to extreme climatic events. Thermally variable reef environments may therefore provide important spatial refugia for coral reefs under rapid climate change.
Variably buoyant, dead Cetacea may float, or sink and later bloat to refloat if ambient temperature and pressure allow sufficient decomposition gas formation and expansion. Mortality can result from acute or chronic disease, fishery entanglement, vessel collision, noxious noises, or toxicant spills. Investigators often face the daunting task of elucidating a complex series of events, in reverse order, from when and where an animal is found, and to diagnose the cause of death. Various scenarios are possible: an animal could die at sea remaining there or floating ashore, or strand on a beach alive, where it dies and, if cast high enough, remain beached to be scavenged or decompose. An animal that rests low on a beach may refloat again, through increased buoyancy from decomposition gas and favorable tides, currents, and wind. Here we review the factors responsible for the different outcomes, and how to recognize the provenance of a cetacean mortality found beached, or floating at sea. In conclusion, only some carcasses strand, or remain floating. Negatively buoyant animals that die at depth, or on the surface, and sink, may never surface, even after decomposition gas accumulation, as in cold, deep waters gas may fail to adequately reduce the density of a carcass, precluding it from returning to the surface.
Aquatic ecologists routinely count animals to provide critical information for conservation and management. Increased accessibility to underwater recording equipment such as action cameras and unmanned underwater devices has allowed footage to be captured efficiently and safely, without the logistical difficulties manual data collection often presents. It has, however, led to immense volumes of data being collected that require manual processing and thus significant time, labor, and money. The use of deep learning to automate image processing has substantial benefits but has rarely been adopted within the field of aquatic ecology. To test its efficacy and utility, we compared the accuracy and speed of deep learning techniques against human counterparts for quantifying fish abundance in underwater images and video footage. We collected footage of fish assemblages in seagrass meadows in Queensland, Australia. We produced three models using an object detection framework to detect the target species, an ecologically important fish, luderick (Girella tricuspidata). Our models were trained on three randomized 80:20 ratios of training:validation datasets from a total of 6,080 annotations. The computer accurately determined abundance from videos with high performance using unseen footage from the same estuary as the training data (F1 = 92.4%, mAP50 = 92.5%) and from novel footage collected from a different estuary (F1 = 92.3%, mAP50 = 93.4%). The computer’s performance in determining abundance was 7.1% better than human marine experts and 13.4% better than citizen scientists in single image test datasets, and 1.5 and 7.8% higher in video datasets, respectively. We show that deep learning can be a more accurate tool than humans at determining abundance and that results are consistent and transferable across survey locations. Deep learning methods provide a faster, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to manual data analysis methods currently used to monitor and assess animal abundance and have much to offer the field of aquatic ecology.
Initial Grand Challenges
Frontiers in Marine Science launched the Marine Ecosystems Ecology (FMARS-MEE) section in 2014, with a paper that identified eight grand challenges for the discipline (Borja, 2014). Since then, this section has published a total of 370 papers, including 336 addressing aspects of those challenges. As editors of the journal, with a wide range of marine ecology expertise, we felt it was timely to evaluate research advances related to those challenges; and to update the scope of the section to reflect the grand challenges we envision for the next 10 years. This output will match with the United Nations (UN) Decade on Oceans Science for Sustainable Development (DOSSD; Claudet et al., 2020), UN Decade of Ecosystems Restoration (DER; Young and Schwartz, 2019), and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; Visbeck et al., 2014).
First, we analyzed each published paper and assigned their topic to a maximum of two out of the eight challenges (all information available in Supplementary Table 1). We then extracted the 3–5 most cited papers within each challenge using two criteria: the total number of citations during this 6-year period, and the annual citation rate (i.e., the mean annual number of citations since publication). We then collated the topics covered by this reduced list of papers (Table 1) and summarized the outcomes for each topic.
This article proposes a simple and intuitive classification system by which to define full spectral remote sensing reflectance (Rrs(λ)) data with a quantitative output that enables a more manageable handling of spectral information for aquatic science applications. The weighted harmonic mean of the Rrs(λ) wavelengths outputs an Apparent Visible Wavelength (in units of nanometers), representing a one-dimensional geophysical metric of color that is inherently correlated to spectral shape. This dimensionality reduction of spectral information combined with the output along a continuum of wavelength values offers a robust and user-friendly means to describe and analyze spectral Rrs(λ) in terms of spatial and temporal trends and variability. The uncertainty in the algorithm's estimation of spectral shape is demonstrated on a global scale, in addition to the utility of the algorithm to discern spectral-spatial-temporal trends in the ocean, on a per-pixel basis for the entire 22 year continuous ocean color (SeaWiFS and MODIS-Aqua) time-series. This technique can be applied to datasets of varying multi- and hyper-spectral resolutions, providing continuity between heritage and future satellite sensors, and further enabling an effective means of elucidating similarities or differences in complex spectral signatures within the constraints of two dimensions. This straightforward means of conceptualizing multi-dimensional variability can help maximize the potential of the spectral information embedded in remote sensing data.
Identification of high-use foraging sites where imperiled sea turtles are resident remains a globally-recognized conservation priority. In the biodiverse Gulf of Mexico (GoM), recent telemetry studies highlighted post-nesting foraging sites for federally threatened loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Our aim here was to discern loggerhead use of additional northern GoM regions that may serve as high-use foraging sites. Thus, we used satellite tracking and switching state-space modeling to show that the Big Bend region off the northwest Florida coast is a coastal foraging area that supports imperiled adult female loggerhead turtles tracked from different nesting subpopulations. From 2011 to 2016, we satellite-tagged 15 loggerheads that nested on four distinct beaches around the GoM: Dry Tortugas National Park, FL; Everglades National Park, FL; St. Joseph Peninsula, FL; and Gulf Shores, AL. Turtles arrived at their foraging ground in the Big Bend region between June and September and remained resident in their respective foraging sites for an average of 198 tracking days, where they established mean home ranges (95% kernel density estimate) 232.7 km2. Larger home ranges were in deeper water; 50% kernel density estimate centroid values were a mean 26.4 m deep and 52.7 km from shore. The Big Bend region provides a wide area of suitable year-round foraging habitat for loggerheads from at least 3 different nesting subpopulations. Understanding where and when threatened loggerheads forage and remain resident is key for designing both surveys of foraging resources and additional protection strategies that can impact population recovery trajectories for this imperiled species.
Identifying key indicator species, their life cycle dynamics and the multiple driving forces they are affected by is an important step in ecosystem-based management. Similarly important is understanding how environmental changes and trophic interactions shape future trajectories of key species with potential implications for ecosystem state and service provision. We here present a statistical modeling framework to assess and quantify cumulative effects on the long-term dynamics of the copepod Pseudocalanus acuspes, a key species in the Baltic Sea. Our model integrates linear and non-linear responses to changes in life stage density, climate and predation pressure as well as stochastic processes. We use the integrated life cycle model to simulate copepod dynamics under a combination of stressor scenarios and to identify conditions under which population responses are potentially mitigated or magnified. Our novel modeling approach reliably captures the historical P. acuspes population dynamics and allows us to identify females in spring and younger copepodites in summer as stages most sensitive to direct and indirect effects of the main environmental stressors, salinity and temperature. Our model simulations furthermore demonstrate that population responses to stressors are dampened through density effects. Multiple stressor interactions were mostly additive except when acting on the same life stage. Here, negative synergistic and positive dampening effects lead to a lower total population size than expected under additive interactions. As a consequence, we found that a favorable increase of oxygen and phosphate conditions together with a reduction in predation pressure by 50% each could counteract the negative effect of a 25% decrease in salinity by only 6%. Ultimately, our simulations suggest that P. acuspes will most certainly decline under a potential freshening of the Baltic Sea and increasing temperatures, which is conditional on the extent of the assumed climate change. Also the planned nutrient reduction strategy and fishery management plan will not necessarily benefit the temporal development of P. acuspes. Moving forward, there is a growing opportunity for using population modeling in cumulative effects assessments. Our modeling framework can help here as simple tool for species with a discrete life cycle to explore stressor interactions and the safe operating space under future climate change.
The expansion of the aquaculture industry in the last several decades has raised concerns about potential ecological impacts of the industry. Bivalve culture, particularly mussel farming, relies on naturally occurring plankton and numerous studies have demonstrated top-down control on phytoplankton, increased nutrients through excretion of metabolic wastes and remineralization of faeces and pseudofaeces, and bottom-up effects on predators and scavengers through mussel fall-off. However, results are inconsistent between studies, and hydrodynamic conditions and nutrient availability are thought to play an important role in the magnitude and the direction of the ecological effects of mussel culture on the surrounding ecosystem. We used qualitative network models (QNMs), to outline a general model that integrates these environmental conditions and (1) evaluated the ability of different model configurations to reproduce known responses to perturbations, (2) analyzed the behaviour of key components to contrasting hydrodynamic and nutrient condition scenarios, and (3) identified the most influential features of the derived scenarios. The model that included uncertain linkages to characterize unknown relationships performed best based on predetermined validation criteria; the addition of semi-quantitative information on the relative strength of certain linkages improved accuracy and sign determinacy of outcomes. The presence of suspended mussel culture negatively affected primary producers, zooplankton and deposit-feeders, and had a positive effect on predators and scavengers, especially in low-energy environments. Hydrodynamic conditions were shown to have a major impact on the response of the community to mussel culture, while nutrient availability had a very minor impact.
Although the concept of ecosystem services has been in use for many decades, its application for policy support is limited, particularly with respect to marine ecosystems. Gaps in the assessments of ecosystem services supply prevent its empirical application. We advance these assessments by providing an assessment tool, which links marine ecosystem components, functions and services, and graphically represents the assessment process and its results. The tool consists of two parts: (i) a matrix following the ecosystem services cascade structure for quantifying the contribution of ecosystem components in the provision of ecosystem services; (ii) and a linkage diagram for visualising the interactions between the elements. With the aid of the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES), the tool was used to assess the relative contribution of a wide range of marine ecosystem components in the supply of ecosystem services in the Latvian marine waters. Results indicate that the tool can be used to assess the impacts of environmental degradation in terms of ecosystem service supply. These impacts could further be valued in socioeconomic terms, as change in the socioeconomic values derived from the use of ecosystem services. The tool provides an opportunity for conducting a holistic assessment of the ecosystem service supply and communicating the results to marine spatial planning practitioners, and increasing their understanding and use of the ecosystem service concept.
Subtropical reefs are important habitats for many marine species and for tourism and recreation. Yet, subtropical reefs are understudied, and detailed habitat maps are seldom available. Citizen science can help fill this gap, while fostering community engagement and education. In this study, 44 trained volunteers conducted an ecological assessment of subtropical Flinders Reef using established Reef Check and CoralWatch protocols. In 2017, 10 sites were monitored to provide comprehensive information on reef communities and to estimate potential local drivers of coral community structure. A detailed habitat map was produced by integrating underwater photos, depth measurements, wave-exposure modelling and satellite imagery. Surveys showed that coral cover ranged from 14% to 67%. Site location and wave exposure explained 47% and 16% respectively, of the variability in coral community composition. Butterflyfishes were the most abundant fish group, with few invertebrates being observed during the surveys. Reef impacts were three times lower than on other nearby subtropical reefs. These findings can be used to provide local information to spatial management and Marine Park planning. To increase the conservation benefits and to maintain the health of Flinders Reef, we recommend expanding the current protection zone from 500- to a 1000-m radius.
Helping the world’s coastal communities adapt to climate change impacts requires evaluating the vulnerability of coastal communities and assessing adaptation options. This includes understanding the potential for ‘natural’ infrastructure (ecosystems and the biodiversity that underpins them) to reduce communities’ vulnerability, alongside more traditional ‘hard’ infrastructure approaches. Here we present a spatially explicit global evaluation of the vulnerability of coastal-dwelling human populations to key climate change exposures and explore the potential for coastal ecosystems to help people adapt to climate change (ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA)). We find that mangroves and coral reefs are particularly well situated to help people cope with current weather extremes, a function that will only increase in importance as people adapt to climate change now and in coming decades. We find that around 30.9 million people living within 2km of the coast are highly vulnerable to tropical storms and sea-level rise (SLR). Mangroves and coral reefs overlap these threats to at least 5.3 and 3.4 million people, respectively, with substantial potential to dissipate storm surges and improve resilience against SLR effects. Significant co-benefits from mangroves also accrue, with 896 million metric tons of carbon stored in their soils and above- and below-ground biomass. Our framework offers a tool for prioritizing ‘hotspots’ of coastal EbA potential for further, national and local analyses to quantify risk reduction and, thereby, guide investment in coastal ecosystems to help people adapt to climate change. In doing so, it underscores the global role that conserving and restoring ecosystems can play in protecting human lives and livelihoods, as well as biodiversity, in the face of climate change.