Tropical reefs are declining rapidly due to climate changes and local stressors such as water quality deterioration and overfishing. The so-called marginal reefs sustain significant coral cover and growth but are dominated by fewer species adapted to suboptimal conditions to most coral species. However, the dynamics of marginal systems may diverge from that of the archetypical oligotrophic tropical reefs, and it is unclear whether they are more or less susceptible to anthropogenic stress. Here, we present the largest (100 fixed quadrats at five reefs) and longest time series (13 years) of benthic cover data for Southwestern Atlantic turbid zone reefs, covering sites under contrasting anthropogenic and oceanographic forcing. Specifically, we addressed how benthic cover changed among habitats and sites, and possible dominance-shift trends. We found less temporal variation in offshore pinnacles’ tops than on nearshore ones and, conversely, higher temporal fluctuation on offshore pinnacles’ walls than on nearshore ones. In general, the Abrolhos reefs sustained a stable coral cover and we did not record regional-level dominance shifts favoring other organisms. However, coral decline was evidenced in one reef near a dredging disposal site. Relative abundances of longer-lived reef builders showed a high level of synchrony, which indicates that their dynamics fluctuate under similar drivers. Therefore, changes on those drivers could threaten the stability of these reefs. With the intensification of thermal anomalies and land-based stressors, it is unclear whether the Abrolhos reefs will keep providing key ecosystem services. It is paramount to restrain local stressors that contributed to coral reef deterioration in the last decades, once reversal and restoration tend to become increasingly difficult as coral reefs degrade further and climate changes escalate.
Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) populations have experienced widespread declines in abundance and abrupt shifts toward younger and smaller adults returning to spawn in rivers. The causal agents underpinning these shifts are largely unknown. Here we investigate the potential role of late-stage marine mortality, defined as occurring after the first winter at sea, in driving this species’ changing age structure. Simulations using a stage-based life cycle model that included additional mortality during after the first winter at sea better reflected observed changes in the age structure of a well-studied and representative population of Chinook salmon from the Yukon River drainage, compared with a model estimating environmentally-driven variation in age-specific survival alone. Although the specific agents of late-stage mortality are not known, our finding is consistent with work reporting predation by salmon sharks (Lamna ditropis) and marine mammals including killer whales (Orcinus orca). Taken as a whole, this work suggests that Pacific salmon mortality after the first winter at sea is likely to be higher than previously thought and highlights the need to investigate selective sources of mortality, such as predation, as major contributors to rapidly changing age structure of spawning adult Chinook salmon.
Maritime piracy constitutes a major threat to global shipping and international trade. We argue that fishers turn to piracy to smooth expected income losses and to deter illegal foreign fishing fleets. Previous investigations have generally focused on cross-national determinants of the incidence of piracy in territorial waters. These investigations neglect piracy in international waters and ignore its spatial dependence, whereby pirate attacks cluster in certain locations due to neighborhood and spillover effects. We conduct a geographically disaggregated analysis using geo-referenced data of piracy and its covariates between 2005 and 2014. We demonstrate that the incidence of piracy in a particular location is associated with higher catch volumes from high-bycatch and habitat-destroying fishing, even when controlling for conditions in proximate coastal areas. We find, additionally, that illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing exerts an especially pronounced effect on piracy. These findings highlight the need for anti-piracy solutions beyond enforcement to include the policing of fishing practices that are illegal or are perceived by local fishers in vulnerable coastal areas to be harmful to small-scale fishing economies.
Monitoring of marine protected areas (MPAs) is critical for marine ecosystem management, yet current protocols rely on SCUBA-based visual surveys that are costly and time consuming, limiting their scope and effectiveness. Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is a promising alternative for marine ecosystem monitoring, but more direct comparisons to visual surveys are needed to understand the strengths and limitations of each approach. This study compares fish communities inside and outside the Scorpion State Marine Reserve off Santa Cruz Island, CA using eDNA metabarcoding and underwater visual census surveys. Results from eDNA captured 76% (19/25) of fish species and 95% (19/20) of fish genera observed during pairwise underwater visual census. Species missed by eDNA were due to the inability of MiFish 12S barcodes to differentiate species of rockfishes (Sebastes, n = 4) or low site occupancy rates of crevice-dwelling Lythrypnus gobies. However, eDNA detected an additional 23 fish species not recorded in paired visual surveys, but previously reported from prior visual surveys, highlighting the sensitivity of eDNA. Significant variation in eDNA signatures by location (50 m) and site (~1000 m) demonstrates the sensitivity of eDNA to address key questions such as community composition inside and outside MPAs. Results demonstrate the utility of eDNA metabarcoding for monitoring marine ecosystems, providing an important complementary tool to visual methods.
Predation mortality can influence the distribution and abundance of fish populations. While predation is often assessed using direct observations of prey consumption, potential predation can be predicted from co-occurring predator and prey densities under varying environmental conditions. Juvenile Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. (i.e., smolts) from the Columbia River Basin experience elevated mortality during the transition from estuarine to ocean habitat, but a thorough understanding of the role of predation remains incomplete. We used a Holling type II functional response to estimate smolt predation risk based on observations of piscivorous seabirds (sooty shearwater [Ardenna griseus] and common murre [Uria aalge]) and local densities of alternative prey fish including northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) in Oregon and Washington coastal waters during May and June 2010–2012. We evaluated predation risk relative to the availability of alternative prey and physical factors including turbidity and Columbia River plume area, and compared risk to returns of adult salmon. Seabirds and smolts consistently co-occurred at sampling stations throughout most of the study area (mean = 0.79 ± 0.41, SD), indicating that juvenile salmon are regularly exposed to avian predators during early marine residence. Predation risk for juvenile coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), yearling Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha), and subyearling Chinook salmon was on average 70% lower when alternative prey were present. Predation risk was greater in turbid waters, and decreased as water clarity increased. Juvenile coho and yearling Chinook salmon predation risk was lower when river plume surface areas were greater than 15,000 km2, while the opposite was estimated for subyearling Chinook salmon. These results suggest that plume area, turbidity, and forage fish abundance near the mouth of the Columbia River, all of which are influenced by river discharge, are useful indicators of potential juvenile salmon mortality that could inform salmonid management.
Repeated counts of animal abundance can reveal changes in local ecosystem health and inform conservation strategies. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, are commonly used to photograph animals in remote locations; however, counting animals in images is a laborious task. Crowd-sourcing can reduce the time required to conduct these censuses considerably, but must first be validated against expert counts to measure sources of error. Our objectives were to assess the accuracy and precision of citizen science counts and make recommendations for future citizen science projects. We uploaded drone imagery from Año Nuevo Island (California, USA) to a curated Zooniverse website that instructed citizen scientists to count seals and sea lions. Across 212 days, over 1,500 volunteers counted animals in 90,000 photographs. We quantified the error associated with several descriptive statistics to extract a single citizen science count per photograph from the 15 repeat counts and then compared the resulting citizen science counts to expert counts. Although proportional error was relatively low (9% for sea lions and 5% for seals during the breeding seasons) and improved with repeat sampling, the 12+ volunteers required to reduce error was prohibitively slow, taking on average 6 weeks to estimate animals from a single drone flight covering 25 acres, despite strong public outreach efforts. The single best algorithm was ‘Median without the lowest two values’, demonstrating that citizen scientists tended to under-estimate the number of animals present. Citizen scientists accurately counted adult seals, but accuracy was lower when sea lions were present during the summer and could be confused for seals. We underscore the importance of validation efforts and careful project design for researchers hoping to combine citizen science with imagery from drones, occupied aircraft, and/or remote cameras.
This article offers a theological response to the Ten Commandments of Food (TCF) in the context of the marine ecological crisis. The TCF is a unique and effective campaign for food security which advocates for sustainable living through the mission of Christian churches. As the campaign includes farmers, it reframes food security and sustainability as a part of ecclesial life. However, the neglect of fish, fisher, and sea in the TCF has negative consequences for marine ecosystem. This exclusion endangers the sustainability of marine life and all those who depend on the sea for livelihood and sustenance. Therefore, this article suggests that it is essential to include fish, fisher, and sea in the TCF – noting that they have a crucial place in Christianity as depicted particularly in the ministry of Jesus and his disciples. This will make the TCF a more comprehensive campaign with positive contributions for marine life.
Characterizing the response of ecosystems to global climate change requires that multiple aspects of environmental change be considered simultaneously, however, it can be difficult to describe the relative importance of environmental metrics given their collinearity. Here, we present a novel framework for disentangling the complex ecological effects of environmental variability by documenting the emergent properties of eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecosystems across ∼225 km of the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, representing gradients in temperature, light, sediment properties, and water motion, and evaluate the relative importance of different metrics characterizing these environmental conditions (e.g., means, extremes, variability on different time scales) for eelgrass bioindicators using lasso regression and commonality analysis. We found that eelgrass beds in areas that were warmer, shallower, and had low water motion had lower productivity and resilience relative to beds in deeper, cooler areas that were well flushed, and that higher temperatures lowered eelgrass tolerance to low-light conditions. There was significant variation in the importance of various metrics of temperature, light, and water motion across biological responses, demonstrating that different aspects of environmental change uniquely impact the cellular, physiological, and ecological processes underlying eelgrass productivity and resilience, and contribute synergistically to the observed ecosystem response. In particular, we identified the magnitude of temperature variability over daily and tidal cycles as an important determinant of eelgrass productivity. These results indicate that ecosystem responses are not fully resolved by analyses that only consider changes in mean conditions, and that the removal of collinear variables prior to analyses relating environmental metrics to biological change reduces the potential to detect important environmental effects. The framework we present can help to identify the conditions that promote high ecosystem function and resilience, which is necessary to inform nearshore conservation and management practices under global climate change.
The paper aims to elucidate the physico-chemical characteristics of the shell of mangrove horseshoe crabs (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and determine the compilation matrix for the first time. The shell composition matrix of C. rotundicauda has never been studied in detail before, especially the shape of the foam, the chemical composition, the functional groups and the mechanical-physical and thermal properties of the shell. Based on this study, the shell structure of the mangrove horseshoe crab has the potential to be used as the base structure for developing bio-foam insulator material in the future. Therefore, the shell of mangrove horseshoe crabs has a unique natural structure in the form of foam. Its robust and elastic structure has the potential for further development for new marine biomaterials. The formation and composition of horseshoe crab shells foam are also believed to be multifunctional in mobility, used for defense mechanisms and thermal stability. The horseshoe crab samples were collected from Pacitan coastal waters, East Java, Indonesia. The research was conducted using physico-chemical and mechanical-physical analysis. The scanning electron microscopy was used in order to clarify the physico-chemical characteristics. The measurements of the mechanical-physical characteristics included density, unit cell size, and water absorption. The tensile strength and compressive strength were analyzed based on the American Society for Testing Material. Thermal resistance was measured by thermal gravimetric analysis. The results showed that the horseshoe crab shells have a unique structure, where chitin, protein and some minerals are the main chemical elements. The combination and major constituents of the horseshoe crab shell material provide strong and plastic mechanical properties with a maximum tensile strength of 60.46 kPa and maximum compressive strength of 110.55 kPa, water absorption of 0.01195 ± 0.001% and a density value of 0.1545 ± 0.011 g/cm3 as well as the capability to withstand thermal loads with peak decomposition values of 267.4–823.2°C and thermal stability of 60.59%. Using natural marine biomaterials in the future will be beneficial because it leaves no harmful residues and therefore has environmental advantages and at the same time, it is also more cost-effective.
Identifying threatened populations and quantifying their vulnerability is crucial for establishing priorities for conservation and providing robust information for decision-making. Lahille’s bottlenose dolphins have been long subjected to by-catch mortality in gillnet fisheries in coastal waters of southern Brazil, particularly in the Patos Lagoon estuary (PLE) and adjacent coastal waters, where dolphins from three populations (or Management Units) show overlapping home ranges. In this study we used a stage-classified matrix population model to conduct a demographic analysis of the PLE’s population with life-history data estimated through an 8 years mark-recapture study. A population viability analysis (PVA) was used to run a series of simulations where the risk was assessed under different by-catch scenarios, taking into account the effects of parameter uncertainty and stochasticity in the projections. In the absence of by-catch, we estimated that this dolphin population would growth at a rate of about 3% annually (95% CI: 1.2–5.8%). Under current by-catch rates, prognoses indicated high probabilities of viability over the next 60 years. These optimistic prognoses appear to be associated with the high survival of adult females. However, the eventual removal of very few mature females (one every year or two) would result in a prominent likelihood of decline from its current abundance at all pre-specified levels. The viability of the population would be substantially improved if the survival of juveniles/sub-adults could be increased. This may be achieved through the recently implemented dolphin protection area, which prohibits gillnet fisheries in the core area of this population. If the protection area reduces the entanglement rates of the most impacted life-stages (i.e., juvenile/sub-adult dolphins), there would be a substantial chance of the PLE’s dolphin population increasing above 20% of its current size, which is here proposed as conservation goal. If met, this goal has the potential to promote habitat quality, increase genetic diversity and connectivity with adjacent populations, enhancing the ability of bottlenose dolphins in southern Brazil to cope with environmental change and potential disease outbreaks.
Understanding the vulnerability of marine calcifiers to ocean acidification is a critical issue, especially in the Southern Ocean (SO), which is likely to be the one of the first, and most severely affected regions. Since the industrial revolution, ~30% of anthropogenic CO2 has been absorbed by the global oceans. Average surface seawater pH levels have already decreased by 0.1 and are projected to decline by ~0.3 by the year 2100. This process, known as ocean acidification (OA), is shallowing the saturation horizon, which is the depth below which calcium carbonate (CaCO3) dissolves, likely increasing the vulnerability of many resident marine calcifiers to dissolution. The negative impact of OA may be seen first in species depositing more soluble CaCO3 mineral phases such as aragonite and high-Mg calcite (HMC). Ocean warming could further exacerbate the effects of OA in these particular species. Here we combine a review and a quantitative meta-analysis to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge about skeletal mineralogy of major taxonomic groups of SO marine calcifiers and to make projections about how OA might affect a broad range of SO taxa. We consider a species' geographic range, skeletal mineralogy, biological traits, and potential strategies to overcome OA. The meta-analysis of studies investigating the effects of the OA on a range of biological responses such as shell state, development and growth rate illustrates that the response variation is largely dependent on mineralogical composition. Species-specific responses due to mineralogical composition indicate that taxa with calcitic, aragonitic, and HMC skeletons, could be at greater risk to expected future carbonate chemistry alterations, and low-Mg calcite (LMC) species could be mostly resilient to these changes. Environmental and biological control on the calcification process and/or Mg content in calcite, biological traits, and physiological processes are also expected to influence species-specific responses.
The manuscript assesses the current and expected future global drivers of Southern Ocean (SO) ecosystems. Atmospheric ozone depletion over the Antarctic since the 1970s, has been a key driver, resulting in springtime cooling of the stratosphere and intensification of the polar vortex, increasing the frequency of positive phases of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). This increases warm air-flow over the East Pacific sector (Western Antarctic Peninsula) and cold air flow over the West Pacific sector. SAM as well as El Niño Southern Oscillation events also affect the Amundsen Sea Low leading to either positive or negative sea ice anomalies in the west and east Pacific sectors, respectively. The strengthening of westerly winds is also linked to shoaling of deep warmer water onto the continental shelves, particularly in the East Pacific and Atlantic sectors. Air and ocean warming has led to changes in the cryosphere, with glacial and ice sheet melting in both sectors, opening up new ice free areas to biological productivity, but increasing seafloor disturbance by icebergs. The increased melting is correlated with a salinity decrease particularly in the surface 100 m. Such processes could increase the availability of iron, which is currently limiting primary production over much of the SO. Increasing CO2 is one of the most important SO anthropogenic drivers and is likely to affect marine ecosystems in the coming decades. While levels of many pollutants are lower than elsewhere, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and plastics have been detected in the SO, with concentrations likely enhanced by migratory species. With increased marine traffic and weakening of ocean barriers the risk of the establishment of non-indigenous species is increased. The continued recovery of the ozone hole creates uncertainty over the reversal in sea ice trends, especially in the light of the abrupt transition from record high to record low Antarctic sea ice extent since spring 2016. The current rate of change in physical and anthropogenic drivers is certain to impact the Marine Ecosystem Assessment of the Southern Ocean (MEASO) region in the near future and will have a wide range of impacts across the marine ecosystem.
Under certain conditions, dispersed crude oil in the sea combines with organisms, organic matter, and minerals to form marine oil snow (MOS), thereby contributing to the sinking of oil to the seafloor. Marine microbes are the main players in MOS formation, particularly via the production of extracellular polymeric substances. Distinct groups of microbes also consume the majority of the hydrocarbons during descent, leading to enrichment of the less bioavailable hydrocarbons and asphaltenes in the residue. Here we discuss the dynamics of microbial communities in MOS together with their impacts on MOS evolution. We explore the effects of dispersant application on MOS formation, and consider ways in which laboratory experiments investigating MOS formation can be more representative of the situation in the marine environment, which in turn will improve our understanding of the contribution of MOS to the fate of spilled oil.
Recently, new steps have been taken for the development of operational applications in coastal areas which require very high resolutions both in modeling and remote sensing products. In this context, this work describes a complete monitoring of an oil spill: we discuss the performance of high resolution hydrodynamic models in the area of Gran Canaria and their ability for describing the evolution of a real-time event of a diesel fuel spill, well-documented by port authorities and tracked with very high resolution remote sensing products. Complementary information supplied by different sources enhances the description of the event and supports their validation.
The Tropical Atlantic Ocean has recently been the source of enormous amounts of floating Sargassum macroalgae that have started to inundate shorelines in the Caribbean, the western coast of Africa and northern Brazil. It is still unclear, however, how the surface currents carry the Sargassum, largely restricted to the upper meter of the ocean, and whether observed surface drifter trajectories and hydrodynamical ocean models can be used to simulate its pathways. Here, we analyze a dataset of two types of surface drifters (38 in total), purposely deployed in the Tropical Atlantic Ocean in July, 2019. Twenty of the surface drifters were undrogued and reached only ∼8 cm into the water, while the other 18 were standard Surface Velocity Program (SVP) drifters that all had a drogue centered around 15 m depth. We show that the undrogued drifters separate more slowly than the drogued SVP drifters, likely because of the suppressed turbulence due to convergence in wind rows, which was stronger right at the surface than at 15 m depth. Undrogued drifters were also more likely to enter the Caribbean Sea. We also show that the novel Surface and Merged Ocean Currents (SMOC) product from the Copernicus Marine Environmental Service (CMEMS) does not clearly simulate one type of drifter better than the other, highlighting the need for further improvements in assimilated hydrodynamic models in the region, for a better understanding and forecasting of Sargassum drift in the Tropical Atlantic.
Marine ecosystems contain over 80% of the world’s biodiversity, and many of these organisms have evolved unique adaptations enabling survival in diverse and challenging environments. The biodiversity within the world’s oceans is a virtually untapped resource for the isolation and development of novel compounds, treatments, and solutions to combat human disease. In particular, while over half of our anti-cancer drugs are derived from natural sources, almost all of these are from terrestrial ecosystems. Yet, even from the limited analyses to date, a number of marine-derived anti-cancer compounds have been approved for clinical use, and several others are currently in clinical trials. Here, we review the current suite of marine-derived anti-cancer drugs, with a focus on how these compounds act upon the hallmarks of cancer. We highlight potential marine environments and species that could yield compounds with unique mechanisms. Continued exploration of marine environments, along with the characterization and screening of their inhabitants for unique bioactive chemicals, could prove fruitful in the hunt for novel anti-cancer therapies.
The oceans’ uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) decreases seawater pH and alters the inorganic carbon speciation – summarized in the term ocean acidification (OA). Already today, coastal regions experience episodic pH events during which surface layer pH drops below values projected for the surface ocean at the end of the century. Future OA is expected to further enhance the intensity of these coastal extreme pH events. To evaluate the influence of such episodic OA events in coastal regions, we deployed eight pelagic mesocosms for 53 days in Raunefjord, Norway, and enclosed 56–61 m3 of local seawater containing a natural plankton community under nutrient limited post-bloom conditions. Four mesocosms were enriched with CO2 to simulate extreme pCO2 levels of 1978 – 2069 μatm while the other four served as untreated controls. Here, we present results from multivariate analyses on OA-induced changes in the phyto-, micro-, and mesozooplankton community structure. Pronounced differences in the plankton community emerged early in the experiment, and were amplified by enhanced top-down control throughout the study period. The plankton groups responding most profoundly to high CO2 conditions were cyanobacteria (negative), chlorophyceae (negative), auto- and heterotrophic microzooplankton (negative), and a variety of mesozooplanktonic taxa, including copepoda (mixed), appendicularia (positive), hydrozoa (positive), fish larvae (positive), and gastropoda (negative). The restructuring of the community coincided with significant changes in the concentration and elemental stoichiometry of particulate organic matter. Results imply that extreme CO2 events can lead to a substantial reorganization of the planktonic food web, affecting multiple trophic levels from phytoplankton to primary and secondary consumers.
Worldwide, seagrass meadows accumulate significant stocks of organic carbon (C), known as “blue” carbon, which can remain buried for decades to centuries. However, when seagrass meadows are disturbed, these C stocks may be remineralized, leading to significant CO2 emissions. Increasing ocean temperatures, and increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, threaten seagrass meadows and their sediment blue C. To date, no study has directly measured the impact of seagrass declines from high temperatures on sediment C stocks. Here, we use a long-term record of sediment C stocks from a 7-km2, restored eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadow to show that seagrass dieback following a single marine heat wave (MHW) led to significant losses of sediment C. Patterns of sediment C loss and re-accumulation lagged patterns of seagrass recovery. Sediment C losses were concentrated within the central area of the meadow, where sites experienced extreme shoot density declines of 90% during the MHW and net losses of 20% of sediment C over the following 3 years. However, this effect was not uniform; outer meadow sites showed little evidence of shoot declines during the MHW and had net increases of 60% of sediment C over the following 3 years. Overall, sites with higher seagrass recovery maintained 1.7x as much C compared to sites with lower recovery. Our study demonstrates that while seagrass blue C is vulnerable to MHWs, localization of seagrass loss can prevent meadow-wide C losses. Long-term (decadal and beyond) stability of seagrass blue C depends on seagrass resilience to short-term disturbance events.
The present article reports the densities of planktonic sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis and Caligus elongatus) in three Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) localities, and the relationship between the abundance of adult sea lice on the salmon and the densities of planktonic sea lice stages, during a complete production cycle followed by a fallowing period. Samples were taken downstream inside and immediately outside of cages, at one locality with lice skirts and two localities without lice skirts. There were no differences in densities of planktonic sea lice in samples taken from the inside or the outside of cages for any of the localities. However, the proportion-non-zero of planktonic sea lice samples taken from inside the cage was higher during months with a temperature above 9°C (mean abundance: 0.40–2.5 individuals m–3) than months with temperature below 9°C (mean abundance: 0.02–0.21 individuals m–3, odds ratio of the proportion-non-zero: p < 0.01). Densities of planktonic sea lice correlated most strongly with temperature in the first year (τ = 0.44–0.57, p < 0.05). A significant correlation between the number of adult female lice on salmon and average density of plankton sea lice was found in the locality with lice skirts during the second year (τ = 0.43 inside cages, τ = 0.58 outside cages, both p values < 0.05). Background levels of planktonic sea lice in the succeeding fallowing period showed neither L. salmonis nor C. elongatus planktonic sea lice, suggesting that there was successful reduction of the densities of planktonic sea lice for this area during the fallowing period.
The conservation of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) appears to be failing in Europe. There are particular concerns about this species in the Baltic Proper, Black, and Mediterranean Seas, as well as in the Northeast Atlantic, including the Iberian population, off the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. The Baltic Proper porpoise is “critically endangered,” with a population only in the low hundreds, and the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission has repeatedly called for action to ensure its survival. In 2020, the Committee issued a series of recommendations relating to it and the Iberian population. Similarly, the Black Sea harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena ssp. relicta, is classified by the IUCN as endangered. Another population which may be genetically distinct is the West Greenland harbor porpoise, which is hunted without quotas or close seasons. European cetaceans and their habitats are covered by a number of international and regional conventions and agreements and, under European Union law, are “highly protected.” In practice, however, these legal protections have failed to generate effective conservation. For example, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are required for them and, although sites have been designated in some marine areas/countries, in the absence of appropriate management plans, SACs cannot be expected to help improve the harbor porpoise's conservation status. Compared to many other species, porpoises are relatively long-lived with low reproductive capacity and only poor public recognition. Conservation and management efforts are caught up in a complicated nexus of interactions involving a web of commitments under international conventions and agreements, European environmental laws, and European fisheries policy. However, public disinterest, lack of political will to implement conservation measures, and complicated fishing-related issues hinder any real progress. More positively, recent advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) provides a new scientific foundation for conservation action to address fisheries bycatch in the Baltic Proper harbor porpoise population. Populations of other porpoise species (family Phocoenidae) are also threatened, most notably the global population of the critically endangered vaquita, or Gulf of California porpoise (Phocoena sinus). The common threats and factors affecting porpoise populations are discussed and recommendations offered.