The impact of a range of different threats has resulted in the listing of six out of seven sea turtle species on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Disease risk analysis (DRA) tools are designed to provide objective, repeatable and documented assessment of the disease risks for a population and measures to reduce these risks through management options. To the best of our knowledge, DRAs have not previously been published for sea turtles, although disease is reported to contribute to sea turtle population decline. Here, a comprehensive list of health hazards is provided for all seven species of sea turtles. The possible risk these hazards pose to the health of sea turtles were assessed and “One Health” aspects of interacting with sea turtles were also investigated. The risk assessment was undertaken in collaboration with more than 30 experts in the field including veterinarians, microbiologists, social scientists, epidemiologists and stakeholders, in the form of two international workshops and one local workshop. The general finding of the DRA was the distinct lack of knowledge regarding a link between the presence of pathogens and diseases manifestation in sea turtles. A higher rate of disease in immunocompromised individuals was repeatedly reported and a possible link between immunosuppression and environmental contaminants as a result of anthropogenic influences was suggested. Society based conservation initiatives and as a result the cultural and social aspect of interacting with sea turtles appeared to need more attention and research. A risk management workshop was carried out to acquire the insights of local policy makers about management options for the risks relevant to Queensland and the options were evaluated considering their feasibility and effectiveness. The sea turtle DRA presented here, is a structured guide for future risk assessments to be used in specific scenarios such as translocation and head-starting programs.
Conservation Targets & Planning
Incentivized debt conversion is a financing mechanism that can assist countries with a heavy debt burden to bolster their long‐term domestic investment in nature conservation. The Nature Conservancy, an international conservation‐based nongovernmental organization, is adapting debt conversions to support marine conservation efforts by small island developing states and coastal countries. Prioritizing debt conversion opportunities according to their potential return on investment can increase the impact and effectiveness of this finance mechanism. We developed guidance on how to do so with a decision‐support approach that relies on a novel threat‐based adaptation of cost‐effectiveness analysis. We constructed scenarios by varying parameters of the approach, including enabling conditions, expected benefits, and threat classifications. Incorporating both abatable and unabatable threats affected priorities across planning scenarios. Similarly, differences in scenario construction resulted in unique solution sets for top priorities. We show how environmental organizations, private entities, and investment banks can adopt structured prioritization frameworks for making decisions about conservation finance investments, such as debt conversions. Our guidance can accommodate a suite of social, ecological, and economic considerations, making the approach broadly applicable to other conservation finance mechanisms or investment strategies that seek to establish a transparent process for return‐on‐investment decision‐making.
Article impact statement : Prioritizations that explicitly incorporate abatable and unabatable threats can improve conservation return on investment decision‐making.
Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME) is a critical goal for marine conservation. Yet, in many deep-sea settings, where quantitative data are typically sparse, it is challenging to correctly identify the location and size of VMEs. Here we assess the sensitivity of a method to identify coral reef VMEs based on bottom cover and abundance of the stony coral Solenosmilia variabilis on deep seamounts, using image data from a survey off Tasmania, Australia, in 2018. Whilst there was some detectable influence from varying coral cover and the abundance of live coral heads, the distribution of coral reef VMEs was not substantially shifted by changing these criteria or altering the attributes of a moving window used to spatially aggregate coral patches. Whilst applying stricter criteria for classifying VMEs predictably produced smaller areas of coral reef VME, these differences were not sizeable and were often negligible. Coral reef VMEs formed large contiguous “blankets,” mainly on the peaks and flanks of seamounts, but were absent from the continental slope where S. variabilis occurred at low abundance (cover) and/or had no living colonies. The true size of the Tasmanian coral reef VMEs ranged from 0.02 to 1.16 km2; this was relatively large compared to reefs of S. variabilis mapped on New Zealand seamounts, but is small compared to the scales used for regional model predictions of suitable habitat (typically 1 km2 grid cell), and much smaller than the smallest units of management interest (100s–1000s km2). A model prediction of the area of suitable habitat for coral reef in the Tasmanian area was much greater than the area of coral reef estimated in this study. That the method to estimate VME size is not overly sensitive to the choice of criteria is highly encouraging in the context of designing spatial conservation measures that are robust, although its broader application, including to other VME indicator taxa, needs to be substantiated by scenario testing in different environments. Importantly, these results should give confidence for stakeholder uptake and form the basis for better predictive VME models at larger spatial scales and beyond single taxa.
- Despite a relatively long history of scientific interest fuelled by exploratory research cruises, the UK deep sea has only recently emerged as the subject of targeted and proactive conservation. Enabling legislation over the past 10 years has resulted in the designation of marine protected areas and the implementation of fisheries management areas as spatial conservation tools. This paper reflects on progress and lessons learned, recommending actions for the future.
- Increased investment has been made to improve the evidence base for deep‐sea conservation, including collaborative research surveys and use of emerging technologies. New open data portals and developments in marine habitat classification systems have been two notable steps to furthering understanding of deep‐sea biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in support of conservation action.
- There are still extensive gaps in fundamental knowledge of deep‐sea ecosystems and of cause and effect. Costs of new technologies and a limited ability to share data in a timely and efficient manner across sectors are barriers to furthering understanding. In addition, whilst the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services are considered a useful tool to support the achievement of conservation goals, practical application is challenging.
- Continued collaborative research efforts and engagement with industry to share knowledge and resources could offer cost‐effective solutions to some of these barriers. Further elaboration of the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services will aid understanding of the costs and benefits associated with human–environment interactions and support informed decision‐making in conserving the deep sea.
- Whilst multiple challenges arise for deep‐sea conservation, it is critical to continue ongoing conservation efforts, including exploration and collaboration, and to adopt new conservation strategies that are implemented in a systematic and holistic way and to ensure that these are adaptive to growing economic interest in this marine area.
Many of the world's shark populations are in decline, indicating the need for improved conservation and management. Well managed and appropriately located marine parks and marine protected areas (MPAs) have potential to enhance shark conservation by restricting fisheries and protecting suitable habitat for threatened shark populations. Here, we used shark occurrence records collected by commercial fisheries to determine suitable habitat for pelagic sharks within the Australian continental Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and to quantify the amount of suitable habitat contained within existing MPAs. We developed generalised linear models using proportional occurrences of pelagic sharks for three families: Alopiidae (thresher), Carcharhinidae (requiem), and Lamnidae (mackerel) sharks. We also considered aggregated species from the Lamnidae and Carcharhinidae families (‘combined sharks’ in the models). Using a set of environmental predictors known to affect shark occurrence, including chlorophyll-a concentration, salinity, sea surface temperature, and turbidity, as well as geomorphological, geophysical, and sedimentary parameters, we found that models including sea surface temperature and turbidity were ranked highest in their ability to predict shark distributions. We used these results to predict geographic regions where habitat was most suitable for pelagic sharks within the Australian EEZ, and our results revealed that suitable habitat was limited in no-take zones within MPAs. For all shark groupings, suitable habitats were found mostly at locations exposed to fishing pressure, potentially increasing the vulnerability of the pelagic shark species considered. Our predictive models provide a foundation for future spatial planning and shark management, suggesting that strong fisheries management in addition to MPAs is necessary for pelagic shark conservation.
The expansion of marine protected areas in pelagic areas has been crucial to achieve sufficient protection of the oceans. However, there is still some controversy about whether these protected areas actually cover the vital areas for some species. We investigate the summer distribution of the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater and its overlap with the Special Protection Area for seabirds (SPA), using the Gulf of Cadiz as a case study. This area holds the SPA named Marine Area of Gulf of Cádiz, covering 2314.2 km2. A dataset of nine years of vessel-based surveys between 2006 and 2017 was analysed, using Kernel Density Estimation to generate the core area polygons for each year. The area located off the Bay of Cádiz, southeast of the mouth of the Guadalquivir, has revealed as a very consistent key area for this species during summer. This area, covering 1082 Km2, regularly hosted populations that exceeded the threshold for area of international importance (IBA criteria) for the species. The current SPA covers less than 40% of this new key area. The limitation in the number of years of monitoring and seasonal differences in the dataset used to establish the boundaries of the current protected area may be at the base of these discrepancies. This study emphasizes the importance of synthesizing and collecting long-term information to define marine protected areas and to assess their efficiency over the time. Furthermore, our study highlights the urgent need to expand this marine protected area to protect effectively this critically threatened species.
Marine biodiversity is under extreme pressure from anthropogenic activity globally, leading to calls to protect at least 10% of the world’s oceans within marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures. Fulfilling such commitments, however, requires a detailed understanding of the distribution of potentially detrimental human activities, and their predicted impacts. One such approach that is being increasingly used to strengthen our understanding of human impacts is cumulative impact mapping; as it can help identify economic sectors with the greatest potential impact on species and ecosystems in order to prioritize conservation management strategies, providing clear direction for intervention. In this paper, we present the first local cumulative utilization impact mapping exercise for the Bioko-Corisco-Continental area of Equatorial Guinea’s Exclusive Economic Zone – situated in the Gulf of Guinea, one of the most important and least studied marine regions in the Eastern Central Atlantic. This study examines the potential impact of ten direct anthropogenic activities on a suite of key marine megafauna species and reveals that the most suitable habitats for these species, located on the continental shelf, are subject to the highest threat scores. However, in some coastal areas, the persistence of highly suitable habitat subject to lower threat scores suggests that there are still several strategic areas that are less impacted by human activity that may be suitable sites for protected area expansion. Highlighting both the areas with potentially the highest impact, and those with lower impact levels, as well as particularly damaging activities can inform the direction of future conservation initiatives in the region.
Strategies to reduce, halt, and reverse global declines in marine biodiversity are needed urgently. We reviewed, coded, and synthesized historical and contemporary marine conservation strategies of the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, to show how their approaches work. We assessed whether the conservation actions classification system by the Conservation Measures Partnership was able to encompass this nation's conservation approaches. All first‐order conservation actions aligned with the Kitasoo/Xai'xais First Nation's historical and contemporary marine conservation actions; hereditary chief management responsibility played a key role. A conservation ethic permeates Kitasoo/Xai'xais culture, and indigenous resource management and conservation existed historically and remains strong despite extreme efforts by colonizers to suppress all indigenous practices. The Kitasoo/Xai'xais's embodiment of conservation actions as part of their worldview, rather than as requiring actions separate from everyday life (the norm in nonindigenous cultures), was missing from the conservation action classification system. The Kitasoo/Xai'xais are one of many indigenous peoples working to revitalize their governance and management authorities. With the Canadian government's declared willingness to work toward reconciliation, there is an opportunity to enable First Nations to lead on marine and other conservation efforts. Global conservation efforts would also benefit from enhanced support for indigenous conservation approaches, including expanding the conservation actions classification to encompass a new category of conservation or sacredness ethic.
Tracking data have led to evidence-based conservation of marine megafauna, but a disconnect remains between the many 1000s of individual animals that have been tracked and the use of these data in conservation and management actions. Furthermore, the focus of most conservation efforts is within Exclusive Economic Zones despite the ability of these species to move 1000s of kilometers across multiple national jurisdictions. To assist the goal of the United Nations General Assembly’s recent effort to negotiate a global treaty to conserve biodiversity on the high seas, we propose the development of a new frontier in dynamic marine spatial management. We argue that a global approach combining tracked movements of marine megafauna and human activities at-sea, and using existing and emerging technologies (e.g., through new tracking devices and big data approaches) can be applied to deliver near real-time diagnostics on existing risks and threats to mitigate global risks for marine megafauna. With technology developments over the next decade expected to catalyze the potential to survey marine animals and human activities in ever more detail and at global scales, the development of dynamic predictive tools based on near real-time tracking and environmental data will become crucial to address increasing risks. Such global tools for dynamic spatial and temporal management will, however, require extensive synoptic data updates and will be dependent on a shift to a culture of data sharing and open access. We propose a global mechanism to store and make such data available in near real-time, enabling a holistic view of space use by marine megafauna and humans that would significantly accelerate efforts to mitigate impacts and improve conservation and management of marine megafauna.
- The Government of Canada has committed to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, which includes the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
- Aichi Target 11 indicates that countries are to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, by 2020.
- In 2015 Canada affirmed its commitment to the 10% target, and also committed to an interim target to protect 5% of coastal and marine areas by the end of 2017. The interim target was met in October 2017 through a combination of federal and provincial marine protected areas (MPAs) and fisheries area closures that qualify as other effective area‐based conservation measures (OECMs), which are referred to domestically as marine refuges.
- In 2016 the Government of Canada set out a five‐point plan for achieving its marine conservation targets, which includes finishing what was started, protecting large offshore areas, protecting areas under pressure, advancing OECMs and establishing MPAs faster.
- Key challenges that the Government of Canada faces in meeting its 2020 marine conservation target include balancing socio‐economic impacts with the need to conserve biodiversity and sustain ecosystem health and ensuring meaningful engagement with partners and stakeholders in a short period of time.
- Once Canada has met its 2020 marine conservation target it will continue to advance ongoing marine conservation initiatives, most notably the development of a national conservation network, and seek to ensure effective long‐term conservation through the management, monitoring and enforcement of established MPAs and OECMs.