Legislations and commitments regulate Baltic Sea status assessments and monitoring. These assessments suffer from monitoring gaps that need prioritization. We used three sources of information; scientific articles, project reports and a stakeholder survey to identify gaps in relation to requirements set by the HELCOM's Baltic Sea Action Plan, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Water Framework Directive. The most frequently mentioned gap was that key requirements are not sufficiently monitored in space and time. Biodiversity monitoring was the category containing most gaps. However, whereas more than half of the gaps in reports related to biodiversity, scientific articles pointed out many gaps in the monitoring of pollution and water quality. An important finding was that the three sources differed notably with respect to which gaps were mentioned most often. Thus, conclusions about gap prioritization for management should be drawn after carefully considering the different viewpoints of scientists and stakeholders.
Global climate change is driving the redistribution of marine species and thereby potentially restructuring endemic communities. Understanding how localised conservation measures such as protection from additional human pressures can confer resilience to ecosystems is therefore an important area of research. Here, we examine the resilience of a no-take marine reserve (NTR) to the establishment of urchin barrens habitat. The barrens habitat is created through overgrazing of kelp by an invading urchin species that is expanding its range within a hotspot of rapid climate change. In our study region, a multi-year monitoring program provides a unique time-series of benthic imagery collected by an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) within an NTR and nearby reference areas. We use a Bayesian hierarchical spatio-temporal modelling approach to estimate whether the NTR is associated with reduced formation of urchin barrens, and thereby enhances local resilience. Our approach controls for the important environmental covariates of depth and habitat complexity (quantified as rugosity derived from multibeam sonar mapping), as well as spatial and temporal dependence. We find evidence for the NTR conferring resilience with a strong reserve effect that suggests improved resistance to the establishment of barrens. However, we find a concerning and consistent trajectory of increasing barrens cover in both the reference areas and the NTR, with the odds of barrens increasing by approximately 32% per year. Thus, whereas the reserve is demonstrating resilience to the initial establishment of barrens, there is currently no evidence of recovery once barrens are established. We also find that depth and rugosity covariates derived from multibeam mapping provide useful predictors for barrens occurrence. These results have important management implications as they demonstrate: (i) the importance of monitoring programs to inform adaptive management; (ii) that NTRs provide a potential local conservation management tool under climate change impacts, and (iii) that technologies such as AUVs and multibeam mapping can be harnessed to inform regional decision-making. Continuation of the current monitoring program is required to assess whether the NTR can provide long term protection from a phase shift that replaces kelp with urchin barrens.
With global increases in anthropogenic pressures on wildlife populations comes a responsibility to manage them effectively. The assessment of marine ecosystem health is challenging and often relies on monitoring indicator species, such as cetaceans. Most cetaceans are however highly mobile and spend the majority of their time hidden from direct view, resulting in uncertainty on even the most basic population metrics. Here, we discuss the value of long-term and internationally combined stranding records as a valuable source of information on the demographic and mortality trends of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the North Sea. We analysed stranding records (n = 16,181) from 1990 to 2017 and demonstrate a strong heterogeneous seasonal pattern of strandings throughout the North Sea, indicative of season-specific distribution or habitat use, and season-specific mortality. The annual incidence of strandings has increased since 1990, with a notable steeper rise particularly in the southern North Sea since 2005. A high density of neonatal strandings occurred specifically in the eastern North Sea, indicative of areas important for calving, and large numbers of juvenile males stranded in the southern parts, indicative of a population sink or reflecting higher male dispersion. These findings highlight the power of stranding records to detect potentially vulnerable population groups in time and space. This knowledge is vital for managers and can guide, for example, conservation measures such as the establishment of time-area-specific limits to potentially harmful human activities, aiming to reduce the number and intensity of human-wildlife conflicts.
In oceans and seas worldwide, an increasing number of end-of-life anthropogenic offshore structures (e.g., platforms, pipelines, manifolds, windfarms, etc.) are facing full or partial removal. As part of the decommissioning process, studies on potential importance of subsea infrastructure to marine megafauna (defined as: cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, large fish – such as sharks, rays, billfishes, and tuna, as well as marine reptiles, and seabirds) are lacking. Dedicated scientific Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys around offshore installations are rare, but there is a wealth of archived industrial data and noteworthy species sightings posted publicly on various social media platforms. This study used routine, incidentally collected ROV (n = 73) and commercial diver (n = 9) video recordings spanning 1998–2019 globally. Data were gathered directly from industrial partners (n = 36) and the public domain (YouTube; n = 46) to provide an account of marine megafauna presence and potential feeding behavior in the near-visible vicinity of subsea anthropogenic structures. A total of 79 video clips and 3 still images of marine megafauna near offshore structures were examined, resulting in 67 individual sightings and 16 sub-sightings (in which an individual was recorded within the same day). At least 178 individuals were identified to a minimum of 17 species of marine megafauna, amounting to a total (combined) sighting duration of 01:09:35 (hh:mm:ss). Results demonstrated proximate presence of marine megafauna (many of which are threatened species) to anthropogenic structures, with most animals displaying foraging or interaction behaviors with the structures. Observations included the deepest (2,779 m) confirmed record of a sleeper shark (Somniosus spp.) and the first confirmed visual evidence of seals following pipelines. These ROV observations demonstrate a latent source of easily accessible information that can expand understanding of marine megafauna interactions with offshore anthropogenic infrastructure. Consequently, other workers in this field should be encouraged to re-analyze archived datasets, commence further collaborative research projects with industrial partners, and/or expand Internet search terms to additional species assemblages, in a bid to quantitatively elucidate relationships between offshore infrastructure and marine species.
This paper proposes institutional innovations to advance a transparent monitoring system for the environmental impacts from mineral development on the deep seabed beyond national jurisdictions managed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Using a literature review, ISA’s regulations, and five cases of other environmental monitoring of the deep sea, this study observes that ISA’s environmental monitoring system for exploration and exploitation currently lacks critical elements to facilitate transparency. Insufficient compliance reporting and review systems, as well as limited access to information by stakeholders, lower the system’s effectiveness. ISA has not developed adequate mechanisms to support effective multinational collaboration in monitoring. The ISA monitoring system without these characteristics may not be sufficiently adaptive to allow detection and management of environmental changes in the deep seabed. This study suggests 15 institutional recommendations to ISA in order to enhance transparency for monitoring nodule mining in the Central Pacific deep seabed. Principal recommendations include establishing compliance review committees independent of ISA governing bodies, implementing collective monitoring and reporting by adjacent contractors, and reconsidering the centralized decision-making authority by the Secretary-General to improve confidentiality.
Over two million leisure boats use the coastal areas of the Baltic Sea for recreational purposes. The majority of these boats are painted with toxic antifouling paints that release biocides into the coastal ecosystems and negatively impact non-targeted species. Regulations concerning the use of antifouling paints differ dramatically between countries bordering the Baltic Sea and most of them lack the support of biological data. In the present study, we collected data on biofouling in 17 marinas along the Baltic Sea coast during three consecutive boating seasons (May–October 2014, 2015 and 2016). In this context, we compared different monitoring strategies and developed a fouling index (FI) to characterise marinas according to the recorded biofouling abundance and type (defined according to the hardness and strength of attachment to the substrate). Lower FI values, i.e. softer and/or less abundant biofouling, were consistently observed in marinas in the northern Baltic Sea. The decrease in FI from the south-western to the northern Baltic Sea was partially explained by the concomitant decrease in salinity. Nevertheless, most of the observed changes in biofouling seemed to be determined by local factors and inter-annual variability, which emphasizes the necessity for systematic monitoring of biofouling by end-users and/or authorities for the effective implementation of non-toxic antifouling alternatives in marinas. Based on the obtained results, we discuss how monitoring programs and other related measures can be used to support adaptive management strategies towards more sustainable antifouling practices in the Baltic Sea.
The characteristics of coral reef sampling and monitoring are highly variable, with numbers of units and sampling effort varying from one study to another. Numerous works have been carried out to determine an appropriate effect size through statistical power; however, these were always from a univariate perspective. In this work, we used the pseudo multivariate dissimilarity-based standard error (MultSE) approach to assess the precision of sampling scleractinian coral assemblages in reefs of Venezuela between 2017 and 2018 when using different combinations of number of transects, quadrats and points. For this, the MultSE of 36 sites previously sampled was estimated, using four 30m-transects with 15 photo-quadrats each and 25 random points per quadrat. We obtained that the MultSE was highly variable between sites and is not correlated with the univariate standard error nor with the richness of species. Then, a subset of sites was re-annotated using 100 uniformly distributed points, which allowed the simulation of different numbers of transects per site, quadrats per transect and points per quadrat using resampling techniques. The magnitude of the MultSE stabilized by adding more transects, however, adding more quadrats or points does not improve the estimate. For this case study, the error was reduced by half when using 10 transects, 10 quadrats per transect and 25 points per quadrat. We recommend the use of MultSE in reef monitoring programs, in particular when conducting pilot surveys to optimize the estimation of the community structure.
Assessing the non-lethal effects of disturbance and their population-level consequences is a significant ecological and conservation challenge, because it requires extensive baseline knowledge of behavioral patterns, life-history and demography. However, for many marine mammal populations, this knowledge is currently lacking and it may take decades to fill the gaps. During this time, undetected population declines may occur. In this study we identify methods that can be used to monitor populations subject to disturbance and provide insights into the processes through which disturbance may affect them. To identify and address the knowledge gaps highlighted above, we reviewed the literature to identify suitable response variables and methods for monitoring these variables. We also used existing models of the population consequences of disturbance (PCoD) to identify demographic characteristics (e.g., the proportion of immature animals in the population, or the ratio of calves/pups to mature females) that may be strongly correlated with population status and therefore provide early warnings of future changes in abundance. These demographic characteristics can be monitored using established methods such as visual surveys combined with photogrammetry, and capture-recapture analysis. Individual health and physiological variables can also inform PCoD assessment and can be monitored using photogrammetry, remote tissue sampling, hands-on assessment and individual tracking. We then conducted a workshop to establish the relative utility and feasibility of all these approaches for different groups of marine mammal species. We describe how future marine mammal monitoring programs can be designed to inform population-level analysis.
In partially protected marine areas, such as recreational fishing havens (RFHs), fishery‐independent surveys and recreational angler surveys represent two of the few available methods of collecting length‐frequency data to monitor population responses to protection from commercial fishing and the impacts of ongoing recreational fishing. Although length data plays an important role in facilitating stock assessment and monitoring within RFHs, little is known about the relative magnitude and direction of size‐selective biases introduced by fishery‐independent surveys and angler surveys. This study quantitatively compared length data derived from the two methods for three exploited species or taxa (bream species complex of Acanthopagrus spp. [hybrid complex of Black Bream A. butcheri × Yellowfin Bream A. australis], Dusky Flathead Platycephalus fuscus, and Sand Whiting Sillago ciliata) sampled from two estuarine RFHs in Australia. When all lengths sampled by each method were compared, the species‐specific length frequencies derived from angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys differed significantly in all cases but for Dusky Flathead from one RFH. Following standardization for minimum‐legal‐length restrictions, the angler survey method captured a more representative spectrum of lengths for Acanthopagrus spp. For Dusky Flathead, angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys performed equally in terms of the lengths captured. Although length frequencies for Sand Whiting above minimum legal length differed significantly between the methods in both RFHs, spatial inconsistencies precluded a clear conclusion for this species. The fact that neither method consistently outperformed the other across all species supports the idea that using both angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys in a complimentary manner may enable a clearer understanding of size compositions across multiple species for monitoring and stock assessment purposes and thereby facilitate an ecosystem‐based approach to fishery assessment and management.
This study examined the effects of SCUBA bubbles on fish counts in underwater visual surveys conducted in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). Specifically, paired fish surveys were conducted at each survey site, utilizing two different gear types: open-circuit SCUBA (OC) and closed-circuit rebreather (CCR). Bubble exhaust released from the OC equipment is a potential source of bias for in-situ fish observations, as the associated audio and visual disturbances could either attract or repel fishes depending on whether their behavior is more driven by curiosity or caution. The study area, is a large (~1.5 million km2) and extremely remote marine protected area in which the response of coral reef fishes to divers represent natural behavior of naive fishes with little or no previous contact with humans. Historically, surveys conducted on OC in this area have shown an abundance of large roving piscivores and this study set out to determine the extant, if any, the audible and visual disturbances of OC bubbles have. The species typically seen in these prior surveys were Caranx ignobilis, Caranx melampygus, Aprion virescens, and a couple of species of sharks. We found differences in counts for some roving piscivores, including significantly more jacks observed on OC than CCR (Caranx ignobilis 57% more, and Caranx melampygus 113% more). Instance of first encounter, i.e. the time when a fish was first observed during a survey, also varied for some species. Higher numbers of Aprion virescens (p = 0.04), and C. melampygus (p = <0.001) were observed in the first 5-minutes of counts by divers on OC (i.e. when they were using breathing apparatus that produced noises that could be heard over long distances). Although not the focus of the study, we also assessed differences between OC and CCR counts for other groups of fishes. Estimated abundance of benthic damselfish was higher on OC than CCR, and counts of butterflyfish were lower on OC; but there were no significant differences for the other groups considered. This is an important control study that documents the natural responses of coral reef fishes to SCUBA bubbles generated by in-situ surveys.