In just over half a century plastic products have revolutionized human society and have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments in every corner of the globe. The hazard plastic debris poses to biodiversity is well established, but mitigation and planning are often hampered by a lack of quantitative data on accumulation patterns. Here we document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world, up to 671.6 items/m2 (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Approximately 68% of debris (up to 4,496.9 pieces/m2) on the beach was buried <10 cm in the sediment. An estimated 37.7 million debris items weighing a total of 17.6 tons are currently present on Henderson, with up to 26.8 new items/m accumulating daily. Rarely visited by humans, Henderson Island and other remote islands may be sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste.
- The Territory marine and coastal environment is a critical tourism asset generating an estimated 1.7 billion per annum to the NT economy.
- Currently there is a lack of finer scale data on how tourism in the Territory’s marine and coastal environment is evolving.
- The development of the Coastal and Marine Management Strategy in 2017 offers a key opportunity for game-changing new initiatives to stimulate significant growth in nature and culture-based tourism in the Top End.
Identifying the relative risk human activities pose to a habitat, and the ecosystem services they provide, can guide management prioritisation and resource allocation. Using a combination of expert elicitation to assess the probable effect of a threat and existing data to assess the level of threat exposure, we conducted a risk assessment for 38 human-mediated threats to eight marine habitats (totalling 304 threat-habitat combinations) in Spencer Gulf, Australia. We developed a score-based survey to collate expert opinion and assess the relative effect of each threat to each habitat, as well as a novel and independent measure of knowledge-based uncertainty. Fifty-five experts representing multiple sectors and institutions participated in the study, with 6 to 15 survey responses per habitat (n = 81 surveys). We identified key threats specific to each habitat; overall, climate change threats received the highest risk rankings, with nutrient discharge identified as a key local-scale stressor. Invasive species and most fishing-related threats, which are commonly identified as major threats to the marine environment, were ranked as low-tier threats to Spencer Gulf, emphasising the importance of regionally-relevant assessments. Further, we identified critical knowledge gaps and quantified uncertainty scores for each risk. Our approach will facilitate prioritisation of resource allocation in a region of increasing social, economic and environmental importance, and can be applied to marine regions where empirical data are lacking.
- Causes of non-intentional mortality may pose conservation challenges for long-lived, migratory species. Recovery attempts for Atlantic sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus populations in the USA have mainly involved closures of targeted fishing, but bycatch mortality from fisheries targeting other species remains a significant obstacle. Natural and fishing mortality levels are highly uncertain and difficult to separate, but quantifying spatial and temporal patterns of movements and total mortality can directly inform management policies regarding fishing activity that affects sturgeon.
- Subadult sturgeon were tagged with acoustic transmitters to track their movements with receivers deployed in active fishing areas within the New York Bight. Multi-state mark–recapture models were used to quantify seasonal patterns in survival and migration while accounting for detection probabilities of tagged fish.
- Movement patterns of sturgeon were highly variable among seasons along the Long Island Coast, with frequent south-westward movements during the increase in sea surface temperature in spring. North-eastward movements were most pronounced during winter, when temperatures were lowest. Sturgeon were less common along coastal Long Island during summer.
- Larger fish transitioned among strata more frequently, but also had slightly lower survival than smaller fish, which may result from selectivity for larger individuals caught incidentally in bottom trawl or gillnet fisheries. Weekly total mortality rates, including both natural and fishing mortality, averaged 0·24%. Highest weekly survival rates were observed during periods of decreasing sea surface temperature in autumn and winter, while lowest survival was observed during periods of increasing temperature in spring and summer while sturgeon migrated through areas of known bycatch.
- Policy implications. Movement and survival patterns of Atlantic sturgeon suggest that late spring, coinciding with periods of ocean bycatch in fisheries along the coast of Long Island, is a particularly sensitive period for Atlantic sturgeon. Conservation efforts could target these few weeks using real-time observations from acoustic telemetry and remote sensing technologies to implement in-season fishery closures, thereby reducing incidental mortality of Atlantic sturgeon. Such bycatch management measures would aid in recovery attempts of a long-lived, migratory population with endangered status.
Fishing and habitat degradation have increased the extinction risk of sharks, and conservation strategies recognize that survival of juveniles is critical for the effective management of shark populations. Despite the rapid expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs) globally, the paucity of shark-monitoring data on large scales (100s–1000s km) means that the effectiveness of MPAs in halting shark declines remains unclear. Using data collected by baited remote underwater video systems (BRUVS) in northwestern Australia, we developed generalized linear models to elucidate the ecological drivers of habitat suitability for juvenile sharks. We assessed occurrence patterns at the order and species levels. We included all juvenile sharks sampled and the 3 most abundant species sampled separately (grey reef [Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos], sandbar [Carcharhinus plumbeus], and whitetip reef sharks [Triaenodon obesus]). We predicted the occurrence of juvenile sharks across 490,515 km2 of coastal waters and quantified the representation of highly suitable habitats within MPAs. Our species-level models had higher accuracy (ĸ ≥ 0.69) and deviance explained (≥48%) than our order-level model (ĸ = 0.36 and deviance explained of 10%). Maps of predicted occurrence revealed different species-specific patterns of highly suitable habitat. These differences likely reflect different physiological or resource requirements between individual species and validate concerns over the utility of conservation targets based on aggregate species groups as opposed to a species-focused approach. Highly suitable habitats were poorly represented in MPAs with the most restrictions on extractive activities. This spatial mismatch possibly indicates a lack of explicit conservation targets and information on species distribution during the planning process. Non-extractive BRUVS provided a useful platform for building the suitability models across large scales to assist conservation planning across multiple maritime jurisdictions, and our approach provides a simple for method for testing the effectiveness of MPAs.
Marine litter from lightweight plastic bags is a global problem that must be solved. A plastic bag tax was implemented in February 2015 to reduce the consumption of plastic grocery bags in Portugal and in turn reduce the potential contribution to marine litter. This study analyzes the effect of the plastic bag tax on consumer behavior to learn how it was received and determine the perceived effectiveness of the tax 4 months after its implementation. In addition, the study assessed how proximity to coastal areas could influence behaviors and opinions. The results showed a 74% reduction of plastic bag consumption with a simultaneously 61% increase of reusable plastic bags after the tax was implemented. Because plastic bags were then reused for shopping instead of garbage bags, however, the consumption of garbage bags increased by 12%. Although reduction was achieved, the tax had no effect on the perception of marine litter or the impact of plastic bags on environment and health. The majority of respondents agree with the tax but view it as an extra revenue to the State. The distance to the coast had no meaningful influence on consumer behavior or on the perception of the tax. Although the tax was able to promote the reduction of plastics, the role of hypermarkets and supermarkets in providing alternatives through the distribution of reusable plastic bags was determinant to ensuring the reduction.
Cold-water corals are important bioengineers that provide structural habitat for a diverse species community. About 70% of the presently known scleractinian cold-water corals are expected to be exposed to corrosive waters by the end of this century due to ocean acidification. At the same time, the corals will experience a steady warming of their environment. Studies on the sensitivity of cold-water corals to climate change mainly concentrated on single stressors in short-term incubation approaches, thus not accounting for possible long-term acclimatisation and the interactive effects of multiple stressors. Besides, preceding studies did not test for possible compensatory effects of a change in food availability. In this study a multifactorial long-term experiment (6 months) was conducted with end-of-the-century scenarios of elevated pCO2 and temperature levels in order to examine the acclimatisation potential of the cosmopolitan cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa to future climate change related threats. For the first time multiple ocean change impacts including the role of the nutritional status were tested on L. pertusa with regard to growth, “fitness,” and survival. Our results show that while L. pertusa is capable of calcifying under elevated CO2 and temperature, its condition (fitness) is more strongly influenced by food availability rather than changes in seawater chemistry. Whereas growth rates increased at elevated temperature (+4°C), they decreased under elevated CO2 concentrations (~800 μatm). No difference in net growth was detected when corals were exposed to the combination of increased CO2and temperature compared to ambient conditions. A 10-fold higher food supply stimulated growth under elevated temperature, which was not observed in the combined treatment. This indicates that increased food supply does not compensate for adverse effects of ocean acidification and underlines the importance of considering the nutritional status in studies investigating organism responses under environmental changes.
A multinational oceanographic and acoustic sea experiment was carried out in the summer of 2014 off the western coast of the island of Sardinia, Mediterranean Sea. During this experiment, an underwater glider fitted with two hydrophones was evaluated as a potential tool for marine mammal population density estimation studies. An acoustic recording system was also tested, comprising an inexpensive, off-the-shelf digital recorder installed inside the glider. Detection and classification of sounds produced by whales and dolphins, and sometimes tracking and localization, are inherent components of population density estimation from passive acoustics recordings. In this work we discuss the equipment used as well as analysis of the data obtained, including detection and estimation of bearing angles. A human analyst identified the presence of sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) regular clicks as well as dolphin clicks and whistles. Cross-correlating clicks recorded on both data channels allowed for the estimation of the direction (bearing) of clicks, and realization of animal tracks. Insights from this bearing tracking analysis can aid in population density estimation studies by providing further information (bearings), which can improve estimates.
As human activities expand beyond national jurisdictions to the high seas, there is an increasing need to consider anthropogenic impacts to species inhabiting these waters. The current scarcity of scientific observations of cetaceans in the high seas impedes the assessment of population-level impacts of these activities. We developed plausible density estimates to facilitate a quantitative assessment of anthropogenic impacts on cetacean populations in these waters. Our study region extended from a well-surveyed region within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone into a large region of the western North Atlantic sparsely surveyed for cetaceans. We modeled densities of 15 cetacean taxa with available line transect survey data and habitat covariates and extrapolated predictions to sparsely surveyed regions. We formulated models to reduce the extent of extrapolation beyond covariate ranges, and constrained them to model simple and generalizable relationships. To evaluate confidence in the predictions, we mapped where predictions were made outside sampled covariate ranges, examined alternate models, and compared predicted densities with maps of sightings from sources that could not be integrated into our models. Confidence levels in model results depended on the taxon and geographic area and highlighted the need for additional surveying in environmentally distinct areas. With application of necessary caution, our density estimates can inform management needs in the high seas, such as the quantification of potential cetacean interactions with military training exercises, shipping, fisheries, and deep-sea mining and be used to delineate areas of special biological significance in international waters. Our approach is generally applicable to other marine taxa and geographic regions for which management will be implemented but data are sparse.
Gillnet fisheries are widely thought to pose a conservation threat to many populations of marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles. Gillnet fisheries also support a significant proportion of small-scale fishing communities worldwide. Despite a large number of studies on protected-species bycatch in recent decades, relatively few have examined the underlying causes of bycatch and fewer still have considered the issue from a multitaxon perspective. We used 3 bibliographic databases and one search engine to identify studies by year of publication and taxon. The majority of studies on the mechanisms of gillnet bycatch are not accessible through the mainstream published literature. Many are reported in technical papers, government reports, and university theses. We reviewed over 600 published and unpublished studies of bycatch in which causal or correlative factors were considered and identified therein 28 environmental, operational, technical, and behavioral factors that may be associated with high or low bycatch rates of the taxa. Of the factors considered, 11 were associated with potential bycatch reduction in 2 out of the 3 taxa, and 3 factors (water depth, mesh size, and net height) were associated with trends in bycatch rate for all 3 taxa. These findings provide a basis to guide further experimental work to test hypotheses about which factors most influence bycatch rates and to explore ways of managing fishing activities and improving gear design to minimize the incidental capture of species of conservation concern while ensuring the viability of the fisheries concerned.