June 5, 2013
Mangroves are tough, opportunistic weeds, says Conservancy senior marine scientist Mark Spalding. But that doesn’t just mean you can restore them anywhere — there’s a narrow line above mid-tide that works, and legalities and laziness cause many restoration projects to fail. Communicate the science of proper mangrove planting, though, and you’ve got one of the most optimistic conservation tools around.
June 4, 2013
Conservancy Lead Marine Scientist Mike Beck comes off a week of conversations in New Orleans about coastal hazards to have the best talk of all about them with a cab driver — who blows him away with his knowledge of flood insurance and federal policy, the protective role of wetlands in Louisiana, and why we need to restore them now.
May 20, 2013
As if the long list of threats to coral reefs weren’t enough, we can now add ocean acidification to the list.
Perhaps you’ve seen the gloomy headlines like “Ocean Acidification: ‘Evil Twin’ Threatens World’s Oceans, Scientists Warn.”
Perhaps it is no wonder that folks think coral reef scientists are never finished “crying wolf” about the next global challenge threatening to wipe out coral reef ecosystems.
How serious is this threat and what can we do to address it? To answer these questions, we decided to enlist the help of some global acidification experts. But first, we have to understand the problem.
May 14, 2013
Helping people and nature adapt to climate change is a hot topic in conservation.
But the science behind planning such adaptation — particularly for human communities — isn’t as clean as the rhetoric, and you can’t do it simply in a lab or on paper. Whether we’re talking about major developed world cities or small coastal villages, we have to run our theories by what we call the “test of people” — so they lead to strategies that work. That test often involves understanding how the world looks through the eyes of the people we are trying to help. Nothing like a good reality check.
Case in point: My recent trip to the Grenadines, where I was attending an “action planning meeting” with community members, my colleagues from The Nature Conservancy’s ‘At The Water’s Edge’ project team, and our local partners. Our aim: to identify specific actions that can be taken to help reduce the communities’ vulnerability to coastal hazards (i.e., flooding from sea level rise and storm surge). As conservationists, we hope nature might be a part of the equation — what we call “nature-based adaptation.”
April 11, 2013
According to a new report led by Nature Conservancy scientists and policy experts, the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) has increased fivefold in the last 10 years and the world is actually on track to meet its goal of protecting 10% of the oceans by 2020.
Sounds like something to shout from the rooftops, right? Not quite, say the authors. Instead, they want the marine conservation community to see this as an opportunity for reassessment: A call-to-action to step up and look beyond the numbers.
“It’s certainly progress and we should celebrate that,” says Mark Spalding, a Conservancy marine scientist and lead author on the report. “But there’s a lot of nuance behind these targets. More than that, is 10% really what we should be fixated on?”
The study — developed in conjunction with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and published in the Ocean Yearbook — assessed the state of ocean protection efforts to date and provides recommendations for how to achieve real success for the future. The authors reviewed 10,280 MPAs, covering 8.3 million square kilometers or 2.3% of the world’s ocean area, and found:
March 29, 2013
If a community protects a portion of its fishing grounds, will it actually benefit them?
Or will the young fish produced in protected areas just move hundreds of miles away and benefit communities that played no role in protecting the resource?
These questions were the focus of researchers working in Manus, Papua New Guinea who investigated whether community protection efforts for the squaretail coral grouper (Plectropomus areolatus) actually benefited the community by providing more fish.
Their results, published today in the journal Current Biology, clearly show that local management of this species provides local benefits.
“For years, we’ve been preaching that community-based conservation is a key component to protecting reef fisheries,” says Rick Hamilton, senior scientist for the Conservancy’s Melanesia program and one of the coauthors of the paper. “The idea has been that if we protect some areas, large female fishes will be left undisturbed. They would then produce millions of larvae that spill over into nearby areas open to fishing. But until now that assumption has largely been faith based.”
In Manus, as in many parts of the world, people essentially own the coral reefs near their village. They decide when, where and who can fish in these areas. Some of these areas have no formal designation, but fishers know these customary boundaries. Local communities can thus enact and enforce management and protection efforts.
One of the most important fishes for commercial and subsistence harvest for Manus communities is the squaretail coral grouper. It is also highly susceptible to overfishing. This is in part due to the fact that they form spawning aggregations, where huge numbers of fish congregate in one spot to spawn at predictable times. This makes it easy to overharvest the reproductive population. At night, the aggregating coral grouper sleep in shallow water, making them easy targets for spear fishers.
March 28, 2013
I have a confession to make: I’m a marine scientist who thinks marine protected areas (MPAs) aren’t going to be nearly enough to save our oceans, and that fishing needs to be part of the solution too.
Here’s why: As a conservationist, I’ve seen how MPAs can protect habitat and allow fish populations to flourish, but I’ve also seen how effective fisheries management can balance economic needs with those of a healthy ocean. Within the next generation the global population will reach 9 billion, and it’s our shared challenge to implement the next generation of ocean management techniques to allow us to restore and maintain our oceans against this ever-rising wall of pressure.
That means working together.
March 27, 2013
For a marine scientist, there is nothing like being on a boat. Your senses become alive, your creativity peaks. As you gaze over the side of a boat, the ocean mysteries you have been trying to solve suddenly come into focus.
But being on a boat is expensive. A recent article in the journal Science, “A Sea Change for Oceanography” by Eli Kintisch, clearly spells this out. Kintisch tells us that shrinking budgets and increasing costs are driving a change in how people study our oceans. A growing array of high tech devices that remotely collect information are being deployed and less days on sophisticated boats are spent at sea. The article suggests that this shift from field data collection programs to remote data collection programs is a change from “small” to “big” oceanography.
But what should “big” oceanography really be? Should the ability to connect to society’s needs be a part of “big” oceanography? If the answer is yes, I would say oceanography is failing. The good news is: there is still opportunity to redirect course.
Why has a field critical in describing the fabric of anything that has do to with oceans (how we use them, how we depend on them) failed in demonstrating its relevance beyond primary science? Perhaps it’s because oceans are still viewed—by oceanographers and the public—as one of the last great frontiers. Kintisch calls attention this in the Science article, concluding with a call for support of ocean studies “…comparable to [funding for] research in outer space…”
Indeed oceanic exploration has always generated tremendous media attention and public interest. But the ocean is much more than a last frontier. Our decisions around assigning priorities and allocating resources, the stories we share about the ocean should reflect this.
When the field started the ocean was mostly un-explored (and large sections of the ocean still are). The last frontier should and will continue to provide inspiration for years to come. But what about all the people that we now know live and depend on the ocean? Who solves their mysteries and the integral part that the ocean plays in solving their riddles?
March 22, 2013
It’s a little hard to get your head around what Australia did last November. I live in a country, the United Kingdom, that covers 250,000 km² – not a huge country for sure, but not tiny. Australia declared new marine protected areas that cover almost ten times that area – some 2.3 million km².
Well, as you might imagine, there have been some pretty big celebrations about this, certainly among conservationists, but also among a public that widely supported the declaration.
I’m delighted that Australia has upped the ante for marine conservation everywhere in this way. This sort of move should excite and inspire, in much the same way that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has already done.
They have shown us that large-scale conservation can be done, and can be done with full participation and broad support, and that it can be income-generating – good for people as well as nature.
But not everyone’s happy. Some – including Bob Pressey, a highly regarded conservation scientist in Australia – has called these new sites “residual protected areas.”
He suggests that these sites are not in the best places either for averting threats or protecting diversity. He also says that they don’t really have teeth, and it’s true that, on declaration, the new parks required no immediate changes “in the water” – that ongoing activities such as fishing, and even mineral extraction can carry on.
That’s worrying of course, and might lead to a sense that they aren’t going to do as much good as might be hoped. But it’s an important first step.