Conservation & Sustainable Management, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, What The Oceans Do For Us

‘Integrated Action’ (Ocean Management)

As human population grows, more and more demands are being placed on the coastal and ocean environment.  Over half of the World’s human population currently lives at the coast, a figure that is projected to rise to 70% by 2020.  Historically human use of the ocean was largely in the realm of fisheries or transport but today one can find other industries operating in the ocean such as oil and aggregate extraction as well as recreational use.  In an increasingly crowded ocean and coastal environment, conflict between users becomes more common place.  What is more, our understanding of how seemingly separate activities inland can have an impact on ocean and coastal environments.  The traditional single-sector management approach is no longer sufficient.  Today local communities, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and all levels of government play a role in managing human use of the oceans and the coast.  The need for integrated forms of management is widely recognised and can be seen in international law and agreements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Convention for Biological Diversity.


Integrated management attempts to blend social, economic, and environmental needs for the long-term sustainable use of the coast and oceans, to maintain biological diversity and essential ecological processes, and to reduce risks to users and the environment.  The exact implementation of integrated management varies greatly from one place to the next. The exact implementation of integrated management varies greatly from one place to the next.  Some approaches may stretch far inland to include features such as marshes, others may include the regional seas.  However the boundaries of management are defined, integrated management needs to take into account a number of variables, such as the physical characteristics of the coast/ocean, the legal system of the area, the structure of governance, and the role of stakeholder.  Despite these differences, integrated management systems tend to have some commonalities.  It is an ongoing process, and a participatory process in which industry, government, and communities are involved in shaping human use of the coast and ocean…

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Chale Island – Indian Ocean – Diani Beach – Kenya. Credit The Sands Kenya/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What The Oceans Do For Us

Deep sea sediments gives insight into plutonium-244 origin

We can learn a lot about the history of our planet from ocean exploration.  As it turns out, we can also learn about processes beyond our solar system.  Supernova (star) explosions are large, violent processes.  Current theory suggest that supernovae distribute elements essential to life, such as potassium and iron, and heavy elements, such as the radioactive element plutonium-244, throughout space, with some eventually settling on the sea floor.  However, research recently published in Nature Communications suggests that recent heavy element production may not originate from standard supernovae.

Continue reading “Deep sea sediments gives insight into plutonium-244 origin”

What The Oceans Do For Us

What the oceans do for us: medicine from the sea

Humans are not infallible.  We get sick, we get injured.  Humans are a clever bunch though, and since prehistoric times we have used medicine to try to heal our ailments.  Medical science has made huge leaps and bounds, providing treatments and vaccinations, surgical procedures, and physical and psychological therapies that have allowed people to survive – and thrive – injuries and illnesses which would have once been fatal.  Medical science never stops evolving, learning, and searching for more ways to keep us in tip-top condition.  That search includes delving beneath the ocean waves.  Here’s just a couple of open access examples of how medical science has been furthered by studying ocean creatures: Continue reading “What the oceans do for us: medicine from the sea”

Marine Life, Ocean Ecosystems, What The Oceans Do For Us

What the Great Barrier Reef Does for Us

Stretching some 2,300 kilometres over 14 degrees of latitude, the Great Barrier Reef lying off Australia’s east coast is the largest reef system in existence.  Hugely complex, the Reef supports among others some 3,000 species of mollusc, 1,625 species of fish, 600 soft and hard corals, 133 species of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.  The Reef is also used by people, originally by Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders for food and materials, then by Europeans for both its resources and tourism.  In response to a political row over mining rights on the Reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was introduced in 1975, its primary objective “to provide for the long-term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Region”.  The introduction of the park was heralded a success, an exemplar of marine protection that allowed well-managed human use of such a complex and delicate ecosystem.  In 1981 it received UNESCO World Heritage status for its “outstanding universal value”.  It was the first reef ecosystem to receive World Heritage status.

Times have changed for the Reef.  In 2012 Dr Glenn De’ath, principal research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, lead a damming piece of research.  Between 1985 and 2012, 50.7% of the Reefs initial hard coral cover had declined, primarily as a result of tropical cyclone activity (48% of the mortality), outbreaks of the carnivorous crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) (42% of the mortality), and bleaching (where the corals lose their symbiotic zooxanthellae, 10% of the mortality).  Crown-of-thorns outbreaks are closely linked to poor water quality and high nutrient loads in the Reef, resulting from the clearing, farming, and urbanization of water catchments, and increasing variability in rainfall associated with climate change.  Warming waters increases bleaching events, and ocean acidification reduces coral growth rates. Last year researchers Dr Hampus Eriksson and Dr Maria Byrne from Stockholm University and University of Sydney respectively reported serial depletion of holothurian (sea cucumbers) species taken for the Queensland East Coast beche-de-mer fishery, demonstrating that some of the fisheries allowed in the Park may not be as well-managed as we may hope.  More recently talks of dumping dredge spoil near the Reef, and the development of a series of mega-ports in Queensland, including associated shipping developments and routes through the Reef has garnered public outrage.  Next year UNESCO will decide if they will list the Reef as ‘in danger’.

The Australian/Queensland Government’s draft ‘Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan’ has been debased by the Australian Academy of Science, noting that “while the draft plan acknowledges the greatest risks to the Reef are ‘climate change, poor water quality from land-based run off, impacts from coastal development and some fishing activities’, it fails to effectively address any of these pressures”.  “The science is clear”, Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, “the Reef is degraded and its condition is worsening. This is a plan that won’t restore the Reef, it won’t even maintain it in its already diminished state”.  But does it matter?  Sure, the Reef has intrinsic value, but what has the Reef ever done for us?

The full article was published in – and can be read in – The Marine Professional, a publication of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

Image: Scuba In The Great Barrier Reef, Michaelmas Cay. Credit The.Rohit/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What The Oceans Do For Us

What the oceans do for us: Carbon Storage

We’ve all heard the news.  We have been – and continue to – pump too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Just like its ‘naturally produced’ counterpart, not all of the human-generated carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere.  In particular, plants on the land are what we call a carbon sink.  They take up the carbon dioxide and use it for photosynthesis (which also produces oxygen as a waste product – hurrah for plants!).  Plants do a pretty nifty job but holding an estimated 85% of the active carbon on the planet and 25% of annual human carbon dioxide emissions, the oceans are also an extremely important carbon sink.

Continue reading “What the oceans do for us: Carbon Storage”

Conservation & Sustainable Management, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, What The Oceans Do For Us

Marine conservation and the human equation

People are as much a part of this planet as any other species.  We are ecosystem engineers, modifying and creating new environments to suit our needs.  We are incredibly adaptable, and our ability to make tools – both simple and technologically complex – has allowed us to prosper and rise above many of the restrictions that limit other species.  This doesn’t mean we can now act completely in isolation from the rest of the world.  Many of our activities have altered ecosystems in ways that mean they are less likely to meet our current and future needs.  Conservation efforts are attempting to remedy many of the problems we have created, but conservation isn’t just about nature – it’s about people too.

Nathan Bennett has been actively researching the links between the environment and human societies for many years.  His work takes a perspective that historically has often been forgotten in conservation management; what about humans.  This isn’t about developing opportunities of industry – it’s about conservation initiatives that look to sustain environment and communities together.  This week he has shared three of his papers on his blog – one from 2013 and two from this year.  Thanks to Nathan, all three are now open access…all three very much worth a read.  Here’s a brief overview of each paper to whet your appetite.

The trouble with marine protected areas
So here’s the deal.  We can find an area of the ocean that is becoming heavily degraded because of human activities.  To try to reduce the damage and allow recovery we can place a boundary around that area and place restrictions on the sorts of activities that take place inside.  But what of those people whose activities have been displaced?  We aren’t just talking about recreational fishers here.  In some circumstances, communities which are heavily dependent on the marine environment can be affected.  In this paper, Nathan and his colleague Phil Dearden surveyed coastal resource dependent communities living on the Andaman Coast of Thailand – an area which boasts 17 National Marine Parks.  The perspective of these people makes for grim reading.  They saw little benefit in the parks for their community, they felt that fishing and harvesting was negatively impacted by the parks, and they felt little incentive to support let alone participate in conservation efforts.  What needs to happen, writes Nathan and Phil, is for managers to start including socio-economic development considerations within protected area management planning.  This won’t just be better for the communities, but better for marine conservation.

It’s not just about how vulnerable you are, it’s what you can do to adapt
We’re back to the Andaman Coast of Thailand again, this time to consider their vulnerability and ability to adapt to climate change.  There are a whole host of different factors that can affect a community’s ability to adapt to climate change – and indeed any other sort of stressor.  Some of these are biophysical – climate change related impacts such as coral bleaching, or increasing number of storms, as well as environmental impacts such as marine pollution and overfishing.  Some of the factors are economic – like increasing costs of fuel, social – like increasing immigration, and some are related to governance, like corruption, policies, or illegal fishing.  Nathan and the team wanted to find out how communities felt about stressors.  They surveyed 237 households across 7 coastal communities to ascertain which of the 36 stressors identified in the region were considered having highest impact on the communities.  The results were a bit of a mixed bag, and despite the communities being just 10 km apart, differed between each community.  There were a few common factors though.  Many of the stressors were heavily intertwined.  Climate change impacts like more extreme storms and changes to rainfall were rated highly in the stress-rankings.  Economic factors – particularly rising costs – also came out as a major concern among all the communities.  Interestingly somewhat in contrast to the study above, marine protected areas were not really felt to be causing too much trouble.  What about overfishing?  Not a concern either… but then again the fish populations declined long ago, so overfishing isn’t really an immediate concern any more.  The thing about these sorts of stressors is that they aren’t really something that the community can deal with themselves.  They are part of wider regional and global problems.  From an adaptation perspective, this raises a number of issues.  There is not a ‘one adaptation plan to fit all’, but there are common factors that need to be looked at beyond the communities themselves.  Equally important, if we want to help communities to adapt, we cannot treat one stressor as separate from another.  A more integrated approach is vital for the success of any adaptation plan.

The eco-social economy:  How conservation can aid social and economic development
In this final paper the focus is turned to the Northwest Territories Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation.  There have been plans afoot for their traditional territory…plans for a national park/protected area.  This is an old idea, and one that back in 1969 when the Government of Canada (Federal Government) tried to implement met with the opposition of the local people, who were successful in preventing the creation of a park.  In 2006, the First Nation and the Government of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding to look at implementing a park on those very same territories.  So what happened?  This new proposal has come from the local people themselves – a bottom up rather than top-down approach to conservation.  Through this collaborative process the park is taking an eco-social perspective to conservation.  Here, people aren’t just seen as the cause of degradation, but are seen as part of the ecosystem, impacted by the degradation.  The national park is not yet set up but is moving forward.  When it is, it is hoped that the park won’t just protect nature and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation culture, but work to meet social and economic development goals.

If you want to follow more of Nathan’s work head over to his blog  There is a follow option which will automatically update you of any new posts.  Now there’s some emails worth getting.

Image:  The Lutsel K’e Dene on  Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada.  Credit:  Leslie Philipp/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)