Tag Archives: Conservation

Where the wild things roam: Dispersal, connectivity, marine protected areas, and my PhD project


In my last post I mentioned that I am starting a PhD.  I promised to tell you a little more about what my research will be looking at, so here we go!

The project outline

My research comes very broadly defined already – the work’s raison d’être if you like.  Here it is:

“Movement and dispersal connects marine populations, allowing restoration of depleted local populations by immigrants that renew genetic diversity. Although Canada’s Oceans Act prioritizes ‘linking Canada’s network of marine protected areas (MPA)’, connectivity has not weighed significantly in MPA network design in Canada. This study will optimize regional marine connectivity among protected areas in the Atlantic region by determining optimal locations for new MPAs and evaluating how commercially important species would be representative in the entire MPA network. To model species distribution based on larval dispersal, fishery pressure, and climate change, we will use 3-D ocean circulation models. Then, based on metapopulation theory, we will develop novel spatial network algorithms to optimise the number and spatial connectivity between MPAs under current and future scenarios of climate and fishery pressure that may alter larval supply”.

Sounds complex?  Yep, for me too. Continue reading Where the wild things roam: Dispersal, connectivity, marine protected areas, and my PhD project

Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are pretty nifty tools for marine conservation. You take an area, you give it a designations and (hopefully… but the reality can be quite different) you attach some regulations/legislation to remove harmful activities to whatever it is you are trying to protect inside the MPA and make efforts to rebuild and conserve this spot. The situation of picking an area to designate can become trickier when dealing with ocean wanderers – species that move around a lot, and over great distances. It is safe to say that it is politically unfeasible to designate one area big enough to encompass, for example the movement of sea turtles. Instead, sea turtles may find critical habitat – feeding areas or nesting beaches for instance, covered by an MPA. We can’t protect them everywhere, but we can build a case to protect them where we know they hang out in large numbers. Some species are a little less predictable – or we simply don’t know where their critical areas are. Take southern Kenya’s populations of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) for instance. Apparently these critters are the most abundant of the marine mammals in Kenya’s Kisite-Mpunguti MPA. Abundance does not mean we know much about them though. The species is listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List. Continue reading Protecting Kenya’s dolphin habitat

The unique ecology of human predators

The human predator shares many similarities with other animal predators on this planet.  They are intelligent, they can work either independently or in groups.  They can be strategic, cunning, and postulate on possible future outcomes of actions and events.  Despite such similarities, the human predator is very different from any other currently living on Earth.  At a population of over 7.3 billion, humans can be found across the whole planet.  They have harnessed the power of other animals to help their survival.  A highly adaptable animal and a generalist feeder, they exploit a range of different prey.  They have gone beyond simple tool use, creating technology capable of killing thousands of animals in one go (and technology that can potentially wipe out a significant number of humans too).  They have developed fuel to allow them to travel vast distances, and societal systems to maximise the efficiency of exploitation.  We are not just predators, we are “super predators”.

Evolutionary biologist Thomas Reimchen (University of Victoria) has spent many years studying stickleback fish predation.  Many different species like to feed on stickleback but the work Thomas has done found that stickleback predators typically target juveniles, and never take more than 2% of the population in his study area on Haida Gwaii each year.  In contrast, Thomas noted that fishers on Haida Gwaii took much more than 2% of the salmon… and they took mostly adults.  It’s a pattern many of us will have seen.  We take lots, and we take a lot of big individuals.  In this new paper Thomas, alongside Chris Darimont – Hakai-Raincoast professor at the University of Victoria, and science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and colleagues explore just how different our exploitation rates are from other predators. Continue reading The unique ecology of human predators

Community-based conservation to rebuild fish stocks

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind being there right now. This is one of the Fijian islands in the Pacific, and the second largest in the group.  As serene as the picture is, not all is serene for the Islanders.  Fishers in Nagigi, a small community based on the south coast of Vanua Levu Island have been noticing that the number of fish and the size of fish have been decreasing, and habitat degrading – a big problem for a community heavily dependent on its marine resources.  This decline isn’t necessarily down to big foreign boats coming in and taking the critters on which they depend.  Instead, overexploitation and habitat destruction seems to arise from the ever-increasing number of locally based fishers.  The source of this claim?  The villagers of Nagigi.

In this paper,  Abigail Golden from Columbia University and fellow researchers explore the idea of setting up a short-term no take marine protected area within Nagigi’s coastal tenure area (known aqoliqoli ).  This idea hasn’t come from the researchers nor from any top-down government as tends to happen in western countries.  Instead the idea has come from the village leaders themselves.  This sort of bottom-up governance is far from unheard of.  The Pacific Islands are small and numerous, and have a long history of small areas of land and coastal waters managed by local communities.  Some have worked well, some have not, and many have come under strain or been lost through both technological developments, increasing population, increasing demands for resources, and cultural change.  Still, a well-managed community based MPA can work well, particularly in these remoter locations, and especially were more rigorous research and recording is absent.  Regardless of where you are in the world, there are a number of vital steps needed for good management.  One involves getting as much information as possible – about the species that are there now, the fishing methods used, an idea of how conditions have changed, and perceptions towards different management methods.  The other involves bringing the local community into the conservation planning in a meaningful way.  So the team went out and conducted two types of surveys – one looking at the species living on the reef at the time, and one talking to some of the villagers themselves. Continue reading Community-based conservation to rebuild fish stocks