Conservation & Sustainable Management, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood

How special is a ‘Special Area of Conservation?


This week it has been brought to my attention that there is a proposal to dredge for scallops inside a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ located in Cardigan Bay, Wales.  This proposal has divided opinions.  On Twitter this week Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York (UK) lamented that there was ”No hope for UK marine conservation if this mad proposal to scallop dredge in a protected area goes ahead” .  Dr Magnus Johnson, a Crustacean Fisheries and Ecologist researcher at the University of Hull (UK) quickly countered “It is worth reading the science by first!”, following with a couple of hashtags “#eatmorefish #eatmoreshellfish”.  Two scientists, with two opposing views… what is going on?


What is a Special Area of Conservation anyway?

These are something unique to the European Union.  They arise from the Habitats Directive, first adopted in 1992 in response to a European convention called the Berne Convention.  Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designed to protect a number of habitats and species (plants and animals) considered endangered, vulnerable, rare, or endemic.  Once a SAC has been formally designated, the establishment and implementation of management measures are largely left down to the individual Member State.  However, there are certain things that they must do.  Briefly, under Article 6 of the Habitats Directive, these include:

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Conservation & Sustainable Management, Marine Life

A brighter future for the shy albatross

Predicting the future is a tricky business.  As then United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld famously said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know” .  Then there is the interactions between all the variables that determine the outcome of a particular event.  However, few things work in isolation and species decline often results from the accumulation of different stressors.  If we want to put in place conservation management measures that are effective in the long term, then we need to be able to put our known (and measurable) stressors together and figure out what, cumulatively they mean for our potentially at risk species.

The shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta) is an endemic to Australia, breeding on just three Tasmanian islands, including the aptly named Albatross Island.  The albatross of Albatross Island have a long history of human interest.  In the early 19th century adult albatross were extensively hunted for their feathers and egg, taking their numbers down from an estimated 11,100 pairs to just 400.  The population is now recovering, but still faces a number of possible threats.  High on this list are two issues – changing climatic conditions, and the accidental capture of the albatross in longline and trawl fisheries.  To understand just what the combined impact of these stressors could mean for this vulnerable bird, Robin Thomson and colleagues from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research​​​, together with the Tasmanian Government Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) put together a model that can hopefully direct management to ensure these birds survive in the long term.

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Conservation & Sustainable Management

Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much

Current levels of protection inside Canada’s MPAs [marine protected areas] are inadequate to provide the long-term conservation of marine biodiversity. For the most part, there is little difference between what is allowed inside our MPAs and what occurs outside their boundaries”.

Little difference… that’s a pretty damning statement from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), an NGO established in 1963. After all, what is the point of a MPA that offers little to no protection? There are 740 MPAs covering just 1% of Canada’s ocean, far below internationally agreed Aichi targets of 10% (which in itself is far below the minimum recommended by scientists).

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Conservation & Sustainable Management

No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different

The global implementation of no-take zones, areas in which fishing (both commercial and recreational) is banned, has been a slow process despite scientific recommendations that they are a valuable tool for conservation – and even support fisheries.  The thinking behind no-take zones is simple.  Prevent extraction from a population and that population will increase over time.  There is plenty of evidence showing that no-take zones have higher fish abundance, biomass, and species richness than comparable fished areas, and that the fish inside no-take zones are larger too.  But there is a catch… designating an area ‘no-take’ is, in itself, not enough to ensure protection.  There are all sorts of factors that can influence the ‘success’ of no-take zones, such as placing the area where it they most needed, reducing pollution from external sources, and the level of compliance and/or enforcement.  After all, if people keep fishing inside the no-take zone, it doesn’t really meet the criteria of being no-take.  Inevitably a fished zone will fail to meet expected successes of a no-take. Continue reading “No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different”

Conservation & Sustainable Management

The ocean and its inhabitants aren’t static, so why do we manage them as if they are?

Ocean wildlife spotting tours don’t necessarily run year-round, instead only going out on the water when the primary species of interest is likely to be in the area.  You may go out and see so much wildlife you can barely count, or you may go out and return without seeing anything.  If you are a fisher, you may have a number of different spots you fish from, or you may use a ‘fish finder’ that points you to where they are most likely to be.  If you could see the smaller critters – the zooplankton, the larval stages of larger marine species (including some that eventually become largely sedentary), you would see that they too move.  In the ocean, creatures move.  Some move short distances, some may cross the global ocean.  The ocean itself is highly dynamic – not just over space, but over time.  This variability in turn gives rise to variability in primary production – and this means that the preferred habitat and vital food resources also shift in time and space, giving rise to a patchy distribution of mobile species, like pelagic fishes, zooplankton, and sea turtles.

So, we have an ocean that is dynamic in both time and space.  We have species that are dynamic in abundance and distribution across time and space.  And we have people, using the ocean differently across time and space.  Yet we draw lines in the ocean, managing our use of it as if everything fitted into nice neat little boxes.  People like lines.  Lines denote boundaries, allowing us to categorise and compartmentalise the natural world neatly.  We have our Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) denoting countries territories.  We have marine protected areas that can look after key habitats.  But when dealing with the ocean we can see that the world doesn’t necessarily fit into such neat little boxes.  Management placed in a fixed area can work really well for some things but when dealing with mobile species – and indeed mobile people, we need something else to enhance static spatial management measures.  As outlined in a paper lead by Rebecca Lewison of San Diego State University, a team of researchers from around the globe (including myself) dynamic ocean management could be just what we need.

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Marine Life

Cool critter of the month: the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)

Phylum: Mollusca

Family: Nautilidae

Where do they live?
These ocean dwellers can be found throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  As it turns out, there are two sub-species of (Nautilus pompilius).  Nautilus pompilius polpilius is the larger of the two subspecies.  These guys can be found in the Andaman Sea down to Western Australia in the Indian Ocean, and from southern Japan down to Northern Australia in the Pacific.  Nautilus pompilius suluensis has a much more restricted range, staying in the Sulu Sea between Malaysia and the Philippines.

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