“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).
Continue reading Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much
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.
Continue reading The ocean and its inhabitants aren’t static, so why do we manage them as if they are?
With its common name originating from whalers who, because of their tendency to float on the surface once dead, decided that they were the ‘right whale’ hunt, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has had a somewhat difficult past with people. By 1530s Basque whalers where happily taking these whales (and others too) off Labrador and Newfoundland in the Northeast Atlantic. By the mid-1600s, shore-based whaling took off down the east coast of the USA. Between 1634 and 1951, it is estimated that somewhere between 5,500 and 11,000 right whales were killed by hunters. 1935 saw the introduction of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling – the first protection afforded to these critters but many – but not all – whaling nations (Japan and the then Soviet Union being the exceptions). Protection was bolsters in 1949 with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (IWC), which banned signatories from hunting them for commercial purposes. In the US, they were listed under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970, and the subsequent Endangered Species Act of 1973. Canada, who is not a signatory of the IWC, has listed them under their Species At Risk Act (SARA) as Endangered. Today it is estimated that there are somewhere between 300 – 400 individuals left, and whilst commercial whaling has ceased, they are still under threat primarily from ship strikes or entanglement in shipping gear.
Continue reading Are we really protecting North Atlantic right whales?
Australia has, compared to some other countries, a fairly extensive network of both marine and terrestrial protected areas. On the marine side there is of course the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and more recently the implementation of the Commonwealth Marine Reserve network. The idea behind any marine protected area is to offer long term “conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”, so one would expect to see some effective protection going on in these areas…right? Areas chosen, and cared for to ensure they offer conservation value, to do all we can to help keep species going that have suffered population declines because of our actions? I’m sure many of you won’t be surprised to hear that this isn’t always the case. Take a look at some of my previous posts over on Google Plus – here, here, and here for example. Unfortunately, as highlighted in a recent study by Karen Devitt, who was based at Charles Darwin University, Australia’s protected areas are inadequate for protecting one of the world’s most threatened marine fishes – the sawfish.
Continue reading Australia’s protected area network fails to adequately protect the world’s most threatened marine fishes
Dealing with overfishing and destructive fishing practices are a huge issue for marine conservation and management. Tackling this problem, and trying to repair some of the damage is no easy task. We know that if they are done properly, no-take marine protected areas can make an impact, not only reducing habitat degradation by removing damaging fishing techniques, but also increasing the density and even the individual size of species targeted by fisheries. The benefits these no-take zones provide can spill over to fishers too. And that’s not just a scientist point of view either – take a look at this short (5 minute video) focusing on lobster potter Geoff Huelin who fishes around Lundy Island – the UK’s first no-take zone.
There are many factors that can make or break a no-take zone. In the video Geoff touches on just one of those factors – policing the zone to make sure that people are abiding by the regulations. This is important. It’s no good having regulations to protect an area from fishing if fishing happens there anyway. It is the action of people – not the designation itself per se, that makes an appreciable difference to marine biodiversity recovery. Geoff tells us that for the Lundy Island no-take zone enforcement isn’t a huge challenge because the no-take zone is viewable from the shore. There is, Geoff tells us, usually somebody watching. But this can’t be said for all no-take zones. It’s not just distance from the shoreline that can impact on enforcement capabilities. Lundy’s no-take is small. Some no-take zones are huge, and very often manager’s budgets and resources are limited. Take the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for example which suffers hundreds of infringements of its regulations each year. Sure both commercial and recreational fishers who break the regulations inside the Park are successfully caught every year using a host of different surveillance techniques, but many more are likely to go unnoticed. Getting a handle on the scale of non-compliance is the very issue explored in this recent paper by David Williamson from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and fellow researchers. Continue reading Old fishing line hints at fishing levels inside no-take marine protected areas
A casual glance at the ocean and you may just see a mass of blue. But take a closer look. There are waves, different colours, and different levels of water clarity. If you could peel back the layer of water, you would see environments that are not entirely alien – like mountains, canyons, forests, grass meadows, sand, mud, and volcanoes. The ocean is a mosaic of the most wondrous and splendid habitats, hosting a magnificent array of life. Whilst the terrain itself may remain fairly stable, the ocean itself moves. It’s not just the waves you can see breaking on the beach, nor the movement of the tides, or even those rip currents you really don’t want to find yourself stuck in. Beneath the surface, you will also find movement like currents flowing at different depths, upwellings that bring cold, nutrient rich waters to the surface, and internal waves as tall as 244 meters. Sometimes you get two water masses moving either towards or way from each other, creating oceanic fronts.
Broadly speaking there are two types of oceanic fronts. Convergent fronts occur when the masses move towards each other. Here the water tends to be warmer than the surrounding area, and accumulate all sorts of marine critters, algae, and even litter. In divergent fronts, where the water masses are moving away from each other, upwellings are created bringing up nutrients from the deep. These nutrients support phytoplankton growth, which in turn supports zooplankton, which in turn supports other marine life – including species under threat, and species we like to eat. The thing about fronts (as with many oceanographic features) is that they are not necessarily permanent features that remain in the same place. The ocean is dynamic and as a result the habitat for many critters that live in the water column is also dynamic.
Continue reading The ocean moves – and so should marine conservation management
Reaching up to 5.5 meters in length, the reef manta ray ( Manta alfredi ) is the second largest species of ray in the world. As a group, rays are highly threatened and the reef manta ray is no exception. Already listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, it is thought that the global population of the reef manta is in decline. The threats to the ray primarily come from fisheries that target them for their meat, fins, and the aquarium trade, but they are also at risk from being struck by boats, and from becoming entangled in fishing gear, line lines and nets. These critters need our help if their population is to stop declining. Protecting mantas isn’t just important for the manta’s themselves, or even the wider food web of which they are a part. Manta’s are captivating creatures, so much so that in some places in the world, manta’s drive a tourism industry all of their own. Indonesia has the fourth highest number of manta ray tourism sites in the world, bringing in an estimated U$15 million a year to the Indonesia economy. Indonesia also happens to be home to a substantial manta-targeting fishery which brings in around $442,000 a year.
Continue reading Where the reef manta doth roam
Folks, I’d like to introduce you all to sawfishes (not to be confused with the similar looking but very distinct sawsharks). There are 5 recognised species that make up this family of rays (the Pristidae ), all of which are ‘of conservation concern’. And when I say concern, I really mean it. Three of the five species – smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) , largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis) , and green sawfish (Pristis zijsron) are classified on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered. The remaining two species – narrow sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidate) , and dwarf sawfish (Pristis clavata)_ are classified as endangered. These rather beautiful rays, argues Nick Dulvy from Simon Fraser University and collaborators from Australia and America, are probably “ the world’s most imperilled marine fishes ”. Like other rays, and indeed sharks, skates and chimeras – all of which are a class of fish called Chondrichthyes – the cartilaginous fish (their skeletons are made of cartilage not bones), sawfish conservation has not been much of a priority in most areas of the works. Fortunately for sawfish, not everyone thinks that this is right, so Nick and his team of collaborators have put together this neat paper summarising some key informationon sawfish to help get the ball rolling a ‘tad’ faster than it is already. In fact the information summarised in this paper has played a part in the Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy. So let’s take a peek into the world of the sawfish, and crucially what we can do to give them a chance.
Continue reading Sawfish living on the edge