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Science is at the core of the sustainable management and conservation of Mexico’s marine resources

What if scientists, governments and citizens had access to a database that held everything we know about our oceans? This snapshot of the current state of science would be invaluable to understand the state of ocean health, would help build scientific solutions to climate-driven ocean problems and could spur new collaboration and amplify current conservation efforts.

Luckily for all of us passionate about the oceans in Mexico, this amazing database is not just a fantasy. It is now a reality in Mexico thanks to the collaborative efforts of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Mexican researchers from several institutes including the University of British Columbia and the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

Geographic location of metadata according to sub-regions and research category

Together we developed Infoceanos, a metadatabase that provides the most comprehensive snapshot of the current state of marine data in Mexico. Infoceanos is a free, public website with interactive interfaces that allow data visualization by species and region.

It represents a unique effort in the country. “We have created the most complete metadatabase of marine research in Mexico, since it gathers more than 130 thousand records representing more than two million data points from 215 databases,” says Juliano Palacios, one of the researchers and collaborators of the project. “Thanks to the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico, the final product is an open-source and dynamic tool that can be accessed by anyone, and is open to the addition of new records. We hope that this multi-institutional effort helps improve marine conservation and management in Mexico.”

Infoceanos was built from the collaborative work of 14 researchers who were recently published in a PLOS ONE article. Their research focuses on building a metadatabase as a way to understand data about data, and use that information to design strategies to face pressing problems such as climate change.

Climate change is one of the main threats for our oceans, not only because of the impacts it will have on food security and conservation, but also because of the uncertainty of its extent. To face climate change and other critical challenges like poor management and pollution, we need to rely on robust data to inform effective environmental policies and protect our oceans.

Number of records per research field

In the case of Mexico – one of the main fishing countries in the world where over two million people rely on fishing for their livelihoods – the analysis derived from Infoceanos shows that most of the research done around the oceans focuses on ecology, biology and fisheries, while social and human dimensions are areas ripe for more research. At the same time, we found regional differences in terms of information availability. The Gulf of California, Campeche Bank and the Caribbean have the most data, while central and south Pacific and the western Gulf of Mexico have less data.

“Information about the state of our oceans is essential for the future of thousands of species, and millions of people who depend on seafood as their main source of food and employment,” says Andres Cisneros, a collaborator on Infoceanos and researcher at the Institute for Oceans and Fisheries of the University of British Columbia. “The information contained in this metadatabase has the potential to strengthen the knowledge and actions we need to secure the oceans and their resources in Mexico.”

Locations where metadata workshops were held and contributing institutions

Likewise, metadatabases can be a useful tool for other countries or regions in our effort to expand our knowledge about oceans and generate a worldwide scientific movement around marine conservation. In the case of Infoceanos, this effort started in Canada and was then adapted in Mexico, which exemplifies how this tool can help many countries around the world.

At EDF, we believe that information should lead to action. We hope that this multi-institutional effort helps improve marine conservation and management. Decision-makers can rely on this data to generate the necessary policies and reforms needed to overcome challenges like climate change so that we can still have more fish in the oceans, more food on the plate and more prosperous communities.

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Let’s embrace a new narrative for the ocean

Even though the world ocean is beset from every angle by serious threats – from overfishing to pollution, and from habitat loss to climate-driven warming and acidification – our ocean remains an essential life support system for planet Earth. Not only do more than three billion people depend upon the sea as an essential source of protein for their diet, but nearly 1.4 billion of them risk serious health consequences should they lose existing access to fish and other marine products. Recent science has made plain that if current threats continue, the chance for a more stable future becomes increasingly difficult for people and nature together.

Now, two of the world’s leading ocean experts, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Dr. Steve Gaines have issued a clear call for change in the new edition of Science. For all who care about the future of the sea – and therefore humanity – Drs. Lubchenco and Gaines call on us to band together to ensure that the world ocean retains its vibrancy and potential, despite this uncertain future. Read More »

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Five takeaways from the World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress

Photo Credit: Alexis Rife

The hustle and bustle of a local fish market – usually seen in the pre-dawn dark, with bare-bulb lights illuminating what’s for sale and the shouts from sellers (usually in a language I don’t understand but with meaning clear enough to get out of the way of carts brimming with ice and fish) – is my favorite place to learn about small-scale fisheries. This is where it all comes together, with fishermen landing their catch, buyers (usually women) negotiating prices and customers buying products for that day’s meal or business. Here is where I am a learner and observer – hearing details about challenges these individuals face in maintaining their livelihoods, seeing the pride people have in their work and chatting about what we all can do to sustain the jobs, food, communities and ecosystems that are part of this system. Read More »

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China confronts the effects of climate change on fisheries

No nation on Earth is more central to the global seafood system than China. China’s influence on the production, processing, distribution and overall demand for seafood is unparalleled. Indeed, China alone is expected to account for around half of the growth in global seafood consumption over the coming decades.

This growing demand for seafood will require new solutions not only for managing how much fish is caught, but how to adapt as climate change begins to impact China’s ocean ecosystem.  EDF recently convened an international workshop with the China Academy of Fisheries Sciences (CAFS) with the goal of aligning global efforts to identify pressing challenges and solutions to climate change.

As China confronts these impacts, it’s clear that global climate change is a critical stressor that threatens to undermine its hard work on fisheries reforms. China’s government and scientific community recognize this threat, and are beginning to address it. The challenge is not trivial, given that China’s coastline spans 18,000 km, stretching across diverse ecosystems from warm tropical to cool temperate seas.

EDF is working in China not only because of its global importance, but also because we believe the country is in a unique moment for transformative change. China has made ambitious commitments under the 13th Five-Year Plan to improve fisheries management. These include improving the scientific foundation for fisheries management, monitoring fishing activity and catch, enhancing the responsibilities and incentives of fishing fleets and communities and strengthening protection of marine ecosystems. Read More »

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Three actions countries managing Tuna need to take this week

Whether you enjoy eating tuna in your lunchbox sandwich, have a stake in the long-term sustainability and livelihoods of Pacific tuna fishing nations, or simply care about the future of healthy oceans and fish populations—it’s worth taking note of an important convening this week that could decide the future of sustainable tuna.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), an international treaty organization of 35 member nations and territories charged with negotiating the management for tuna, sharks and rays, is meeting this week in Honolulu. These species are classified as highly migratory, meaning they swim through internationally managed waters, making collective management a necessity.

Tuna in particular, are highly valuable and face several thorny challenges that have resulted in less than optimal socioeconomic and biological performance, including weaknesses in current management that has allowed illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, interactions with sharks, as well as human rights abuses. That’s why decisions made at this forum are so important.

The ultimate goal is to manage for healthy tuna populations that can support both the livelihoods and food security for Pacific Islands fishing communities and a thriving global industry. To achieve both of these outcomes, nations must put politics aside and focus on putting science-based management in place to rebuild tuna populations to a level that can support sustainable harvesting by all users now and for the future. Read More »

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Five reasons for hope on World Fisheries Day 2018

You may not have it on your calendar – but today is World Fisheries Day – a moment to celebrate the incredible bounty that we receive from the sea. It’s also an opportunity to take stock and reflect on where we’ve been, and where we’re headed. As we look back over the past year, the EDF Oceans team has been struck by how much the global oceans community has accomplished. And we’re increasingly optimistic and energized about the future health and resilience of our oceans. Here are five reasons for hope on World Fisheries Day. Read More »

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