Selected category: Science/Research

At The Brink: Ocean Tipping Points

Healthy Coral in the Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Healthy sponge in the Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Coral reefs seem delicate, but when they are healthy they can take a lot of abuse.  I’ve seen corals recover from severe hurricanes and even volcanic eruptions. But coral reefs can also transition suddenly from colorful, vibrant ecosystems to mere shadows of themselves.  Decades of scientific investigation have shed a lot of light on this, and in a recent publication, my colleagues and I summarize a lot of the data that have been collected on Caribbean coral reefs to identify where these dangerous “tipping points” are.  This work is part of the Ocean Tipping Points project, a collaboration between several institutions aimed at finding tipping points in all kinds of marine ecosystems so that managers can implement measures that will keep these ecosystems well away from the brink. Read More »

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It’s Time to Take New England’s Groundfish Fishery Out of the Dark

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

Fishing boats in Chatham, MA. Photo: Tim Connor

What every fishing port in New England has long feared has now come true: the iconic cod fish is disappearing in our waters. If our shared goal is to rebuild a sustainable fishery for years to come, then we need to better understand what is happening to the fish stocks. This calls for better science, which has been the subject of discussion for years.

A key foundation of better science is better catch monitoring.  Inadequate catch data is the Achilles heel of the groundfish fishery in New England – particularly with cod – and the only way to improve this in a cost-effective way is through a comprehensive monitoring system that uses video technology. Read More »

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Exploring opportunities for ecosystem-based management of U.S. nearshore tropical reef fisheries

Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

Gardens of the Queen, Cuba. Photo: Noel Lopez Fernandez

By: Kendra Karr & Rod Fujita

There is a general consensus that transitioning to ecosystem-based fisheries management will result in better outcomes for both marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them.  But what exactly does that mean, and how exactly can fisheries management get there?

Ecosystem-based fisheries management has been thoroughly debated and there are many aspects to it.  But one thing seems clear. When developing conservation and management goals, the entire ecosystem should be considered rather than just an individual fish population.

To actually achieve such goals, scientists and managers would need to quantify fishing targets and limits and then take actions intended to maintain fisheries and the ecosystem within a “safe operating space” associated with the maintenance of a variety of ecosystem goods and services. In our new publication, we have moved one step closer to identifying these fishing targets and limits for management in multi-species fisheries in coral reefs. Read More »

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First U.S. Envoy for the Ocean: welcome news for fisheries worldwide

Photo credit: Carlos Aguilera

Photo credit: Carlos Aguilera

In an inspired and welcome choice, the Department of State just named Jane Lubchenco as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean.

The move reflects both the growing priority of oceans in the Obama Administration and the kind of collaborative approach it takes to restore jobs, communities and biodiversity worldwide.

This huge step comes just in time.

Globally, 40 percent of fisheries are in deep trouble with overfishing being the single biggest cause. Yet, Jane has shown how we can replenish life in the oceans through smart approaches that include better science, more marine protected areas, and stewardship incentives for fishermen. Read More »

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Establishing a biological and ecological baseline of Cuba’s coastal ecosystems

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

  • One of the smallest of the three research vessels utilized for surveys throughout the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen. © Kendra Karr
  • Inside of a lagoon in one of the many mangrove complexes the expedition encountered, a beach seine is used to monitor the local fish assemblage.© Kendra Karr
  • The success of a monitoring program relies on the ability to train future scientists. © Fabián Pina Amargos
  • Coral reefs in Cuba, as seen in the Gardens of the Queen are full of life, including whip corals, tunicates and large sea fans. © Kendra Karr
  • Roamsy Volta Rodríguez of the Center for Marine Research (CIM) records coral recruitment during the coral reef health surveys. © Kendra Karr

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

One morning we awoke to a small tuna boat pulling up alongside the RV Felipe Poey.  The crew of the “Unidad ‘77” had been targeting bonito, a small tuna-like fish, south of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. EDF scientists were eager to tap into the captain’s localized knowledge, and peppered him with questions that were ably translated by CIM’s Patricia González.   The captain described his fishing grounds, proudly displayed his catch and explained how his crew times their trips to coincide with certain phases of the moon.  Before shoving off, the captain asked for some cooking oil for his next voyage.  We traded oil for tuna and enjoyed fresh fish for many meals over the next few days.

 

A Scientific Baseline for Management:

Vessels like Unidad ‘77 are common in Cuba: small boats that work for the state, the livelihoods of their crews dependent upon a stable resource base.  This and future expeditions will synthesize scientific findings to inform the management of Cuba’s marine resources.  While our voyage was one of discovery, there were practical benefits too; the datasets we initiated will ultimately increase understanding of how ecosystems in Cuba work, which is essential to developing its coastal fishing economy in a sustainable manner.

Long-term monitoring programs are some of the most powerful tools that managers and scientists have to track and gauge ecosystem performance, variation and resilience.  They generate baseline information about the status of a target species or ecosystem. In many cases, baseline information is used to analyze an impacted region after a major change (such as a disturbance either natural or human produced), or as reference data to compare between areas of interest; for example, to compare Cuba to other regions of the Caribbean that have been heavily impacted.  Well-designed programs aid in evaluating impacts and help tailor recovery and management strategies. Additionally, long term monitoring data helps to identify areas that are more or less resilient to change over time. We can identify factors that enhance ecosystem health and resilience, as well as factors that have negative impacts.

But long-term fishery datasets are rare, and of those that exist, most are limited in their geographic scope.  The data collected during this expedition and future trips represent a significant step forward for Cuba.  Additional trips are planned in other regions of the country, alongside annual sampling across all of the monitoring regions including the Gardens of the Queen. Read More »

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Collaborative research in the Gulf of Ana Maria & the Gardens of the Queen

By: Kendra Karr & Owen Liu

A team of scientists from Cuba and EDF set sail on an expedition to assess the status and health of marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Ana Maria and the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve in southern Cuba, one of the most pristine and intact coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

Cuba’s Centro de Investigaciones de Ecosistemas Costeras (CIEC) field station in the Gardens of the Queen is a cozy lodge in a quiet inlet tucked away on a mangrove-covered cay.  Near the Caballones Strait in the middle of the beautiful Gardens of the Queen, the station is a base for Cuban students and researchers studying Cuba’s unique coastal ecosystems.  On our research cruise in October 2013, scientists from EDF, CIEC, and the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) spent a few nights at the station, interspersed along the two week trip.  We used the shore time to compile data and organize gear, scramble for a few minutes of (very) limited Internet access to send updates home and simply enjoy a night on dry ground.

Sitting on the dock watching the sun set over the Gardens provided a chance to reflect on the work we were doing, and to ponder about the interconnectivity between the data sets we had collected.

A Diversity of Data:

During the cruise, researchers from CIM, CIEC, and EDF surveyed more than 30 sites across multiple habitat types, both inside and out of the Gardens of the Queen marine reserve. In the future, these sites will offer a baseline measure of connectivity between the offshore environments and nearshore fishing grounds.  During the expedition, researchers collected samples from commercially-valuable fish species, corals, sessile and mobile invertebrates and macroalgae.

All of the samples will undergo an independent stable isotope analysis, which allows researchers to quantify the relative contributions of individuals from each region/site to the fishing grounds and identify migration corridors among important habitats.  In short, it will help determine where an individual fish, coral colony, etc. originated from.  Combined with oceanographic and abiotic data collected during the expedition (for example, nutrients and sediments in seawater; tides, currents and waves), this information will reveal a more complete picture of interconnectivity between the various marine habitats in this unique region of the Caribbean.

We used a variety of methods to gather data.  To assess coral health, researchers used SCUBA to get close enough to the reef to document the diversity of species at each site and look for signs of degradation or disease.  To study which fish used shallow seagrass – mangrove habitats as either nursery grounds or as adult habitats, we used a beach seine net from the shoreline to corral, count, and measure individual fish.  By seeing which species of fish utilized the nearshore mangrove and seagrass beds, and then counting the fish on the nearby coral reefs with a visual transect method, we could begin to see, literally, the biological connections between these distinct habitats.  As some researchers were in the water, counting fish or documenting coral health, others collected water samples for chemical analysis or hauling in a sampling net. Read More »

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