Saturday, February 18, 2012

AAAS Conference: new developments in the science of ocean conservation presented

This Thursday marked the first day of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) conference in Vancouver, Canada. The annual meeting, which concludes this coming Monday, covers a wide range of scientific topics, but the ocean and the environment play a major role.

Mobile Marine Protected Areas

The opening day of the conference saw a presentation on developments in mobile marine protected areas. Marine protected areas have proven to be invaluable in protecting and nurturing marine ecosystems whether they are small - designed, say, to protect a particular reef ecosystem or animal - or expansive like the Phoenix Islands or Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Sanctuaries which cover thousands of square miles. However, whether big or small, they all have boundaries - borders to which ocean inhabitants do not pay much attention.

Ocean science is now reaching a point where researchers can study the migration of animals and the factors that influence their movements so that protected areas can, in essence, move along with them.

Commenting on this new development, Stanford University marine biologist Larry Crowder said,
“We’re getting to the point where we can design a habitat in three dimensions. I think there are new doors opening.”

Climate change is playing a role in all of this. As ocean temperatures continue to warm, they change currents and overall ocean conditions and so animals will migrate toward the most optimal conditions. Improvements in the miniaturization of electronic tagging devices are better enabling researchers to study animal movements, such as fish moving toward the poles seeking colder water as ocean temperatures rise. With this data, adjustments or shifts can be made to protected conservation areas making for more effective marine fishery conservation and management.

“We’re going to have to plan across national borders because of climate change. We can’t expect the ocean in the future to look the way it has in the past or even as it does now,” said Brad DeYoung, a professor of physical oceanography at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. Technology that is now allowing scientists to better study water depth, circulation and winds will add to our understanding of and ability to predict the movement of marine species. “With this knowledge we can better define management measures . . . to preserve fish stocks and improve fisheries management,” he said.

Predicting the Ocean's Future
On Saturday, the AAAS conference will include a symposium on predicting the future of the oceans using what is called the Nereus model. It incorporates three key elements that are impacting the oceans of the world: climate change, human activity (including fisheries and river run-off) and food web dynamics (fish eating fish). The model currently details the status of the oceans from 1960 to 2060 and incorporates and analyses data from four linked global models – Earth System, Ocean Life, Biodiversity Envelope, and Fisheries Management and Governance – to generate 3D scenarios based on different fisheries management choices and policies.

Preliminary results show that, based on current management policies (or the lack of), the trend has been a strong decline in the biomass of larger fish while some small fish may actually be increasing. The Nereus model is able to predict various results from hypothetical fishery management choices, thereby taking it from just being a historical reference tool to a valuable "crystal ball", alerting scientists as to potentially critical changes in ocean biodiversity.

Initially formed by an international team of scientists and supported by the Nippon Foundation and the University of British Columbia, the Nereus model program will soon include participation from Duke University, Princeton University, University of Stockholm, Cambridge University, and the United Nations Environment Program's World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP/WCMC). With the addition of such heavyweight centers of scientific study, the ability to expand on the predictive capabilities of the Nereus model will provide critical information to decision makers.

Professor Jorge Sarmiento, director of Princeton's Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, observed,
"We now have many of the world's best fisheries, climate, conservation, and social scientists working together, and it is only through this kind of interdisciplinary effort that we can begin to understand what humanity will need to do to save our oceans, the seafood we get from it, and the human communities that rely on it."

The Province

No comments: