Crossing an ecosystem tipping point creates dramatic change. From collapsed fisheries and coastal dead zones, to melting sea ice and dying coral reefs, the consequences are often devastating to both the environment and the people who depend on it. Tipping points occur when small shifts in human pressure or environmental conditions bring about large, sometimes abrupt changes in a system - whether in a human society, a physical system, an ecosystem, or our planet’s climate.
Researchers and ocean managers working together on the Ocean Tipping Points Project have just launched a new website portal that provides concrete analytical tools, guidance and resources to help ocean managers predict and prevent the crossing of tipping points, or recover from ones already crossed, in order to keep ecosystems healthy and resilient.
Fisheries collapses are a prime example of ocean tipping points—as a result of overfishing, many ocean systems have undergone ecosystem shifts that make it difficult to recover or restore fish stocks to desired levels. Globally nearly 30% of all fisheries are collapsed or overfished, resulting in negative impacts on human communities around the world, at an estimated cost of $50 billion a year.
While the costly impacts of tipping points are well known, practical tools for coping with them have been limited. Today, global climate change and other large-scale alterations to our environment are making ecosystems even more dynamic and unpredictable. The materials housed in the Ocean Tipping Points portal are a timely and valuable addition to the management toolkit in the face of dramatic ocean change.
“Over the last five years, our collaborative research team has developed new science, tools and guidance to help ocean and coastal managers safeguard ecological and human wellbeing, even in a changing world. The purpose of the website is to make those resources easily accessible to managers, with practical recommendations and lots of examples from our work and others’ around the world,” said Carrie Kappel, Ocean Tipping Points lead principal investigator and Senior Fellow at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis .
The information in the portal links best available science, law and policy to practical management guidance, and is based on global synthesis as well as in-depth case studies on coral reef management in Hawaii and fisheries management in British Columbia. The Ocean Tipping Points Guide, featured on the website, walks users through four strategies for incorporating knowledge about ocean tipping points into existing management decision-making. The portal also provides information for specific management contexts, including water quality, fisheries, vulnerable species recovery, restoration, and ecosystem-based management.
Other sections of the portal describe how tipping points science aligns with current U.S. and Canadian environmental laws and regulations, and provide links to tools, data and publications relevant to tipping points management. A ‘community of practice’ section of the site allows scientists, managers, and others working to protect ocean resources to post questions and connect with peers and experts.
Said project researcher Ashley Erickson, Assistant Director for Law and Policy at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions: "We have worked hard to make sure the science we’ve generated isn’t just theoretical or conceptual, but is instead grounded in reality, to make it as useful and accessible to ocean managers, policy makers, and scientists as possible.”