March 11, 2015

Story: A Sea Change for Ocean Resource Management

Research by SDSU and collaborators has led to a new strategy for quickly incorporating the newest and best data to help ocean industries better protect the animals that live where they work.

Article contributed by: San Diego State University

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (March 11, 2015)--Ocean ecosystems around the world are threatened by overfishing, extensive shipping routes, energy exploration, pollution and other consequences of ocean-based industry. Data exist that could help protect these vulnerable ecosystems, but current management strategies often can’t react quickly enough to new information, said San Diego State University biologist Rebecca Lewison. She and colleagues from several other academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations review a new approach called “dynamic ocean management” in a paper published today in the journal BioScience.

“Dynamic ocean management is an exciting coming-together of science and management,” Lewison said. “It captures the best-available science and directs it to meet the needs of resource managers and industry. What’s exciting about this research is that it puts science to work, fundamentally changing the way we manage oceans.”

Traditional ocean management strategies tend to be static, Lewison explained, with fixed boundaries in space and time. Unfortunately, there’s often a sizable lag time between what scientists and ocean users know and when that gets applied to management policies.

For example, there are numerous protected marine areas for California’s leatherback sea turtles. Research on these endangered species is critical, said Sara Maxwell, an ecologist at Old Dominion University and a lead scientist on the project.

“Managers are trying to put more dynamic approaches into place to protect leatherbacks and other species, but understanding what will make management effective is critical, and this is what we identify in this paper’” said Maxwell.

Whales swim near a cargo ship. Credit: Green Fire Productions, Flickr Creative Commons.

Lewison, Maxwell and their colleagues at the Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several other universities argue that what is needed is an approach that better incorporates real-time information from satellite data, ocean monitoring arrays, climate fluctuations, and crowd-sourced reports from ocean users into applications that can identify ocean uses that support conservation and sustainable resource use. In 2013, the Center for Ocean Solutions convened a dynamic ocean management working group, which included several Center researchers and science director Larry Crowder, to see if such an approach was feasible.  The working group set the stage for this collaborative, innovative work.

With support from NASA and Center for Ocean Solutions, a collaboration among the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Lewison and her colleagues are working to develop approaches that help ocean managers and industry work together to use real-time information to better manage resources. Of course, the success of this project will depend on cooperation from the industries that use ocean’s resources—both in terms of contributing data and following the guidelines based on that information. 

Fortunately, Lewison said, dynamic ocean management is often in line with profit goals of industries such as shipping and fishing. We have a number of examples now of how dynamic management can support the multiple goals of conservation, ocean use, and management. For example, scallop fisheries on the U.S. Atlantic coast have a regulated quota for the amount of bycatch—accidentally caught animals—they can catch. Once they hit that quota, lucrative scallop fishing grounds are closed. They are motivated from a profitability standpoint to avoid bycatch, which also helps protect the ecosystems they work in.

Working with university partners, these scallop fisheries have developed a system for reporting where and how much bycatch they bring in, then feeding that information into a map. The next day, scallop fishers receive these maps so they know where they can catch more scallops and less bycatch.

Lewison and her colleagues are aiming for that kind of cooperation on a much wider scale across multiple industries.

“We want dynamic ocean management to be an industry standard,” she said. “We’re bringing ocean management into the 21st century. We know too much about the world now to keep managing the ocean in the same old way.”

Media Contact

Beth Chee

More Media Coverage on Dynamic Ocean Management:

-EurekAlert, March 11 2015, March 11 2015