Blue Serengeti Premieres July 1 @ 10PM, only on Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

Monterey, CA - Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has become an annual phenomenon, drawing millions of viewers enthralled with the mystery, power and extreme agility of the world’s large predatory sharks.

During this year’s Shark Week, a team of scientists from Stanford University, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and University of California Santa Cruz are featured in a science documentary called Blue Serengeti, premiering Friday, July 1, at 10 PM on Discovery Channel.

The film features cutting-edge technologies researchers are using to explore why predators and prey alike migrate thousands of miles every year to three hotspots off the coast off California. Using Camera Tags that mount directly on ocean predators, researchers have been able to gain a first-hand perspective of white sharks, whales, elephant seals and sea lions as they travel through the waters of California’s National Marine Sanctuaries. Blue Serengeti showcases this newly gathered footage and tag data on movements, making viewers feel like they are right in the water with these animals.

The Great Serengeti Parks of Africa are famous for the migrations of millions of wildebeest, zebra and giraffes that are followed by great predators such as lions and cheetahs. On an even grander scale—though much less known—the waters off Monterey, California and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary brim with seasonal populations of predators that come from across the Pacific to feed on abundant prey. Extensive electronic tagging by the science team in the past decade has revealed these great migrations which the film shows in detail.

Gigi, a large female White Shark in the waters off Ano Nuevo. Credit: Stanford University

“Blue Serengeti tells the story of why Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a lunch stop for many large predators and makes the direct comparison between Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Great Serengeti Parks of Africa,” said Professor Barbara Block of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Block and Mr. William Douros, Regional Director for the west coast National Marine Sanctuaries, have compared the wildlife aggregations offshore central California to Africa’s most iconic savanna ecosystems.

“All three of the National Marine Sanctuaries in the heart of the California Current – Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank and Monterey Bay – are natural history hotspots, and the marine wildlife viewing here is unparalleled to anywhere in the world’s ocean,” said Douros. “Natural oceanographic and biological processes create an enormously-productive natural ecosystem, which supports diverse food webs and incredible tourism and recreational opportunities as well.”

With the beauty and complexity of white sharks and their prey, extraordinary scientists and technology, and never-before-seen underwater views from the breathtaking underwater habitats of California National Marine Sanctuaries, Oscar-nominated and Emmy award-winning wildlife filmmaker Bob Nixon working in collaboration with the scientific team delivers a breakthrough effort in science storytelling in Blue Serengeti to explain the complex oceanographic processes that drive one of the greatest migration on earth to the waters off Monterey, California.

“Right off our California shores we have one of the ocean’s most stunning congregations of predators and prey - wilderness like this is vital to the ocean’s health,” said Dr. Sal Jorgensen, a Senior Research Scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We almost lost this once, when seals, sea lions, whales and other species were hunted to near extinction. More than ever we need bold efforts to conserve wide-ranging marine species throughout their range.”

The team uses autonomous vehicles to map the ocean floor, understand the currents and the environmental factors that support this incredible hotspot of biodiversity. Non-invasive Camera Tags, which incorporate the latest sensor technology for HD video recording and a suite of sensors that measure swimming speed, depth, and other information, are attached directly to humpback whales, elephant seals, and white sharks and allow the research team to view and recreate the movement and behaviors of Monterey’s seasonal visitors.

“Historically, most of our understanding of the behavior of these amazing predators has come from brief encounters near the ocean’s surface,” explained Taylor Chapple, a research scientist at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “It’s like trying to understand everything about people by watching their behavior at a coffee shop. These Camera Tags allow us to travel with the animals wherever they go and actually see their behaviors, the habitats that they use and how they interact with other species and individuals.”

Director Bob Nixon captures all of this action through the eyes of scientists, autonomous vehicles and the sharks themselves. Blue Serengeti takes the viewer on a journey that shows unprecedented, never-before-seen underwater views from the California National Marine Sanctuaries, to find out why the greatest migration on earth comes here, to the waters off Monterey, California.

Blue Serengeti science team tagging a white shark. Photo Credit: Stanford and Discovery

"Blue Serengeti highlights the great biologging tag technology we use to see what large mobile predators are doing in the waters off our Monterey shores, and explores why they travel to these hotspots and provides viewers with information on the challenges of managing wide-ranging mobile species like white sharks and bluefin tunas,” said Block.

The Blue Serengeti Initiative, led by Block, is a collaboration comprised of researchers from four institutions around Monterey Bay investigating why predators gather at this location that Block describes as one of the ocean’s great “watering holes."

The Blue Serengeti Film Research Effort was supported by Discovery, Stanford University, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Office of Naval Research, Rolex, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and CENCOOS.

Watch a trailer of Blue Serengeti.
More info on the film via Discovery.
Also see and

Media Contacts

Kristi Boosman
Communications Manager
Center for Ocean Solutions
Stanford University
Ph: 650.850.1136

Jackie Lamaj
Senior Publicity Manager Discovery
Ph: 212.548.5607

Researcher Contacts

Barbara Block
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Ph: 831.655.6236

Taylor Chapple
Research Scientist
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University
Ph: 440 258 9768

Salvador Jorgenson
Research Scientist
Monterey Bay Aquarium
For media requests, contact MBA Communications Director, Ken Peterson
Ph: 831-648-4922
M 831-238-3632




Nearly 2,500 coral reef scientists, policy makers and managers from 70 different nations will converge in Honolulu, Hawai‘i for the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) from June 19-24, 2016. Among them will be over a dozen key members of the Ocean Tipping Points project team presenting results of several scientific studies on the health and status of Hawai‘i’s coral reefs.

Scientists from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Bangor University, Cal Poly, NCEAS, NOAA, Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre have been collaborating over the last four years to identify coral reef tipping points and help inform strategies to prevent reefs from undergoing undesirable ecosystem shifts. 

Photo: NOAA.

Tipping points occur when mounting human pressure or environmental change brings about large, sometimes abrupt changes in a system – whether in a human society, a physical system, or an ecosystem. Examples of tipping points in ecosystems abound, including some of Hawai‘i’s coral reefs, where reefs once dominated by vibrant corals and teeming with fish are now algae-covered and vacant. Dramatic ecosystem changes like these are raising concern among scientists and policymakers.

“To avoid tipping points we need a better understanding of the human and natural factors causing them,” said project collaborator Magnus Nyström, associate professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.

“We also need to identify strategies that maintain the resilience in coral reefs so they are able to cope with and adapt to future changes. This is a challenge that requires scientists to collaborate across disciplines, in conjunction with managers, people and policymakers.”

The people of Hawai‘i depend on healthy coastal ecosystems for food, clean water, commerce, and culture. When tipping points are crossed these benefits are often lost, which can negatively impact people’s way of life and their wallets through loss of revenue and jobs, diminished food security, and impacts on cultural practices.

Researchers have synthesized an unprecedented amount of data, developed innovative maps and models, and identified how natural and human pressures affect Hawai‘i’s coral reefs. Much of this new information will be shared at ICRS—in all, Ocean Tipping Points team members will present five talks and three posters. The team will also host an ICRS Town Hall session on June 19, focused on linking the best available science to sustainable ecosystem-based management of Hawaiian coral reefs.

Photos: Left-Finger coral, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii, Claire Fackler CINMS. Right- Brian Nielson. Graphic compiled by Winn McEnery.

“The comprehensive dataset we have developed makes available, for the first time, detailed, statewide maps of coral reef condition as well as the natural and human factors that influence reef resilience. These maps are a valuable resource that can help managers determine which reefs need the most protection,” said project co-leader Alan Friedlander of the University of Hawai‘i.

Ocean Tipping Points project researchers will present new analyses that describe reefs based on fish abundance and seafloor cover and distinguish five distinct reef regimes (ecosystem states) that are found across Hawai‘i, including a degraded state with low coral and low fish biomass, a reef type with naturally low coral but high fish biomass, and three distinct types of coral dominated reefs.

“Our research shows that, contrary to the idea that coral is good and algae is bad, reefs can naturally have low coral cover and high fish biomass. Our approach brought fish into the picture to consider more than just coral and algae when defining reef health,” said project collaborator Mary Donovan, a doctoral student at the University of Hawai‘i.

Resource managers need decision-support tools that can effectively use data and scientific insight to find optimal solutions to reef management. In West Maui, tipping points researchers demonstrated how one such tool, called tradeoff analysis, can uncover cost-effective options for repairing roads while optimizing reduction of sediment flow to adjacent coral reefs.

“We found that there were economic and environmental benefits when landowners cooperate across the entire watershed, and repair roads based on their "bang for the buck" -- or sediment reduced per dollar,” said project co-leader Kirsten Oleson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawai‘i.

“Managers are faced with limited time and resources,” explained Principal Investigator Kim Selkoe a research scientist affiliated with University of Hawai‘i and University of California, Santa Barbara. “The concepts and tools being tested by the Ocean Tipping Points project will advance scientifically grounded strategies for monitoring and managing thresholds of reef change, and support efforts to better protect both the biodiversity and human benefits derived from our coastal ecosystem.”

The Hawai‘i case study is part of the larger Ocean Tipping Points project, which seeks to understand and characterize tipping points in marine ecosystems and develop practical tools and approaches to help managers protect vulnerable ecosystems. The project is a multi-institutional collaboration of natural and social scientists, law and policy experts, and resource managers, primarily funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

For more information about all ICRS sessions click here.

For more on the Ocean Tipping Points Town Hall, entitled ‘A Conversation on Ecosystem-Based Management of Hawaiian Reefs’ click here.

Media Contacts:

Kim Selkoe

Hawai`i case study lead
Phone: 805-259-7476,

Carrie Kappel

Ocean Tipping Points lead
Phone: 831-869-1503

Researcher contacts:

Magnus Nyström

Phone: +46 8 674 70 77

Alan Friedlander

Phone: 808-956-8350,

Kirsten Oleson

Phone: 808-956-886


By: Kristen Weiss


Read the Paper


In one of the largest global studies of its kind, researchers conducted more than 6,000 reef surveys in 46 countries across the globe and discovered 15 ‘bright spots’ – places where, against all the odds, there were a lot more fish on coral reefs than expected.

The study, published in Nature, aimed to figure out why these reefs were much healthier than expected and whether there are lessons to be learned about how to avoid the degradation often associated with overfishing.

Photo: Tane Sinclair

“Given the widespread depletion of coral reef fisheries globally, we were really excited to find these bright spots that were faring much better than we anticipated,” said lead author Josh Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. “These ‘bright spots’ are reefs with more fish than expected based on their exposure to pressures like human population, poverty, and unfavorable environmental conditions.”

The study involved 39 scientists from 34 different universities and conservation groups, including three affiliated with Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

“This approach is an effective way to extract the signal from the noise in global data on reef status,” said co-author Larry Crowder, science director at the Center for Ocean Solutions, a professor of biology at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “The emergent patterns show us explicitly what allows some reefs to perform exceptionally well and others to perform poorly. Knowing this can help us steer reefs to their most resilient state.”

By virtue of the breadth of the survey, the researchers identified several characteristics that improved the state of coral reef ecosystems.

“Many bright spots had strong local involvement in how the reefs were managed, local ownership rights, and traditional management practices,” said co-author Christina Hicks, an affiliated researcher at the Center for Ocean Solutions and former early career fellow currently at England’s Lancaster University.

The scientists also identified 35 “dark spots.” These were reefs with fish stocks in worse shape than expected.

“Dark spots also had a few defining characteristics; they were subject to intensive netting activities and there was easy access to freezers so people could stockpile fish to send to the market,” Hicks said.

This type of analysis of bright spots has been used in fields such as human health to improve the well-being of millions of people. But this is the first time it has been rigorously developed for conservation.

Bright spots were typically found in the Pacific Ocean in places like the Solomon Islands, parts of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Kiribati. Dark spots were more globally distributed and found in every major ocean basin.

The authors write that the bright spots offer hope and some solutions that can be applied more broadly across the world’s coral reefs.

“Specifically, investments that foster local involvement and provide people with ownership rights can allow people to develop creative solutions that help defy expectations of reef fisheries depletion,” Cinner said. “Conversely, dark spots may highlight development or management pathways to avoid.”

An additional author attached to the Center for Ocean Solutions included  Jack Kittinger, an alumnus of the center’s Early Career Fellow program.


For interviews please contact:


Josh Cinner (Australia)
mobile +61 417714138
Christina Hicks (United Kingdom)
Office: +44 1524 595089
Mobile: +44 7479434791
Larry Crowder (USA)
Office: +1 831 333 2099
Mobile: +1 831 402 6938

Further information:

Kylie Simmonds 
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University, Townsville
+61 (0)7 4781 6067, +61 (0)428 785 895 or


Otter wrapped in kelp, Mike Baird. CC.
A fashion for otter fur in the 19th Century has given researchers insight into how social changes can be a warning for ecosystems on the brink of collapse. In a new paper published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists argue that environmental managers need to broaden their focus from routine ecological monitoring to include social and economic factors if we are to protect ecosystems before it is too late.
As part of the study, the team at Lancaster University, the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, Conservation International and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University looked back into history to examine four iconic marine ecosystems that collapsed, investigating the social changes that preceded their demise. From the dramatic decline in Canadian cod populations to the decimation of Jamaican coral reefs, they found social factors from fashion to technological advances had a strong influence in driving environmental collapses.
For example, in the North Pacific, otter populations had been harvested by native hunters for thousands of years but were driven close to extinction by commercial hunting in the 1800s due to lucrative foreign markets for otter fur, which saw the value of otter pelts leap from a mere $15 to over $28,000 for a single pelt at the height of the market. The near extinction of otter populations created an explosion in urchin densities that diminished kelp forests and associated fish and invertebrates.
Sometimes ecosystems can undergo major changes in species composition, known as a regime shift, and although these shifts appear to unfold quickly, it often takes decades to get to that point. Undoing the damage is not easy,” said lead author Christina Hicks of Lancaster University Environment Centre.
"By examining these four iconic marine regime shifts, we found that in all cases a range of social factors set the scene for the ecosystem shift, ultimately driving them towards collapse."
Researchers say their new study underlines the importance of looking beyond ecological systems for clues, to understanding the root social causes that may forewarn when and where we are heading into dangerous waters.
“If we can tune into these social drivers we could potentially use them as an early warning signal of ecosystems at risk. This is really important if we want to spot these changes before they happen and take action,” explained co-author Larry Crowder of Stanford University.
"Without knowing the root social drivers, we can get caught in a trap of treating the symptoms, rather than the underlying causes of the disease – this is critical for saving ecosystems before they are irreversibly lost.”


UK Christina Hicks: +44 (0)7479 434 791,
Nick Graham: +44 (0) 7479 438 914
US Larry Crowder: +1 831 402 6938,
US Jack Kittinger: + 1 808 397 9077