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.
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.
Hawai`i case study lead
Ocean Tipping Points lead
Phone: +46 8 674 70 77
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.
CSUMB Liaison From 2014-2015, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Aiken is pursuing a M.S. degree in Applied Marine and Watershed Science at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). Her thesis is developed around a remotely operated vehicle project in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS), studying the distribution of demersal fishes relative to deep water corals. Emily aims to contribute to the effort of the GFNMS to characterize and monitor the demersal fish and invertebrate communities of the sanctuary as a means to protect its resources. Her goal is to use advanced technology to connect the public and management with exclusive deep-sea details of the GFNMS, one of the most diverse and bountiful marine environments in the world.
Stanford Liaison Since 2016, email@example.com
Alana is a PhD student at Stanford University in the Anthropology Department. She is interested in community-based conservation efforts and collective action issues associated with common pool resource management. Her current research focuses on untangling the social and ecological effects of indigenous fisheries reserve management in New Zealand. Alana received an M.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and a B.A. in Anthropology from Pomona College. She was born and raised in Northern California and loves camping, tide pooling and dogs.
Hopkins Marine Station Liaison From 2013-2016, firstname.lastname@example.org
Megan is a graduate student under the direction of Dr. Steve Palumbi at the Hopkins Marine Station. She is interested in the intersection between big data science such as genomics and its applications for improved conservation management and policy. In the Palumbi Lab, she hopes to demonstrate one way big data can better inform management by better understanding coral reef resilience using individual gene expression as an indicator for organismal response to changes in the environment.
Hopkins Marine Station Liaison From 2014-2016, email@example.com
Crystal is a graduate student in Fiorenza Micheli’s lab at Hopkins Marine Station. She is studying the effect of multiple stressors on grazing interactions in giant kelp forests. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2012, she was an AmeriCorps member based in northern Sonoma County working on salmon and watershed conservation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Through that experience, she has become interested in community outreach projects and continuing her involvementin teaching at local organizations and schools.
CSUMB Liaison From 2015-2016, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica received her master's degree in the Applied Marine and Watershed Science program at CSUMB. She is interested in the integration of science and policy, specifically in the support of monitoring California's marine protected areas, and is exploring the role of GIS in monitoringand science communication. She received her B.S. in Biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in2011, where she worked for the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences. After graduating from CalPoly, she accepted a position at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco developing and presenting various science education programs and activities. Through her experiences inresearch and communication, Jessica grew interested in the interface between science and policy,with a goal to make science accessible and relevant to marine resource management decisions. She recently completed an internship at California Ocean Science Trust where she worked at theboundary of science and management and is looking forward to further applying her passion forscience communication upon graduation in May 2016.
UCSC Liaison From 2014-2016, email@example.com
Michelle studies paleoceanography and paleclimatology to learn how the past climate can inform our understanding of ongoing climate change. Michelle is a PhD student in Ocean Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, advised by Dr. Christina Ravelo. Her current research focuses on the evolution of sea-ice and ice sheets in the Bering Sea during the earliest Ice Ages, which was partially funded through a Schlanger Ocean Drilling Fellowship. She received her Masters from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in 2013, while working with Dr. Ivano Aiello. Her Masters thesis was a sedimentological study of millennial scale climate variability in the Bering Sea during the last Ice Age and deglaicial period. Before graduate school, Michelle worked as a K-8 science educator, language teacher, research technician in marine microbial ecology, and as a naturalist in the Gulf of the Farallons National Marine Sanctuary, among other odd jobs. Michelle hopes her oceanographic research will provide her tools to be an influential steward of the ocean. View her website.