Project: Ocean Tipping Points

Embedding the science of tipping points in ocean management.

Tipping points occur when small shifts in human pressures 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.  We seek to develop practical tools to help decision-makers anticipate and avoid or recover from crossing tipping points to better manage human impacts on the marine environment.

The Ocean Tipping Points project brings together experts from many fields. We are natural and social scientists, law and policy experts, resource managers, and communicators and educators, each offering a critical piece of the puzzle. Our research team is tackling this multi-faceted problem through research, policy analysis, communication and practical implementation. We are synthesizing when, where and how marine ecosystem shifts occur and working with case study partners to develop, test and vet practical approaches and tools that can help managers really use this innovative science as they implement marine ecosystem-based management.  Overarching goals of the Ocean Tipping Points project aim to improve knowledge and understanding of ocean tipping points, their potential impacts and their relevance to management.

Giant Kelp and Feather Boa Kelp.  Photo Credit: Ronald H. McPeak, UC Regents.


Project Updates

In spring 2016, members of the Hawaii case study team shared preliminary data products, maps and results with coral reef scientists and managers from the State Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) in Maui and West Hawaii, as well as at a public town hall at ICRS in Honolulu. Together with management partners, the Haida Gwaii case study team presented preliminary results on the unique Haida Gwaii social-ecological system at the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) in July 2016.

The Ocean Tipping Points project, funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, completed its fourth and final year of initial funding in 2016. Project collaborators synthesized results and continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that the collected data, conceptual knowledge and lessons learned from this project are readily available and useful for managers. To this end, the Ocean Tipping Points communication team is developing a web portal to make all of the data, resources and guidance produced throughout the project accessible to marine managers and other stakeholders in need of the latest tools to manage a changing ocean. The online portal will be live later in spring 2017.