ocean optimism

Another day, another milestone

Lessons from coral reef “bright spots”

Publication specs

Title: Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs

Authors: Joshua E. Cinner, Cindy Huchery, M. Aaron MacNeil et al.

Journal: Nature

Year: 2016

Millions of people depend on healthy coral reef ecosystems for food security and their livelihoods. This study analyzed data from 2514 coral reefs from 46 countries to understand how reef fish biomass is related to socioeconomic drivers and environmental conditions. “Bright spots” and “dark spots” were compared. Bright spots are not simply remote areas with low fishing pressure. These authors determined that bright spots can also be areas with high human population densities and resource use. Likewise, dark spots can be remote relatively untouched coral reefs. So what’s working in these bright spots and what are communities living near bright spots doing right?

After surveying local experts near bright spots, the authors discovered what maintains these healthy coral reef ecosystems:

  • cultural practices such as customary taboos (e.g. customs prohibiting the extraction of certain species) and marine tenure
  • a high level of local engagement in management
  • high dependency on marine resources
  • deep water refuges

Alternatively, researchers found what characterized dark spots:

  • intensive fishing using capture and storage technologies such as nets, motorized boats, and freezers
  • recent environmental shock such as coral bleaching events and cyclones

Learning lessons from bright spots will be essential for protecting these areas and improving the health of coral reef dark spots. Policies should be focusing on socioeconomic drivers of dark spots like market forces. Focusing on such drivers will help identify sustainable practices that could aid conservation efforts in these areas.

Shark sanctuaries need enforcement

Publication Specs

Title: Indicators of fishing mortality on reef-shark populations in the world’s first shark sanctuary: the need for surveillance and enforcement
Authors: Gabriel M.S. Vianna, Mark G. Meekan, Jonathan L.W. Ruppert, Tova H. Bornovski, Jessica J. Meeuwig
Journal: Coral Reefs
Year: 2016

When you think of a shark sanctuary what do you imagine? Perhaps a beautiful coral reef that is a blue haven for sharks? Hold that thought while we take a moment to examine reality through the eyes of science.

A recent study in Palau evaluated the world’s first shark sanctuary using underwater visual surveys. This shark sanctuary covers an area of 629,000km2 and was declared in 2009 to try to stop foreign long-line vessels from finning sharks. However, this study demonstrated that illegal, underreported, and unregulated shark fishing is still present within the sanctuary, particularly in remote offshore areas. In these areas, there was an abundance of lost fishing gear and there were fewer and smaller sharks than close to shore.

Sometimes marine protected areas, like shark sanctuaries, get a bad rap as “paper parks”, or protected areas that are essentially just written on paper because they lack the enforcement required to truly protect species living within them. Palau may have created an important management tool, but they are lacking the resources required to follow through on regulations. This study also sheds light on the fact that without baseline data on shark populations within the proposed protected zones, it becomes difficult to monitor their effectiveness over time. If we truly want a blue haven for sharks, the research demonstrates that enforcement within shark sanctuaries is an urgent need. The country’s government is currently expanding enforcement efforts within the shark sanctuary.

White sharks: finding mates nearby

Photo: Yannis Papastamatiou

Photo: Yannis Papastamatiou

Publication specs

Title: Genetic Diversity of White Sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, in the Northwest Atlantic and Southern Africa
Authors: Shannon J. O’Leary, Kevin A. Feldheim, Andrew T. Fields, Lisa J. Natanson, Sabine Wintner, Nigel Hussey, Mahmood S. Shivji, and Demian D. Chapman 
Journal: Journal of Heredity
Year: 2015

Would you want to swim across the ocean to find a mate? Probably not, and neither do great white sharks. A recent study showed that white sharks are breeding on the side of the Atlantic Ocean where they were born despite their tendency to venture into the open ocean. The results revealed two distinct populations of white sharks, separated by the vast Atlantic Ocean. This implies that effective conservation measures would be separate and local, both in the Southern African nations and in the Northwest Atlantic. Luckily, white sharks are federally protected in both locations, which means this study’s findings validate current protection measures.

Photo: Katie Flowers

Photo: Katie Flowers