Protecting oceans: Scientists close to creating mobile marine protected areas
Scientists could soon be able to create marine protected areas in the world’s oceans that move according to where threatened species swim.
That was one of the surprising new advances discussed at the opening of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) conference in Vancouver Thursday, a prestigious gathering of more than 8,000 scientists from around the world.
The advances in oceanography come on the heels of technological improvements in biologging, the practice of tracking animals using electronic tags and monitoring.
Over the past decade or so, the tags have shrunk to pea-sized and satellite and remote-sensing software as well as electronic ocean modelling have all improved.
“We’re getting to the point where we can design a habitat in three dimensions,” Stanford University marine biology professor Larry Crowder said of the ability of create marine protected areas that shift with species migration or the seasons. “I think there are new doors opening.”
The need for mobile conservation zones comes as scientists are learning that species may be moving out of these zones much more than previously thought, likely as the result of climate change and changing ocean temperatures and conditions.
According to Brad deYoung, a professor of physical oceanography from Newfoundland’s Memorial University, some fish species appear to be moving as much as five kilometres northward each year, seeking colder waters as the oceans warm.
In the future, marine protected areas could be designated by shifting GPS co-ordinates that precisely follow the movement of species.
“We’re going to have to plan across national borders because of climate change,” deYoung said. “We can’t expect the ocean in the future to look the way it has in the past or even as it does now.”
DeYoung’s research notes that due to using innovations like ocean gliders and bio-optical and acoustic sensors, “we can now say how water depth, circulation and winds influence the movement of marine organisms.”
“With this knowledge we can better define management measures . . . to preserve fish stocks and improve fisheries management,” he said.
DeYoung will present his findings at the conference on Friday in a paper called, “Observing and Understanding How the Ocean Moves Organisms Together and Apart.”
Currently, the scientists said, only one per cent of the world’s oceans are protected by designated conservation areas, compared to an estimated 10 to 15 per cent on land. Better data could help convince countries to create more ocean preserves.
Biologging is also being used to great effect on B.C.’s coasts, said David Welch of Nanaimo’s Kintama Research Services, who is studying wild salmon survival rates in our coastal waters.
The conference will cover discoveries from a vast array of fields, from environmental science and biology to culture and health, astronomy to quantum computing.
It’s the first time in 30 years that America’s largest general scientific conference has been held in Canada, and the first time it has been in Vancouver.
The focus of the conference, which draws thousands of scientists from nearly 60 countries to share 170 lectures, is building global knowledge networks, especially on key issues like water, energy and food supply.
A large part of the event is also science outreach.
The plenary sessions, featuring talks on topics as diverse as science and democracy and human and primate morality, are free and open to the public on Friday and Saturday, with on-site registration.
Free Family Science Days events are also being offered at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., aimed at children from Grade 6 to 12.
Youth can meet scientists, create model earthquakes, launch rockets, touch sea creatures, learn about the lives of orca whales or what its like to work on the space station, and visit dozens of science-related exhibits.
Learn more about the family events on the AAAS website or on Twitter.
The conference runs until Feb. 20.
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