The Best Way to Regulate the Indigenous Dugong Harvest is to Let Tradition Run Its Course

by Wendy Noreña

Indigenous communities around increasingly finding that their traditional fishing practices clash with new, externally-imposed conservation policies and societal expectations. Finding an appropriate answer to these disagreements is difficult, especially since there are not enough data about most traditional, or even modern, marine fisheries to be able to create accurate scientific models that could help guide potential management strategies. Marsh et al. (2015) investigate the indigenous Dugong harvest in the Torres Straits, an area that spans the ocean space between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Northern Australian coast. Based on Marsh et al.’s preliminary research, the harvests here have been taking place for 4,000 to 7,000 years and have been “substantial,” for 400 to 500 years. With concerns about the conservation of ecosystems becoming more prevalent and politically involved, more and more people in Australia and PNG are calling for a ban or for restrictions to Dugong harvests. So far, regulations have already been set in place to limit hunting in certain areas and with certain equipment, but, because of the Australian Native Title Act, the Torres Strait islanders are lawfully allowed to hunt in what is known as their, “sea country,” as long as they follow a few restrictions. Marsh et al. argue that previous studies which stated that dugong harvests are largely unsustainable are actually incomplete due to the absence of good population and hunting data. Marsh et al. estimate that the Dugong harvest is sustainable and suggest that typical conservation methods should not be used to manage the Dugong harvests. Instead, they suggest that until sufficient data is available to use more popular management methods, a cultural reinforcement strategy currently in use, which involves ancient, traditional limitations on when, where, and how many Dugong can be harvested, should be implemented to manage this harvesting activity. These cultural reinforcements, driven by the indigenous communities themselves, must be coupled with detailed hunting reports as well as collaborations between government officials and indigenous leaders to create a more efficiently tailored management system for the dugong harvest. Continue reading

Lower Oceanic O2 and Higher Temperatures Will Lead to a Shrinking Habitable Ocean Range

by Wendy Noreña

The effects of oceanic dead zones and lower dissolved oxygen on marine populations are now generally common knowledge as media reports about fishery devastation and coastal habitat destruction have reached popular media. However, serious scientific inquiries into declining O2 in our oceans have moved beyond the macroscale of events like dead zones and have begun to focus on the day-to-day utilization and depletion of oceanic oxygen in the face of climate change. Deutsch et al. (2015) contribute to future oceanic warming predictions with a metabolic index that puts the combined effects of decreased oxygen and increased temperature into perspective. Using data on four extensively researched marine ectotherms, including an open water fish (Atlantic cod), a benthic crustacean (Atlantic rock crab), a subtropic fish (sharpsnout seabream), and a common eelpout, the researchers calculate a ratio that compares the, “maximum sustainable metabolic rate,” of an oceanic region or depth with the minimum metabolic rate needed for the survival of a defined species. Ultimately, the study finds that we can expect a decrease of 14 to 26% in the habitable ocean regions for the four species outlined in their research and that similar numbers could likely be found for any other species’ data put through their metabolic model. Continue reading

Using Projected Climate Change Impact on Coral Reefs to Explore a New Framework for Equity

by Wendy Noreña

The effect of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on ecosystem services is a subject of major concern in climate policy and conservation. Coral reefs are considered an especially vulnerable ecosystem as they are projected to be highly affected by ocean warming and acidification, both of which are generally thought to be likely consequences of climate change. While much research has already been conducted to determine the damage coral reefs will suffer as a result of climate change, surveys of how individual countries will be affected by coral reef devastation have not yet been implemented. Wolff et al. model both in this study, showcasing projected climate stress on reefs from 1875 to 2050 alongside measures of vulnerability and equity for individual countries and regions based on GHG emissions per capita and expected reef devastation. The study finds an alarming decoupling between total GHG emissions and reef impact, indicating that, in general, countries that emit the most GHG will often experience less reef impact while the opposite is true for countries that emit very little GHG. Continue reading

Cape Verdean Loggerhead Turtles More Climate Change Resilient than Expected

by Wendy Noreña

Following growing concerns about the potential effects of climate change, scientists have begun to study declining levels of biodiversity in the natural world. Of especially large concern are cheloniid reptiles, or turtles, which are ectothermic organisms that rely heavily on atmospheric temperatures and regular seasons to regulate internal temperatures, metabolic rates, and, for turtles, male-to-female sex ratios during egg incubation. Marine turtles are of particular interest to conservation work as there are only seven species, there already exists a large amount of research about them, and, most importantly, they are even more susceptible to climate change than other turtle species because of their beach-dependent nesting habits. Though much has been done to form quantitative analyses of marine turtles’ current state in the face of recent climate fluctuations, Perez et. al. seek to create a qualitative ranking system with which to gauge the resilience, or potential to withstand environmental change, of a reptile now and in the future. Continue reading