Getting Fishing with Krista Sherman (by Jacqueline Vogel)
From working at an offshore bank in the Bahamas to being an aquarist at the famed Atlantis Resort, Krista Sherman’s path to where she is today has been anything but dull. On May 10, Krista gave our class at Hopkins a glimpse into the life of a Bahamian fisheries scientist, and especially into her work on the rare and charismatic Nassau Grouper that has dominated her career for the last several years. Krista’s work on fisheries science in the Bahamas is extremely impressive, and it is even more so considering that fact that she is the first female to receive a PhD in fisheries science in the Bahamas. Her talk involved a slew of very in-depth discussions of Nassau Grouper life histories and aggregated spawning patterns—both of which I had zero knowledge of before our discussion, and now feel as though I could write an entire essay on. I’ll leave the lengthy descriptions of Nassau Grouper to the much more competent Krista (see Sherman et al. 2017 if you want to get into the nitty gritty of grouper population dynamics), but here are a few key takeaways about the species that I found especially interesting.
Nassau Grouper are aggregate spawners, meaning that they are solitary for most of the year, and avoid the large schooling behaviors that many other fish species rely on to survive. At some predetermined time during the winter, massive numbers of the fish join together in groups of about 30,000-100,000 for a few weeks of rapid reproduction. This behavior makes them especially vulnerable to human intrusion, since destruction of one of their spawning sites can be catastrophic for the reproductive success of the species as a whole. Adult grouper can migrate over 200 km, so geographic boundaries between populations are very mixed throughout the Caribbean. Populations started decreasing several thousand years ago before human intervention in the region, so the potential causes of this massive population decrease are still largely unknown.
There are lots of fish in the Bahamas, but Krista chose to focus on the Nassau Grouper because of both the economic and cultural importance that this species has for the country. These fish contribute greatly to the fishing industry in the Bahamas, and are important parts of many Bahamian culinary traditions.
Something that I really appreciated about Krista’s talk was her clear passion and love for what she does, especially considering the multiple other professions that she explored before landing on the one job that was right for her. Although Krista’s talk focused mostly on the specific topic of Nassau Grouper populations in the Bahamas, she made a very strong case for the impacts that human activities are having on these fragile aggregate spawners, and the cross-sectoral conservation efforts that she is pursuing in her home country. Government cooperation is slow in any nation, but hearing Krista make jokes about the sluggish pace of the Bahamian government made me realize how important work like hers can be for advancing conservation efforts in all parts of the world.
Krista’s goal of translating science into management is so important, and I’m delighted that we got the chance to hear her speak about her experiences with making science more accessible to as many people, Bahamian or otherwise, as she possibly can.
Drew Harvell (by Laura Anderson)
I was really looking forward to hearing Cornell University marine ecologist Dr. Drew Harvell talk about marine diseases and “Ocean Outbreaks,” particularly to hear her thoughts on what action steps could be possible for the future. Harvell has been at the forefront of research on the sea star wasting disease epidemic, a mass mortality event sparked in 2013 that impacted over 20 species of sea stars up and down the West Coast of North America. The outbreak had a huge range and is still affecting sea stars today. It is still a mystery what exactly caused sea star wasting disease in 2013 and why so many stars died of infection. Harvell works to solve this mystery.
As someone who is interested in science communication, I focus during talks not only on what research is presented but how it is presented. This is a thought process Harvell seems to explore too, thinking about the broader implications and impact of her research. She talked about the challenges of translating scientific research to a broader audience while writing Ocean Outbreak. When creating a book, there are different expectations about references and citations, figures and jargon. She highlighted four types of outbreaks, including some that she had not previously studied. Coming from a science research world, that can feel like an abrupt shift, particularly if there are competing opinions about how to communicate findings. Interestingly though, it took collaborations with fellow researchers, who had studied other outbreak examples, to develop ways to communicate each case study.
During Harvell’s talk, several questions emerged about the journey of writing a book about science. What is the value of telling a story if we don’t know the ending or even the details of how an outbreak occurred? Do science stories require endings? And perhaps more broadly, when you know information as a scientist, do you have a responsibility to speak up?
What struck me the most about Harvell was her drive to face these communication challenges head-on and to become a character in her own story, a story of trying to solve this mystery of sea star wasting disease. Sharing research in a broad-audience setting or transitioning science into policy and action can be very challenging, especially because research is never complete. There is always something more to know. However, knowing that and still pushing towards a goal of sharing knowledge with the world is admirable. And it does matter. Events like widespread marine disease outbreaks should not fly under the radar, particularly if these infections have ecosystem-level implications. Ocean Outbreak is an opportunity to connect scientific research to a bigger picture and to inform and hopefully inspire. As a scientist, I feel inspired by Harvell’s work. As a human being, I feel inspired by her willingness and ability to speak up and share what she knows and what she does so that we all can better understand the world around us.
Successional ecology of coral reefs: Randomness to biophysical determination - Stuart Sandin (by Trudie Grattan)
I really enjoyed Stuart Sandin’s lecture on the successional ecology of coral reefs. Going into the seminar, I was confused on successional ecology of corals because my mind immediately jumped to “are we going to spend the hour hearing about corals dying?” Instead, the lecture started off addressing broader questions like “why does an animal look that way” and “why is the community structured this way?” Stuart then told an anecdote about Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Discovery Bay was first visited inn 1976 when it was a beautiful reef, but was hit by storms and disease in the following decades. When people went back in 1983, the reef was covered in algae. When they revisited in 2016, there was a columnar coral that had persevered since 1976. I was amazed by the fact that this was a legacy coral, and might not have represented coral resilience, but it did represent how corals change and persevere through time.
Systems are dynamic and change over time. Stuart made this very clear through the great example of forests, but it is true of many ecosystems. **Plug for Odum’s 1969 science paper.** Succession is like a story. Stuart pointed out my original thought that coral reefs are not exactly successional because when we think of them, we think about decreasing biomass. Stuart presented his research of uninhabited and habited islands in the Pacific Ocean. He talked about the obvious conclusion that uninhabited islands have more fish than habited islands. There is more biomass when you do not fish. But what about the bottom of the ocean? Obviously, there is more coral cover where there are no humans. I was fascinated to find out that there is more microbial work on an inhabited island. This makes since because the microbes are eating the food the fish were eating, but it has never crossed my mind when looking into disturbed reef systems.
Onto corals… corals are colonial and they also have the capacity to regrow. The smaller corals are more likely to not survive until adults. Stuart talked about factors that impact survivorship about polyps like turf algae cover crustose coralline algae cover. I found this interesting because when I spent the summer doing benthic point intersect transects, I knew turf algae was a bad thing to be writing on my slate but I did not realty know why. Stuart’s research analyzed coral settlers and discovered that fungids landed in rubble regions and non-fungids landed in the rock. They also found that baby corals were not found where the adults are. The adult corals were clustered while the younger corals were not. The data then showed one scale bigger with large benthic segments. This data was collected through point transects. The data showed that in the uninhabited islands, there was good variability. The populated islands had no predictability. This lead to the discussion of bio-physical decoupling, which is the idea that things go away when human influence is involved.
Ultimately, coral reefs take decades to evolve. During succession, we see predictability at increasing spatial scales. During the last part of the meeting, I found it the most interesting when Stuart talked about the 100 Island Challenge. I thought this was so interesting because in the face of climate change and environmental threat, our oceans will continue to change and corals and humans must adapt.
Kelly Benoit-Bird and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (by Lucy Edy)
Last Friday, we visited the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and met with senior scientist Dr. Kelly Benoit-Bird. Our tour included a stop by the video analysis room, where mesmerizing deep-sea scenes drifted by on multiple television and computer screens. With their specialized Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS), MBARI is able to sift through footage dating back over 25 years to explore the ocean floor. They have the technology to identify marine organisms in the footage and mark interesting findings for further investigation.
Our tour next brought us to the machines that collect this valuable footage: the Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). Benoit-Bird explained how these vehicles are able to capture long-range footage, so among the behaviors of marine animals they can explore are those in response to human disturbance. AUVs allow researchers to save the time and resources of collecting data by hand in the field and provide them with enough data to store and analyze for years to come.
This technology is indeed fascinating, and seems a likely candidate for modification to serve military purposes. Benoit-Bird noted, however that instead of the military taking the AUV technology and running with it, their requests for the technology were so high in number that MBARI no longer provides it. They build their tech in-house and use it in-house. Benoit-Bird pointed out that if you have specialized mechanics and technicians for this type of technology and you ship it out, what happens when it breaks? They need to have their crew that built the vehicles employed on site.
Benoit-Bird also explained how she has been working with the navy to find ways to reduce their acoustic impact on marine mammals. Many marine mammals can hear over 100 kilohertz, so anti-sub warfare vehicles can be extremely loud and disruptive for these creatures. I was surprised to hear her say that the groups she has worked with in the navy have been quite receptive and committed to finding new methods to reduce their impact. These efforts are of course often in response to lawsuits and policies, but so much of the dialogue around military noise pollution in the ocean makes the navy out as a villain unwilling to change, so it was encouraging to hear that they also want to see these changes through.
Dr. Benoit-Bird is first and foremost a biologist, but she is also incredibly skilled at and involved in the design and construction of the technology she needs for her projects. When asked why she started studying tech, she said “I’m a biologist, but I didn’t want to have to rely on others to make the tech I needed.” She wanted to know that the tech she was getting was what would work best for the purposes of her research.
This was a wonderful opportunity to observe how drastically technology can alter and improve scientific research. It was also a chance to see how research institutes like MBARI allow for interdisciplinary scientific minds to come together and produce research that can inform applied solutions to create real change in the world.
A Leader for the Future: Nishan Degnarain (by Caity McGinley)
“Our oceans are the single most important natural force on the planet. The invisible hand behind the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the moderate weather we enjoy. However, the past three generations of leaders have presided over the decline of our oceans – whether by omission or commission. Their cumulative efforts have not been equal to the forces acting against the oceans. We are precariously close to crossing planetary tipping points, beyond which there may be no turning back, and face the stark choice between a living ocean or a dead one.”
Last week, a Renaissance man by the name of Nishan Degnarain graced Hopkins Marine Institute with his vast knowledge, articulate anecdotes, and love for the ocean.
With degrees in Economics from Cambridge University and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, as soon as Nishan opened his mouth it wasn’t all that hard to figure out why Dr. Block generously endorsed him as “the future president of Mauritius.” A force to be reckoned with, Nishan served on the UK Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, held a seat as the former Chair for the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Oceans, and has also worked as an economic adviser to Mauritius on the development of a long-term economic transformation program to move Mauritius from a middle-income to a high-income country. But what was most captivating about Nishan was not his positions of power, but his ideologies regarding the intersection of the future of technology and the future of our world. Bridging the gap between nature and sterile science, Nishan’s new focus is how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can heal the oceans.
"Our power to affect the environment for better or worse has never been greater. We can choose to use this power to halt the decline in ocean health, restore it, and guarantee its future, or we can stand passively by. How we act and react in the next few years will reveal who we really are."
Our conversations were versatile and engaging. Topics of discussion during the intimate classroom seminar ranged from CRISPR and Greta Thunberg to deep bed mining and fishery management. But the one that captured my interest was a question I stayed and asked after the crowd had left.
“Mr. Degnarain, how are we going to close the fissure between the academic elite and the rest of the population in regards to the future bio economy? How are we going to teach people to understand the technologies that we are going to utilize such as gene therapy or deep sea bed mining?”
Nishan answered with polished wisdom. “I think Disruptive Education and new classroom models are key. We need to implement intentional curriculum for the next century, integrating our new technology. When we do this, we will be changing mindsets around equity and dismantling systemic oppression and racism.”
And while the ties between environmental justice and justice for indigenous communities wasn’t discussed during Nishan’s conversation with the class, I think that Nishan brought up an extremely relevant point—how are we going to tackle environmental racism when both racism and environmentalism aren’t being solved by our current political system? Should we get rid of the systems themselves and start from scratch? Nishan and I had an interesting talk about current social systems and if they are evolved enough to support our future infrastructure given our new knowledge and technology. And we both agreed, they are not. We need rapid change in our political and social systems to keep up with the influx of new information from all fields, whether it be molecular biology, computer science, or oceanic engineering.
In conclusion, I was thoroughly impressed by Nishan Degnarain. If more elected leaders think like Nishan, I believe that the future of the world looks a whole lot brighter.
Nishan Degnarain (by Edward Lee)
I was really excited to hear Nishan talk about "Our Ocean in the 4th Industrial Revolution". I had read about how he guided founders at an ocean-related startup accelerator and influenced global ocean policy with the WEF. Being at Stanford with its endless optimism for tech and being enveloped by its startup culture, I had always wanted to learn more about how tech could help the oceans recover and thrive. I had so many questions I wanted answers for. What industries did tech have the potential to disrupt? How are growing fields like data science and machine learning going to play a role in conservation work? How can all the data we've gathered be utilized to reduce emissions? waste? bycatch? And if there was someone who could answer my questions, it was Nishan.
Terry Hughes (by Cole Shepherd)
On April 17th, 2019, we were given the incredible privilege of meeting one of the world’s leading coral scientists: Terry Hughes. Terry is a professor at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia and the director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. He has spent much of his life studying corals on the Great Barrier Reef and his work in the past few years has focused on assessing the impacts of the severe bleaching events of 2016 and 2017 on the reef. Terry has also leaned more into advocacy in recent years, directly speaking with government officials about the threats that reefs face.
Last fall, I traveled to Australia through Stanford’s overseas studies program and spent two weeks at a research station on an island on the southern Great Barrier Reef (the area largely spared from recent bleaching events). While at the station, I spent many hours snorkeling on the reef, viewing dazzling displays of corals and colorful fish along with countless sharks, turtles, and rays. I gained a newfound appreciation for reefs and a fierce desire to protect them. On the island, we learned a great deal about coral biology, reef ecology, and threats to reefs, and the name that always permeated our lectures and discussions was Terry Hughes. Our professors mentioned him almost daily, discussing his work or citing one of his studies. I also read several of his papers while conducting my own research project throughout the program.
Fast-forward four months, and I was preparing to spend the spring at Hopkins. I was casually perusing the syllabus for the conservation class that I had signed up for and was suddenly shocked to discover that Terry Hughes would be coming to Monterey to give a talk. I was ecstatic. I was going to meet the coral scientist that I had heard so much about!
Terry Hughes began his talk by outlining the climate/CO2 related threats that reefs face, including ocean warming, cyclones, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. He then explained how warming is the most immediate and dire threat. Most of his talk focused on the recent massive bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, and to a lesser degree, the 2017 event. He showed us an aerial surveys and maps displaying stunning amounts of bleaching and death. We also viewed before and after images of corals, which were very powerful and depressing. The majority of the reef was severely bleached in 2016 and it was much worse than the previous 1998 and 2002 events. He then discussed in detail a couple of the studies that he has conducted since the bleaching events. He explained how coral recruitment crashed after 2016 and how his studies have shown a profound shift in dominance from spawning to brooding corals. In addition, he showed that some of the corals exhibited memory and were a bit more resilient to the heat stress in 2017, though the 2017 event was still devastating.
Terry’s most surprising statement came toward the end of his presentation. He explained that the reef configurations following the bleaching event are unlike anything ever observed and that the reef has been altered permanently; there is no way to return to reef to its pre-2016 condition. This notion applies to reefs worldwide. We cannot expect to experience the reefs of that we know going forward, he asserted. Instead, we should seek to facilitate the biological functions that we deem important in permanently altered reef environments. This got the attention of the class because it is a major departure from the typical conservation rhetoric revolving around preservation and restoration. It is frustrating and difficult to accept that we cannot restore a condition that was present just four years ago.
Another controversial point that arose in our discussion following the talk was Terry’s assertion that many restoration projects are a waste of time because even if we enhance growth of corals, they will simply bleach again. While I agree that some of the ideas (such as deploying fans over the reef) are silly and that ultimately, the only way to save corals is through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I do not think that all restoration efforts are useless. For example, one issue that we discussed in Australia and in this conservation class is the transition from coral-dominated to algal-dominated assemblages due to reduced herbivory as a result of overfishing and increased nutrient inputs. Because macroalgae inhibit coral recruitment and growth, reducing algal cover could increase the speed at which corals recover from a bleaching event (Hughes et al., 2007; Burkepile & Hay, 2008). Thus, while not ultimate solutions, I think that these sorts of restoration projects could buy us time to get emissions in check.
Ultimately, the discussion forced me to re-evaluate my career goals. For the past few years, I have been torn between pursuing environmental science and environmental policy. Growing up, I was passionate about science. Learning about nature and how it works fascinates me, and I always imagined myself going into science. In recent years, though, it seems that the impediment to solving environmental crises is politics, not science, and I have increasingly considered focusing more on the policy side. Terry Hughes pushed me from complete ambivalence to perhaps a slight lean toward the policy side. When he explicitly stated that reducing carbon emissions is the only way to save corals and explained how he has been leaning more into advocacy in recent years, I thought about my goals. We already know how climate change works and we already know what we need to do to stop it. The barrier to saving reefs and many other ecosystems is the failure of nations to act on science. From what I have heard in discussions, much of the class faces a similar dilemma regarding science versus policy, and Terry certainly forced everyone to evaluate the best way to further conservation efforts.
Burkepile, D. E., & Hay, M. E. (2008). Herbivore species richness and feeding complementarity
affect community structure and function on a coral reef. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, 105(42), 16201–16206. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0801946105
Hughes, T. P., Rodrigues, M. J., Bellwood, D. R., Ceccarelli, D., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., McCook,
L., … Willis, B. (2007). Phase Shifts, Herbivory, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs to
Climate Change. Current Biology, 17(4), 360–365.
Richard Pyle (by Gillian Dee)
Today we were lucky enough to have Dr. Richard Pyle come speak about his work in deep coral reefs, as well as have the chance to question him in a smaller classroom setting. Dr. Pyle is an ichthyologist who works on coral reefs, diving further than anyone had ever gone at the start of his career. Through his daring, he has identified and described may new species of fish off the coast of the Hawaiian islands, including one he named after President Barack Obama after Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Dr. Pyle even has a fish named after him!
What struck me the most about Dr. Pyle was the emphasis he placed on the communication of the dire urgency of the consequences of human impacts on the planet.
Although, being interested in the environment, I was aware of the problem of decreasing biodiversity, his lecture was a study in great communication of what we as a planet are losing and why this loss is important. The excellence of his communication style was matched only by his passion about the subject.
The time scale of biodiversity was one concept that was particularly well explained, which tackled the problem of visualizing over millions of years. Dr. Pyle emphasized the continuity of reproduction over enormous lengths of time needed for evolution by using his own genealogy, from a man on the Mayflower all the way back to Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis). This sort of visualization tool and anecdotal humor conveyed strongly both his message, but also the supplementary message of the need to convey evidence and science clearly. His discussion acknowledged the human aspect of the implementation of conservation and the need for big money to be involved in the salvation of our planet, focusing on the realities of the work everyone in the room was passionate about.
This method of communication stuck out in contrast to other lectures I have heard because of the relatability of biological processes to everyday human concepts of ancestry. Since scientific work is highly technical, one sometimes feels as though you need a technical background to grasp the concepts. Dr. Pyle was very effective at conveying his work and its overall message beyond a similarly trained audience.
I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to him and take the lessons of the modes of conveyance into my (hopefully) future work in conservation. I am interested in environmental negotiation and working with those who may not believe or see the urgency of climate change. Often the challenges of climate change response require the cooperation of a community and the trust that is needed to accomplish climate action goals rests on the ability to understand one another. I feel Dr. Pyle’s communication methods helps me to best think about the best way to explain the necessity and desirability of common goals in environmental action.
A Radical New Approach to Marine Conservation: Alistair Hobday (by David Rosenzweig)
June 8, 2018
This past week, we had the great fortune of talking to Alistair Hobday: a Senior Principal Research fellow and Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania. Alistair represents a relatively new breed of conservation biologists. Rather than simply conducting empirical studies on the trends in species decline, he advocates for action over pure observation. Alistair considers three stages in the lifecycle of a conservation issue: mitigation, adaptation, and geoengineering. According to Alistair, we are slowly moving past the field of mitigation and it may be the case the scientist in the not-so-distant future will be primarily geo-engineers. For Alistair, however, there is hope in the second stage: adaptability.
A large portion of Alistair’s lecture was spent presenting this idea of interfering directly in a species in an effort to prevent extinction. For example, Alistair explains proposals to release salmon into Orca habitats to provide them with necessary food or relocating elephants to Australia to create a satellite population away from poachers (the latter represents the far end of the spectrum). Alistair himself has spent an extensive amount of time researching adaptation techniques for the Albatross found in Tasmania. With the albatross population on Albatross Island rapidly declining, Alistair has proposes techniques such as creating artificial nests, removing island competitors, and treating diseased individuals. To him, this iconic species has reached the point in which no human intervention is no longer an option.
However, there is quite a bit of criticism directed towards Alistair and his hands-on approach to conservation. This topic formed the large basis of our eventual discussion with him. Firstly, one key consideration that was brought up was the idea of “how and when” we should intervene. Picking the specific species for which we should interfere is controversial in it of itself. Whereas some species may be eco-system engineers and have a much more important biological role, others may only be iconic in the eyes of humans (ie. the panda). To Alistair, there must be a balance between the protection of the two.
From there, the discussion reached what was likely its most devise moment. Rather than analyzing solely the environmental consequences of species intervention, we began to discuss the ethical role of Adaptation. For example, there was a discussion on whether or not we should be injecting hormones into endangered dolphins so that they reproduce faster. Although we already do this with domesticated animals, such direct interference may come at the consequence of these animals well-beings. A similar discussion took place on the topic of Cranes. In an effort to save one species of Cranes, conservationists are having a seperate species nest and raise the young of the more endangered species. This allows the more endangered Crane to reproduce faster.
Ultimately, the class “settled” on a quasi-ethical framework for approach such situations. The proposal was put forth that we look to nature as a guiding influence on whether something is deemed ethically moral or not. For example, since there are already documented cases of one bird species raising another’s young, the Crane dilemma would be deemed acceptable. However, injecting reproduction hormones into dolphins is a much more difficult topic to accept.
In the end, this talk and discussion forced Myself and the rest of the class to challenge many of our personal beliefs on conservation.
Proactive Research: Alistair Hobday (by Autumn Bordner)
June 8, 2018
For the final session of our Marine Conservation Biology class, we had the privilege of meeting with Alistair Hobday, a senior principle research scientist with the Australian-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The day was tragic because it was the last day of class. Nevertheless, we certainly ended on a high note. Alistair inspired us all by demonstrating that, with the right attitude, applied research can make a real-world difference.
Alistair’s research focuses on direct interventions to assist species adapting to climate change. What makes Alistair’s research unique and innovative is that, in addition to the typical work of characterizing climate threats and developing a list of theoretical adaptation mechanisms, Alistair takes the next step. He not only devises adaptiation measures, but directly tests them in the field. Thus, simultaneously collecting valuable data as to the efficacy of various adaptation strategies and directly assisting a vulnerable species population. For example, during class, Alistair discussed his climate adaptation intervention for the iconic shy albatross in Tasmania. (A fact I leverage to include cute pictures in this blog post!) Specifically, Alistair has employed a range of interventions, including providing artificial nests; supplemental feeding; and disease treatment, with considerable success.
This strategy of direct intervention runs against the grain of traditional conservation research, which tends to construe human tinkering with the natural world as invasive and undesirable. However, as Alistair explained, with a rapidly changing climate, it may well be the case that invasive interventions are the only way to save vulnerable species from extinction. From his point of view, it is not enough to monitor the decline of vulnerable species. Instead he believes that proactive action should be taken to at least try to help such species survive. For Alistair it is not enough to “count a species to extinction.”
Moving Beyond the Count to Extinction
The idea of intervening rather than “counting to extinction” really resonated with me and my classmates. I attend class remotely through Zoom and I sometimes creepily overhear the conversations of my in-person classmates before the discussion session officially begins. This session was one of those occasions. The class pretty much unanimously voiced frustration at the prevalent conception of science as tool only for observation and analysis rather than a tool to be used proactively in order to tackle real-world problems. The class was therefore inspired by Alistair’s action-oriented approach. I agreed silently from my apartment in Palo Alto.
Once the official class discussion began we explored the topic of proactive intervention in some depth. We also stressed the need for researchers to not isolate themselves in an ivory tower, but rather engage with on-the-ground stakeholders, including actors from the fishing and tourism industry, as well as private and public land and conservation managers. Such openness facilitates the flow of information and innovation, whereas isolation tends to stymy progress.
THe discussion on open engagement actually gets to a broader frustration I have with academia. Academia seems to have a culture of intense territoriality over projects and data, in the sense that project proponents are generally opposed to making transparent and available their data and methods. Data and methods tend to be construed as proprietary; to be safely guarded against other researchers. While I understand this sentiment to some degree–a research team pours a lot of time and resources into their data collection and analysis after all–I think such secrecy can hamper process. First, it impedes reproducibility and verifiability of the initial study. Second, it impairs others from building off of the initial research or applying the data in new ways the initial group hadn’t considered. I really believe that a shift to an open source/open data culture would make academic research much more robust and useful.
…That previous paragraph was a mild digression. But to tie it back, my frustration with academia made me all the more appreciative of Alistair’s emphasis on openness and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders.
The class generally agreed that engaging with stakeholders to undertake proactive intervention is desirable. The question then became: what is the optimal level of intervention? How far is too far? And how do we feel about the trade off between suffering of individual organisms for the benefit of a species? These questions led to a vigorous ethical discussion, which I discuss below.
This is a video featuring some of Alistair’s work with the shy albatross
Ethics of Intervention
The class engaged in a rich discussion about the ethics of direct intervention. First we discussed the trade off between benefit to the species and benefit to the individual. For example, Alistair posed a hypothetical in which artificial nests increase the survival rate of the species overall but individual chicks are almost certain to die if they fall from the artificial nests. Whereas, with conventional nests there is a substantial probability that if a chick falls out it will be able to hop back in and survive. This hypothetical is a take on the famous trolley problem. We didn’t reach a conclusion, but this thought exercise was valuable in terms or working through ethical considerations that are central to designing effective interventions.
Another important question is “how far” we are willing to go in intervening to help a species survive. Here we talked about the idea of artificially inseminating dolphins in order to increase birth rates and thus the number of individuals in a population. The class was fairly divided on whether such an intervention would be ethical. In my opinion, it would be hard for a society that artificially inseminates cows, pigs, and chickens in order to turn their bodies into commodities (i.e., milk, eggs, meat), and that sterilizes cats and dogs for population control to say that it would be unethical to artificially inseminate dolphins to help the species survive. Especially considering cows and pigs, like dolphins, are highly intelligent (and chickens, while not as bright, have some smarts and certainly can feel pain). Personally, I find the treatment of livestock unethical and thus I don’t consume animal products, but this is by no means a mainstream ethical standard. Again this conversation did not lead to a determination of what is “right” or “wrong.” Instead, the conversation emphasized the importance of establishing a workable, consistent ethical standard when designing species interventions. For example, maybe one might apply a standard that interventions effecting reproduction are never okay, or maybe one might apply a standard that such interventions are okay only when in the best interest of the species.
To sum up, I found the discussion with Alistair really empowering and motivating. Alistair’s work illuminates a path forward for many young scientists who are looking to do more than “count species to extinction.” Moreover,our discussion of ethics left the class with a nuanced way to engage with idea of intervention, beyond the simple dichotomy of intervention as “good” or “bad.” I’m sure I can speak for both myself and my classmates (because I overheard them) in saying that the discussion with Alistair was invigorating and gave me some hope for the future.
Coral Reefs, Climate Change, and Women in STEM: Julia Baum (by Taylor Merkel)
June 1, 2018
Between an ever-increasing abundance of data, the mounting pressure of global challenges, and a growing emphasis on diversity, there is no doubt that we are entering a new era of ecology and marine science. This point was driven home by a rewarding day of discussions and presentations by Julia Baum, an associate professor of biology at the University of Victoria. She not only invited the entire Marine Station to a conversation on the experiences of women in marine sciences, but also led a fascinating seminar and discussion on her research in coral responses to climate change events. Julia’s research utilized massive socioeconomic/ecological surveys, innovative imaging technologies, and genomic analysis of symbionts to gain a deeper understanding of the way Pacific corals around Christmas Island responded to the 2015-2016 El Niño.
Modern technology and data accessibility enable precise measurements of ocean conditions and temperatures, which led to advance predictions of the severity of the ’15-’16 El Niño. Baum and her colleagues took advantage of this early warning to obtain an NSF RAPID grant and survey the Christmas Island corals before, during, and after the impact event. I was incredibly thankful that Julia stressed the fact that their experiments didn’t actually go according to plan—the El Niño arrived later than expected, so they’ve yet to measure more long term recovery. In lecture series such as this one, we often only see the successes of these well-established scientists, so the reminder that research is messy and unpredictable was a welcome one.
In their surveys, Baum and her team utilized groundbreaking 3D imaging technologies to capture the state of reefs. She freely admitted that it’s not the most useful data, but that people find it very cool to look at. This genuine enthusiasm for her research and awareness of the need to make it accessible to the public was incredibly refreshing. Back in the lab, Julia’s team determined that human disturbance prior to impact events like El Niño is a major predictor of coral survival. Furthermore, the El Niño led to shifts in symbiont populations residing in corals. While the severity of this event killed off massive fractions of Christmas Island corals, Julia’s work reveals possible contributors to heat resilience and recovery, which will be absolutely indispensable knowledge in the coming years.
Julia’s research on coral reefs and climate change is undoubtedly fascinating and impactful, but the most meaningful part of the day for me was definitely our discussions on diversity. She shared her own experiences with harassment, and those of other women in the field. Rather than focus on the often depressing state of things, she emphasized the fallacies that contribute to these trends, and ways we can all combat them. I think I speak for the rest of my (predominantly female) class when I say that we all left feeling inspired—to tackle everything from gender discrimination to climate change.
Coral reefs, Scientists, Diversity, and Tenacity: Julia Baum (by Jose Urteaga)
June 1, 2018
Among various key issues, marine scientists today face two major questions: “how coral reefs can overcome accelerated climate change?”, and, “how marine scientists can improve their contribution to tackling the emerging challenges of a rapidly changing world?” For Dr. Julia Baum, these seemingly disparate questions might find a common answer on the concept of diversity. Among her colleague scientists, Dr. Baum is highly recognized by her contribution to coral reef ecology, but in addition to this expertise, she is a tenacious advocate of gender and racial inclusion. Thus, her visit to the Hopkins marine station during the last week provided us a unique opportunity to explore and learn from these salient topics, with a surprisingly common thread: diversity as a resilience enhancer for coral reefs and the scientist that study them.
Coral reefs and climate change
With more than 90 publications cited in google scholar, Dr. Baum contribution to coral reef ecology is massive, especially considering the relatively early stage she is in her career. One of her most recent research focuses on understanding the impact of climate change in coral reefs.
Coral reefs are one of the most mesmerizing environments in the oceans. With their high diversity and multitude of shapes and colors, this ecosystem is the symbol of ocean beauty and exuberance. In addition to their aesthetic value, coral reefs provide valuable environmental services such as coastal protection and food supply to millions of people across the tropical seas. Moreover, coral reef supports the local and global economy through tourism and fishing industries. Unfortunately, coral reefs are decaying at alarming rates as consequence of accelerated climate change, for example, through mechanical damage and sedimentation associated to the increase of storms, or the change of ocean acidity that compromise coral growth, or the increase in temperature that leads to coral bleaching. Understanding what is coral bleaching is fundamental to understand one of Dr. Baum contribution, so, in the next couple of paragraphs, I briefly explain what is coral bleaching.
Since early years, as probably many other children, I was totally attracted by the beauty of corals, and as I learned more, my fascination increased. One thing that I found surprising was the fact that corals are animals, they are not plants as I originally believed. They are comprised of tiny flower-shaped animals, polyps, similar to anemones, that growth in colonies, building a massive calcareous exoskeleton. These structures are the building blocks of coral reefs and the base of the entire ecosystem.
The fact that corals are animals is key to understand coral dynamics, because, as animals, they cannot synthesize their own food as trees or grass can do through photosynthesis. Corals need to acquire their food from other sources. To meet this need, they have developed a fascinating collaboration strategy with a group of photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within the polyps’ tissue. This collaboration between two organisms, known as symbiosis, yield mutual benefits to the algae and the corals. In one hand, the algae enjoy from a protected environment provided by their host, the corals. On the other hand, the corals receive nutrients and other physiological benefits from their guests, the algae. The algae living in the polyps is responsible for the greenish colorations that characterize healthy coral reefs. However, when the coral is stressed by physical, chemical, or biological factors, the zooxanthellae are expelled from the polyps producing a bleaching event. Without its guest, the coral is deprived of its main food source. If the symbiosis is not restored soon, in a period of weeks or few months the coral might eventually starve to death. One of the major stressors causing bleaching is the sudden increase in temperature in their environment.
Dr. Baum and collaborators’ have contributed enormously to understand the effects of water warming on coral reefs bleaching, especially in association with sudden increases on the water temperature of El Niño Southern Oscillation, which might cause abnormally high water temperatures for weeks or months. This temperature increase seems to exceed the optimal threshold for the algae-coral symbiosis causing bleaching. During the last decade, scientist compiled numerous empirical evidence suggesting a strong correlation between El Niño and coral bleach events, precisely one of Barnum and collaborators contributions is a meta-analysis of more than 700 papers that study this issue (Claar et al., 2017). Strikingly, despite the numerous publications, the majority of these studies lack data to conclusively identify the impact of temperature increase on the corals, or the ways the corals respond to this stressor. Without a better understanding of these processes, it is few what managers can do to protect coral reefs from the now inevitable effects of climate change.
In this context, Dr. Baum has led an epic research in the Kiribati island, a remote archipelago in the middle of the Pacific, taking advantage of a natural experiment. They are studying coral reef response to a heat shock associated with the 2016 El Niño event, one of the strongest recorded in modern history. One of the reasons of conducting research in such remote and the logistically complex location is that it offers pristine reefs that have not been exposed to other anthropogenic stressors, allowing controlling for many compounding factors that researchers face in other locations such as the Caribbean.
One of Dr. Baum’s very interesting findings is that the resilience capacity of corals is strongly associated with the characteristics of their symbiotic partners, the algae. During her presentation, we learned that there are multiple types of zooxanthella. According to her research, some types of algae are more prevalent under normal conditions, because they seem to provide more nutrients or other benefits to the host. These are the “rock stars zooxanthellae.” There are other types of algae that are less abundant, “the underdog of zooxanthellae”, which seem to perform poorly as guests under normal conditions. However, this scenario changes dramatically after the coral reef is exposed to a heath shock. Dr. Baum results suggest that those corals that host some of the “underdog guests” are more likely to cope with or recover from the effects of heath shocks. This is somehow a counter-intuitive finding and suggests that coral resilience is contingent to the diversity of algae gests. Also opens a line of research that might lead to new ways of interventions to manage and restore coral reefs, for example by manipulating their algae symbionts composition.
The unconscious bias in science
In 2017 the Journal Nature and Evolution published a very practical paper titled “100 articles every ecologist must read” (Courchamp and Bradshaw, 2017). This list of articles was drawn using consultation to experts, thus, capturing the collective views of the ecologist community, or at least from an influential part of them. This type of work was expected to be an influential piece for ecology teaching at the most higher levels. However, in a very sharp response, published in the same journal, Julia Baum and Tara Martin underscored some of the unconscious biases of the list, and questioned its validity as a pedagogical instrument for the ecologist of the 21st century.
In their response, Baum and Martin underscore that the list portraits a highly biased gender and racial list of authors. For example, they show that white male authors led 97 of the 100 selected papers. The authors highlight the problems of the list:
“By almost exclusively presenting works by white men, we fear Courchamp & Bradshaw are sending a strong message to a new generation of ecologists: women and people of color need not apply.”
Then they conclude
“Today there is an ever-increasing number of brilliant female scientists training the next generation of ecologists. Failure to showcase the contributions of these scientists does a huge disservice to students.”
Intrinsic to these critics are fundamental issues of justice, and equality, which might be discussed on the realm of ethics. However, there is also a very practical argument supporting Baum and Martin points. At the core of their argument is the issue of institutional inertia. In the ecology community, a system dominated by a single group, in this case, white males, is very likely to be biased towards the status quo. Worth to notice that this bias may not be intentional. However, this bias undermines diversification within the scientific community. By portraying a list of nearly 100% white males “as the rock stars of ecology” the list does a very poor contribution to inspire people from diverse background to engage in this field. However, as in the case of coral reefs (an ecological system), the scientist community (a social system), is also vulnerable to external pressures and shocks. Thus, nurturing diversity, a diverse group of scholars will most likely strengthen this community, making it more resilient to a very dynamic and changing world. Similarly to the case of coral reefs and their “underdog zooxanthella” that became the “rock star” when they were most needed.
Finally Dr. Baum provided a bonus message, but equally important to the students, a message that was not necessarily delivered verbally but through example. The message is this: whereas it is about performing an epic study of ecology in a remote island or confronting your community in thought but constructive conversation, tenacity, and perseverance are key qualities for an outstanding scholar.
Baum, J.K. and Martin, T.G., 2018. It is time to overcome unconscious bias in ecology. Nature ecology & evolution, 2(2), p.201.
Claar, D.C., Szostek, L., McDevitt-Irwin, J.M., Schanze, J.J. and Baum, J.K., 2018. Global patterns and impacts of El Niño events on coral reefs: A meta-analysis. PloS one, 13(2), p.e0190957.
Courchamp, F. and Bradshaw, C.J., 2018. 100 articles every ecologist should read. Nature ecology & evolution, 2(2), p.395.
The End of Conservation: Jennifer Jacquet (by Duncan Coleman)
May 25, 2018
Assistant professor of environmental studies at NYU, Jennifer Jacquet was my favorite guest speaker. As a student, she was a Sea Shepherd volunteer, manatee intern with Florida Fish & Wildlife, and volunteer shark tank diver at the Vancouver Aquarium. From these experiences, Jacquet unique perspective on marine conservation was informed by animal ethics. She shared my own conviction that conservationists should be protecting species because they contain unique individuals who have the capacity to suffer and whose lives are valuable in and of themselves, not because they are economically or ecologically valuable. From her perspective, the goal of conservation was to reduce the suffering of individuals, especially those that have greater intelligence and emotional capacity than others. This is why she recommended for society to shy away from condemning octopi to aquaculture to satisfy our calamari fix in favor of marine invertebrates like clams, mussels, and limpets.
What was so compelling about Jacquets’ talk was that she made us question why people do conservation at all. My classmates and I were in for a critical ethical self-examination of why we have the goals, language, and approaches that we do in conservation. Unwittingly, we were all making a value judgement when we bought-in to the dominant conservation perspective that, above all, we should be protecting species from going extinct and preserving biodiversity. Jacquet helped me realize an important lesson: that when people make value judgements like this, people are choosing to compromise other considerations as less important.
Conservationists were really saying that ensuring a species does not go extinct was more important than a species quality of life. If we try to understand why this is so, it may stem back to an implicit belief that other species do not desire autonomy, an essential perquisite to a good quality of life, as humans do. Consider, for example, that most conservationists have no issues
with zoo breeding programs designed to keep endangered species extant, at the cost of a reduced quality of life. In Jacquets’ opinion, an animal’s quality of life is not about how “easy” their life is, but about the degree of freedom and autonomy they have. In captivity, an individuals food, mates, social relationships, and environment are human-controlled, giving animal’s little choice. In the wild, the animal is the agent who chooses what they will do, when they will do it, and where. If animal quality of life and animal autonomy was valued more, as it is in Costa Rica, zoos would be replaced by wildlife rehabilitation programs, which only keep species in captivity for the purpose of their release back into the wild.
Likewise, when conservationists make the value judgment that humans should be preserving biodiversity, they compromise species and individuals lives for the “greater good” of the ecosystem. Like Jacquet said, conservationists and animal-welfarists’ can rarely agree on the subject of invasive species like the invasive lionfish. On the one hand, conservationists justify exterminating the lionfish in the Caribbean to return the ecosystems back to their more biodiverse state. On the other, many animal-welfarists’ believe that the lionfish’s life matters just as much as the other species who are endemic there, making their killing wrong, regardless of the ecological harm they wreak. From Jacquets’ perspective, conservationists are compromising their individual lives for the “greater good” of ecosystems. Or, consider sport fishing – what Jacquet calls “trophy fishing”. Like trophy hunting, trophy fishing is often used as a conservation tactic, funneling huge sums of money from the pockets of wealthy elites to protecting species. While this may be effective in the short term, profiting from killing of other being’s compromises not only their lives for the greater good, but more importantly, the value of their lives in general. If conservationists value a fish dead more than it is alive, what hope do we have of protecting them in the long-term?
Jennifer Jacquets’ talk made me think deeply about these and other difficult questions.
Community-Based Natural Resource Management — A Case-Study of the Bahamas: Dan Brumbaugh (by Katherine Moldow)
May 25, 2018
Eloquent, well-rounded and determined — all words I would use to describe Dan Brumbaugh. There are so many reasons for which I strive to be like him in my professional career. Not only does he care about climate mitigation and the hard data surrounding the ‘climate crisis’ but his focus on how to effectively bring together different communities under a similar focus/involved in a MPA project is something I really want to work on as I get older.
To Dan, Marine Protected areas are essential to climate mitigation. As he writes in his report “Greater Effectiveness Through Co-Management of Marine Protected Areas,” they reduce habitat loss and extinction rates as well as avert substantial environmental degradation. Part of Dan’s discussion with our class was on not just the importance of Protected Areas and Marine-Protected Areas, but also on the management issues that come with trying to maintain the policies and help neighboring communities adapt and prosper.
Though MPAs are necessary for the conservation of our marine environment, issues of implementation prove difficult to get around. Additionally, as Dan mentions, the growth of protected-area management practices have not caught up with the increased expansion of protected-areas. This is why: when a marine protected reserve is created, often what happens is people who have been living off the land become legally-deemed poachers. As a result, natives to the area suddenly find themselves unable to support their families because they are no longer allowed to engage and contribute to the fishing industry. Though local communities sometimes respond by upping their tourism industry, thus providing job opportunities to the people who were displaced, these tourism organizations are largely run by people — rich, white males — outside the country. Having an internationally-run tourism industry, specifically in developing countries, consequentially creates discord between the natives and the foreigners who come in and want to further take advantage of the land for tourism purposes. Natives are the ones who make the best guides, and are usually the ones who need the jobs much more-so than the tourism company’s employees do, yet they get the short-end of the stick and normally can’t become employed.
In summary, it is this issue that Dan mentions is necessary to solve for the prosperity of both the natives and the tourist operations. Because, at the end of the day, increasing tourism in areas in the Bahamas will bring in more money for the country that otherwise would be lost with the creation of MPA’s. And we simply need as many MPAs as possible. So, introducing and mediating the cooperation between the two stakeholder groups so that each benefit from an arrangement is of utmost importance — and Dan is doing a fabulous job of encouraging others to help him in the effort to solve this.
Co-management systems: a solution for MPA mismanagement in the Bahamas | Dan Brumbaugh (by Mariaesther Diaz)
May 25, 2018
When a government fails to complete its responsibilities, it is necessary for the affected stakeholders to hold it accountable. This week’s seminar brought Stanford alumni Dan Brumbaugh, who is currently working with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Institute of Marine Science, Santa Cruz. Brumbaugh proposed a solution to the Bahamas’ inadequate marine protected area (MPA) management system: co-management.
The Bahamas have set a goal of having 20% of its waters under a marine protected area system, and while they are halfway there, most of their established protected areas are not being actively managed. Brumbaugh stated that this mismanagement is due to the lack of staffing and budget capacity, deeming their MPAs “paper” protected areas. On top of this stress, there are rising environmental pressures being placed on the protected areas in the region, such as new oil storage and refining facilities.
According to Brumbaugh, implementing a co-management system in the Bahamas would be more effective and beneficial to their protected areas, as well as their local stakeholders. One of the goals of marine protected areas in the Bahamas is to encourage a greater connection between Bahamian people and their local “natural legacies”. Introducing a co-management system would create a greater sense of accountability for the governing agency and foster a working relationship with local community groups and organizations, allowing stakeholders to form the management agency for their protected areas. Additionally, Brumbaugh asserted that a co-management system would enforce governance principles that are crucial for effective management, including legitimacy, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, and capability.
While working in the Bahamas, however, Brumbaugh learned that implementing a co-management system would prove more difficult due to a general consensus about the lack of volunteerism in their communities, a factor that is crucial for establishing a working relationship between the management and governing agencies. His interviews with local conservationists and current management staff revealed that people living in the Bahamas dedicate most of their time to making a living for themselves and their families and thus are not able to participate in stewardship. Instead, they said, the government should hire locals in order to incentivize them to get involved and have the cooperation of stakeholders.
Nonetheless, Brumbaugh remains confident that the implementation of a successful co-management system is possible. When asked if the lack of volunteerism poses too huge a barrier to overcome, and if there may exist a different solution to the mismanagement of protected areas in the Bahamas, Brumbaugh responded that he has confidence in the co-management system. He cited similar circumstances in both Southern Belize and Hawai’i, where co-management systems are successfully used to oversee their protected areas. Additionally, he commented that while speaking directly to community members he learned that they do have an openness to new management ideas and care about their protected areas, but they need the correct, non-monetary incentives to drive stewardship, such as public awards for participation and acquirement of public positions or titles.
Brumbaugh described that the next steps for implementing a co-management system in the Bahamas, after consulting with the local communities and organizations, are establishing partnership agreements with governing agencies, investing in the system in terms of staff and budget, and building towards a multi-stakeholders co-management model. A co-management system is expected to bring both ecological and social benefits, as well as provide the people of the Bahamas a path to stewardship and greater say over the management of their resources.
A Warming Arctic: The Emergence of a New Sea | Fran Ulmer (by Jamie Leonard)
May 18, 2018
For the first time in human history, we are watching an entirely new ocean develop. This past week, Fran Ulmer, a visiting professor at Stanford, came down to Hopkins to lecture about this – the changing Arctic and its implications. Fran’s accomplishments and experiences are inspiring. She has been a successful politician in Alaska, a member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, a special advisor on Arctic Science and Policy to Secretary of State John Kerry, and the Chair of the US Arctic Research Commission, among much else. I am taking Marine Conservation Biology via live stream, so I only join the class for the afternoon lectures and discussions. Previous lectures tended to be interdisciplinary, but with a focus on marine science; Fran’s talk was also certainly interdisciplinary, but she focused particularly on policy. As a freshman, I have no idea what I want to pursue after school, but I am interested in both science and policy, so it was great to be able to hear from a speaker focused more on policy. I felt especially lucky to hear from Fran, who is such a knowledgeable and engaging speaker. Fran spoke about how she has toed the line between policy and science, receiving “additional degrees” in topics like fisheries science through her experience as a politician, working with communities of specialists. The possibility of being able to combine policy and science in my career, as Fran has done so successfully, is very appealing to me, and one I have not often had the chance to consider.
Fran began her talk by summarizing the accepted science concerning how the Arctic is changing. Temperatures are rising around the world, but in the Arctic they are rising especially fast: about twice the global average. With warming temperatures, sea ice is rapidly declining, and so ecosystems are changing drastically. These changes put immense stress on ice-dependent species like walruses and polar bears. Factors like rising sea levels and melting permafrost put heavy stress on human communities, too, particularly indigenous ones who have been living on the land in the area for millennia. These communities, who are, to a large extent, least responsible for the changing environment, are, in many ways, being affected most harshly by it. Additionally, many
feedback loops – related to albedo as well as melting permafrost, for example – are speeding up changes in the Arctic. Fran’s described herself as a “translator,” and her ability to concisely, clearly, and engagingly communicate the science behind the changing Arctic was incredible, setting up the real focus of the talk – social and geopolitical consequences of a warming Arctic – perfectly.
As the Arctic melts, Fran explained, a new, “fifth ocean,” is opening up. This is unprecedented and will set up new opportunities for shipping, tourism, and oil and gas exploration and production, for example. In Fran’s role for the federal government, she focused on how the U.S. can keep up with the rest of the world as this new ocean emerges. Both Russia and China are investing heavily in research and infrastructure in the area. The U.S. seems to be lagging. Russia has 44 icebreakers, she noted, and Finland, with a population less than 2% of the U.S.’s, has 13 icebreakers. The U.S. has one big icebreaker and one medium one. Fran has advocated and continues to advocate for more U.S. investment in research and infrastructure in the area. Finally, Fran spoke about the developing state of international governance in the Arctic. The Arctic is unlike Antarctica, which has a governing international treaty. Despite several bodies like the Arctic Council, governance of the Arctic is very much a work in process.
In sum, Fran’s lecture was both deeply enlightening and absorbing. To be able to listen to her, and then to ask question and talk with her after, was a privilege. Fran – as a policy-maker, lawyer, science communicator, mother, and, clearly, a thoughtful, intelligent, altruistic individual – is an inspiration. As she spoke about the fulfillment she gained from combining science, policy, and outreach to solve real problems, she made me want to follow in her footsteps
Arctic Research and Policy: Fran Ulmer (by Miranda Vogt)
May 18, 2018
Fran Ulmer is the kind of person we all strive to be: driven, full of passion to make meaningful change, and absolutely limitless. It was so inspiring to hear Fran speak about her work and experiences because she has never stopped or settled; she came from a small midwestern town, graduated the University of Wisconsin with a double major in economics and political science, then decided that she wanted to go back for a law degree to open more doors and make more change. From there, a fruitful career in public policy blossomed (along the way she became Alaska’s first woman elected to statewide office) and today she serves as chair on the US Arctic Research Commission (appointed by Barack Obama in 2011). She has definitely had a wide variety of experiences, describing her own path to arctic policy as “non-linear”.
Her accomplishments are incredible, but what really sets Fran part form the other amazing and accomplished speakers we’ve had the privilege of talking with during this course is that she’s attacking conservation from a different angle than one we’re all used to. Throughout the class, Larry has urged us to have policy in mind. We’ve heard from many people how marine conservation would get nowhere if it were only scientists doing the research, but Fran was the first person who has talked to us for whom the scientists are the “other players”– something that was really eye-opening for me.
Fran’s talk centered on her work with the US Arctic Research Commission. Before her talk, I didn’t know that much about the arctic (either the research being done there or the governance that controls it). One of the first visuals she showed in her slides was an animation of the rapidly decreasing arctic ice. The gasps from the students sitting next to me as we saw the extreme decline was proof enough of the incredible importance of science communication, something Fran stressed in our conversation after the seminar. But besides just thinking about the science behind why the arctic is an important and rapidly changing landscape, Fran showed us how integral it is to consider who is being affected by the changes. Communities with schools and roads built on permafrost are in danger because of the rising temperatures, sea level rise is already threatening many coastal communities, and arctic species are having to face a dwindling habitat. The arctic is also interesting because it’s such an international arena, as evinced by the Arctic council : 8 countries and 6 indigenous nations have seats at the arctic table and have to work together on issues of development and environmental protection. The international nature of the arctic adds another layer of complexity onto an already multifaceted situation. What I realized listening to Fran talk was that the arctic is experiencing most of the same issues relating to marine conservation that we’ve been learning about in class as relating to American waters– sustainable fishing and biodiversity conservation, global warming, ship strike, drilling and coastal development, etc.– but at a much larger scale and with conflicting governing bodies that all own pieces of the pie. It’s so complex, and it was so enlightening to hear from someone in the thick of it all.
Something that Fran stressed a great deal was the importance of research in the Arctic. As an example, she mentioned that only 10% of the arctic has been charted by modern standards, and with more and more interest in developing arctic shipping lanes it’s imperative that we know things like the best paths to take, and when and where ships are least likely to disturb marine life. As a student interested in pursuing research in biology and possibly marine conservation, this is where I saw myself fitting into the equation. But hearing Fran speak to us really hit home for me that researchers, especially in the arctic, do not exist inside of a bubble, and need to understand and enter into the conversations pertaining to policy. Thinking back to that first visual of the melting sea ice, I’m realizing that scientists really don’t have much time to pop that bubble.
Looking to the Past to See the Future: Celia Smith (by Osanna Drake)
May 11, 2018
Connection to the world is what science is all about. This is often forgotten in the mad dash to study and discover and publish, but in many fields such as ecology, it is extremely important that we remember this. Understanding the systems we integrate ourselves with and how they function is essential for allowing us to manage them. There is so much gatekeeping around conservation, frequently alienating the very communities who hold the biggest stakes, under the (clearly incorrect) assumption that they are incapable of understanding or caring for their own natural spaces. Removing elitism from the scientific world, and actively including community members in the discussion is an issue many professionals are still unaware of. This is doubly important, as scientists from America and Europe have been known to insert themselves in nations with a vast abundance of natural wealth and lay claim to it in the name of research. While these foreign experts may arrive with good intent, it is quite common for them to be ignorant or dismissive of the native people and culture and thus perpetuate the colonialism that has violated these nations in the past. This is unacceptable, and also unproductive: leading to distrust between groups that share a common goal. While it is imperative that we as scientists in the U.S. understand these dynamics and consciously address them when working overseas, another even larger challenge is increasing the number of scientists from those countries themselves.
When beginning her lecture, Celia’s paid tribute to her incredible mentor Isabella Abbott. “Izzy” was a world renowned marine botanist specializing in algae. Despite facing enormous barriers, she worked her way to become the first Hawaiian woman with a Ph.D, as well as Stanford’s first Hawaiian professor. She discovered and described over half of all Hawaii’s algae, and wrote the manuscript that to this day is considered the most important book in the field. She was an incredible scientist, but more importantly, she was an incredible person. Izzy cultivated an appreciation for the natural world within her community, understanding that science and culture are tightly linked. She would frequently lead events to teach community members about various species of algae and how they can be cooked and used in daily life. She was so beloved that after her death, the residents of Hana began an annual festival in her honor. In addition to linking science and culture, the celebration raises money for a scholarship so that a student in the community can go to college. In this way, the work of Izzy Abbott continues to live on. It’s no wonder why Celia Smith choked back tears while describing her.
For the remainder of the lecture, Celia focused on the impacts of nutrient overload on algal blooms and ecosystem composition at large. Despite being a fairly technical subject, she delivered her entire presentation in a way the entire audience could enjoy. Her words were understood and appreciated by global experts and novices alike, neither feeling confused or condescended to. Listening to her speak, you could tell she was speaking, not to a group of experts, but to a group of people. I say that with the utmost admiration. Just like her words, Celia’s experiments were elegant, powerful, and most importantly, practical. All the conclusions she drew from her work can be put to use by managers to better improve the health and prosperity of the islands, the reefs, and the people. Celia’s seminar began with a woman from the past, who inspired women of the present, who I know will inspire women of the future.
A Bahama Backdrop: Stephanie Green (by Mehr Kumar)
May 4, 2018
Last week, we had the great fortune of spending the day with Stephanie Green, a researcher at the Center for Ocean Solutions. While she was here to give a seminar on the work she has been doing for the last five years on the lionfish invasion in the Bahamas, it was clear that she had a lot of wisdom to share—beyond the science.
In the first few minutes, she posed a question: what makes someone a collaborator and what makes someone an ally? We mumbled to each other for a few minutes, these are terms most of us had never compared the two terms. Could you be a collaborator without being an ally? Does a collaborator imply a task-based mindset while allies are focused on a large-scale movement? Does being an ally to a cause inform your work as a collaborator? Is it more important in the context of marine conservation—a global affair—to be an ally first and a collaborator second?
Suddenly, it all clicked into place: there’s so much more to doing the science.
It’s not just about the science that you want to do or can do, it’s about informing your thought process with questions that take into account all aspects of the world around you and shape your mindset in a way that honors all of the delicate interactions you are off to disturb.
I learned so much from Stephanie about the importance of your perspective when initiating a research endeavor. The driver for marine conservation in many ways is its reach into human issues. Humanity relies on the fishing industry, we created the aquarium fish trade, we use the beaches for recreation, and the highest densities of our livelihoods are centered at the coasts. In marine conservation, so much of the research you do is geared towards driving change to aid the conservation effort. But sometimes the people who want to do the science are not the perfect people for the job.
For Stephanie, that meant treating the Bahamas as much more than a backdrop or setting for her study—she needed to understand the Bahamas as a living, breathing context for her questions. And for that, you have to do the legwork. She talked to conservation organizations, fisheries managers, government organizations, other scientists, and many other stakeholders to get a holistic view of the problem as it existed in that space. Striking that balance means balancing and integrating our focus on scientific efforts and benefits to humans in a way that does justice to every working gear in the system.
Stephanie’s work and words resonated with me because I learned more than simply information: I learned what questions need to be asked, and where it was my place to ask those questions. Is it appropriate for a Northern American scientist to design research to aid a different geographic region, even if there is a problem that needs to be solved? Whose place is it to identify problems and seek help? When is it a good idea to volunteer help?
More than anything, her original question has really framed my thinking: when we talk about marine conservation, we need to think beyond science and beyond being research or policy collaborators and focus on offering ourselves and our skills as allies, in every and any which way we can. And thanks to Stephanie Green, I have new words to live by: how can I offer myself as an ally in this context?
Humanity and the Sea: The Caribbean Lionfish Invasion | Stephanie Green (by Laura Anderson)
May 4, 2018
Our conversation with Stephanie Green in Marine Conservation Biology highlighted the
significance of understanding human beings as fundamentally intertwined with ecosystems. Including humans in the definition of ecosystems – and by extension ecosystem-based management – is something that can initially seem abstract, particularly through the lens of scientific research. Her early work on the lionfish invasion, like the work of many marine ecologists, focused on understanding and modeling population dynamics and biodiversity shifts of the ocean environment. The models contributed to realistic goals of how to manage the expanding lionfish population, leading to the conclusion that eradication wasn’t possible and population suppression was the most feasible solution.
While Stephanie’s research on the early invasion was a prime example of a marine
ecological study, what really inspired me about her work was her ability to connect her findings with the larger Caribbean ecosystem, specifically the ecosystem including humans. She remained conscious throughout her research of the deeply personal connection that citizens had with the ocean. In this case, not only would native fish be greatly impacted by the lionfish invasion, but so to would the way of life of local citizens. Stephanie used her ability as a scientist and researcher in her collaborations to provide enough scientific information about the lionfish invasion so that communities could plan and enact change. Through events like lionfish derbies, some communities were able to lower lionfish density by almost 70%, a great example of the power of human engagement in marine ecosystems. I think human beings are at their best when they are working towards a common goal, and the lionfish population suppression efforts brought together a broad swath of humanity — commercial spearfishers and conservationists and divers and people who had never eaten fish in their lives – to work together towards preserving the natural landscape of the Caribbean.
One thing Stephanie said that really resonated with me was in the context of her
experience diving on the reef. She said, “As a scientist, you often have opportunities to go to places and see things that most people don’t get to see.” This statement at first seemed
relatively straightforward and intuitive, but thinking about it more has shed some light on why I found her work so inspiring. Both in her understanding of the human connection of ecosystems and in her work with citizen science and science communication, Stephanie recognizes that the role of scientists in marine conservation efforts isn’t to take knowledge and hide it away within the confines of academia, but to share that knowledge with the world. Particularly with conservation science, it is easy to become cynical about the negative impact of humans on the environment. But by sharing knowledge and empowering all humans to engage with the ecosystems that they fundamentally belong to, we can do much more together than we ever could on our own. As Stephanie’s work shows, there is great power in collaboration, respect and bringing together the strengths of a community and world towards a shared goal.
The Concept of Tipping Points: Carrie Kappel (by Hailey Deres)
April 20, 2018
This week, Marine Conservation Biology had the opportunity to hear a lecture from Carrie Kappel, a Hopkins alum now based in Santa Barbara and the exact person I want to be when I grow up. She gained experience as an ecology researcher while working in the lab of Fiorenza Micheli, but that has since shifted toward work focused on management strategies. As a principal investigator, Dr. Kappel focused on the idea of tipping points, specifically in the context of coral reefs in Hawai’i and Haida Gwaii. By working in conjunction with community leaders, fisheries managers, and marine conservation advocates on state and federal levels, Dr. Kappel and her cohort of scientists researched the state of productive yet fragile ecosystems. With this research, they developed the Ocean Tipping Points Project, a comprehensive project focused on understanding tipping points in marine environments and preventing them from being reached.
But, what is a tipping point? It’s a complex term, but it is an important measure for understanding natural and anthropogenic alterations to environmental systems. Tipping points arise from the nonlinearity of most biological processes, and once a critical threshold has been reached, it takes intense management and mitigation efforts to bring it back to the “initial” conditions, whatever those may be. For marine environments, tipping points are most often mentioned in the context of overfishing. In Haida Gwaii, Dr. Kappel focused on herring. For the people of the Haida Nation, herring eggs are an important cultural food source, and fishermen in British Columbia harvest the adults in large numbers. This coupled effect caused fish populations to decline significantly, and the state of the ecosystem has changed as a result. Whereas there was once heterogeneity in the population density of herring, variation has declined in recent years, and the recovery has only been limited thus far. A similar problem can be seen in Hawai’i. Coral reefs can reach a tipping point that, once crossed, pushes them from a coral dominated ecosystem to one dominated by algae and seagrass. Coral reefs are culturally and economically important for Hawai’i, so the declining state of reefs is hitting especially hard. Leaders from the community through the federal levels are currently working together to gather data and develop effective management strategies, but the work is far from complete. This is the trouble with tipping points; it’s much easier to cause the problem than to fix it.
What especially fascinates me is the intersection of tipping points with the idea of shifting baselines. We only know tipping points relative to our shifting baselines, or the metric by which we compare environmental changes to. It’s what we’re used to. If a tipping point is crossed and the system is fundamentally altered, does that become our new normal? And what conditions will we then be working to achieve once more? As mentioned before, tipping points are complex, and the thresholds for change are ever-shifting. We never really know that we have crossed one until it’s too late. Proactive alterations to behavior tend to be cheaper and more effective than retroactive scrambling, but motivation is difficult. This sounds depressing, but that’s because it kind of is. However, there are people like Dr. Kappel making real change in the world to create a healthier planet. She is an inspiration for us to look toward as she continues to trailblaze through the field. With guidance from those like Dr. Kappel, we can all make efforts to slow the rate at which earth systems cross tipping points. We still have time to help the state of out planet.
Ocean Tipping Points Project: Carrie Kappel (by Andy Meislin)
April 20, 2018
Carrie’s presentation covered a lot of information, and gave me insight into many issues within marine conservation. Of note, I enjoyed hearing about the science behind tipping points and her collaborative processes with other scientists, policy makers, governments, and industry stakeholders. In our discussion after her presentation, she presented an appealing picture of her work and how she fit it into her life and interests.
One of the things that particularly interested me was her ability to move between people and projects with such ease. Her work spans through an enormous range of ecosystems, people, and stakeholders, and she presented her work as something that always keeps her learning new things, which I loved hearing about. Since sometimes I feel like I’m interested in too many things, and don’t have enough time to address all of my interests, Carrie’s work really spoke to me both in terms of important subject matter, and in being able to satisfy curiosities for many different facets of life. For example, in her work in Canada, she was able to work with fisheries, the government, local tribes, and anthropologists in order to gain a more holistic approach to conserving a species that so many people want to thrive. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and so being able to take into account as many different factors as possible when considering conservation actions is particularly interesting to me, and something that I felt Carrie did an amazing job of in her work.
Another thing I found fascinating about the talk was the science behind tipping points. It surprised me to find out that about half of all ecosystems have non-linear trajectories in regards to disturbances. The fact that we could be heading towards a tipping point in many ecosystems, without having the slightest idea about it, concerns me a lot. Because tipping points are usually only found after one has been crossed, it makes effective conservation tactics even more difficult than in a linear system. A system could look linear until a tipping point is crossed, and by then it is too late to prevent tipping over the edge. Another thing that confounds where tipping points may be found is the fact that with changes in the environment, the tipping point could change for a particular ecosystem. Since no ecosystem is in a static environment, environmental shifts could push the ecosystem closer or further away from a tipping point, so even if we know where a tipping point was for a particular ecosystem 20 years ago, it could be different today, or different in another 20 years. Once an ecosystem transitions from the original state to another state, sometimes getting back to the first stable state is quite difficult due to hysteresis, and so industries will set up to take advantage of the new stable state (for example: in southern California, shellfish fisheries don’t want otters to come establish themselves on the coastline there, because return of the kelp forests would drastically decrease the amount of shellfish available for fishing). Once an industry has been set up, it provides more pushback for restoring an ecosystem to the previous state. The complexity that determines the state of an ecosystem is fascinating, and I’m glad that we were able to have Carrie come speak on the topic.
Climate, Fishing, and Marine Food Webs: Rebecca Selden (by Niza Contreras)
April 13, 2018
Simultaneously complicated and straightforward. That’s how I felt about the work Rebecca Selden presented on earlier this month in front of students and faculty at Hopkins Marine Station. Maybe that makes perfect sense to you, or maybe it seems like complete nonsense. Either way, let me explain.
Complicated. With any question that involves underwater species, population assessments, human dimensions, and climate change, there is bound to be complication. After just reading Rebecca’s paper about thermal affinity in key predators, I was impressed by all of the variables that she addressed and attempted to control for. I was further impressed to learn in her presentation about other issues she has focuses on that are equally as complex: how changes in top trophic levels can have large impacts on lower trophic levels; how warming oceans lead to predators encountering potential prey species they’ve never interacted with before; and how changing ocean temperatures may cause shifts in ranges of the target species for fisheries across the country and the world. What astounded me was how effectively Rebecca and her team were able to use large data sets and numerical approximations to produce viable models for things like habitat ranges for different fish and how those ranges could potentially shift with changes in temperature, all based on the scientific understanding of how each fish species reacts to changes in water temperature. My level of amazement was possibly due to the fact that I have a hard time wrapping my head around complicated mathematical formulas or R code, so seeing people not only combine these things with biological aspects (in this specific case, thermal affinity), but produce large-scale results (graphics mapping the changes in species overlap with increased water temperature) with real-world implications, is really impressive.
Now to address “straightforward”. I say this not because the work Rebecca and her fellow scientists did was in any means simple or easy. I feel like the general population tends to lump scientific advancements in to one of two extremes: huge, ground-breaking discoveries the they care about (think gravity, penicillin, electricity), and very specific, seemingly unimportant discoveries that they don’t care about (e.g. did you know Lottia scabra doesn’t actually follow it’s mucus trail home?). What tends to fascinate me is science that falls between the ends of the spectrum — not necessarily headliners, but not topics that are a little too obscure for me to connect with easily. All of the topics Rebecca talked about were not only fascinating to me, but I could immediately identify their scientific and global importance. They were straightforward in terms of why they were important, why Rebecca and her team chose to focus on them, and why they should be studied further. As a student just entering the academic and professional scientific field, it can be easy to think that everything has been done before. It’s powerful to learn about how seemingly straightforward issues are still constantly being addressed, figured out, and in some cases going unsolved. If you ever worry about running out of new scientific questions, never fear.
June 26, 2017
Here are links to the four short films the class made for their projects this year.
Christina Savvides https://youtu.be/7DzkDSAOsTU
Judith Santano https://youtu.be/saYttHEcdmE
Madison Pobis https://youtu.be/yKhOBEhZ3cw
Neil Nathan https://youtu.be/Qfk84PNNpQE
Ross Sea MPA: Cassandra Brooks and John B. Weller (by Judith Santano)
June 12, 2017
Cassandra Brooks and John Weller were two of my favorite speakers from the seminar series. From the very beginning of their talk, they kept the audience engaged and I was blown away by their skills as speakers. Ever since becoming a tour guide on main campus, and realizing that science communication is something that I am passionate about, I’ve tried to pay attention to the ways that people tell their own stories. Cassandra and John are both aware that in order to tell a story you have to engage your audience with emotions. John started with a story from when he was diving in Antarctica and almost died because he was sound blasted by a seal. The way he spoke about the Ross Sea showed how enamored he is with that part of the world, and made everyone else fall in love with it, even if it was just for that hour. This story grabbed everyone’s attention and allowed for the message of their presentation to strongly resonate with those in the crowd. However, Cassandra and John were also very conscious of who their audience were, and integrated both story and data into their presentation.
One of the strongest parts of their presentation was the fact that they both integrated their personal connection to the Ross Sea. Cassandra spoke of all the time she has spent researching the toothfish fisheries and John captivated the audience with his awe-inspiring photos. They also arranged their presentation in a way such that you empathized with the struggles they spoke about and felt accomplished when they ended with the success they recently had in creating an MPA in the Ross Sea. It was inspiring to hear of a story that temporarily has a happy ending. They acknowledged that there is still work to be done, but that progress in conservation is possible, and that we need to keep fighting for what we believe in. I appreciated their presentation because it reminded me of just how effective storytelling can be.
Hearing their stories of how they got to the point in their careers that they are now was also very inspiring to hear. The discussion on the pros and cons to a PhD is one that has come up multiple times when talking with the seminar speakers. One of the main reasons as to why I personally want a PhD is so that I can have credibility in the scientific community. It was validating to hear Cassandra say that she was motivated to get her PhD because she was not taken seriously by others, even when she had 10 years of experience under her belt. However, it was also motivating to hear John talk about how much of an impact he’s had without a PhD. It was also validating to hear that science communication is something that they care about, and that they feel it is necessary to focus on it. They definitely gave me some insight as to what a career in science communication could look like.
Coral reef conservation: Jeremy Jackson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (by Christina Savvides)
June 12, 2017
On Friday May 5th, Dr. Jeremy Jackson visited Hopkins Marine Station to discuss his research and visit with our marine conservation class. In the field of marine conservation, Dr. Jackson is a force to be reckoned with. Dr. Jackson has pioneered the field of “historical ecology” of marine ecosystems, and has studied the interaction of humans or marine environments over long time periods. Dr. Jackson started his careers in the coral reefs of Jamaica, which used to be considered among the most pristine reefs in the world. However overfishing of the reefs in Jamaica undermined their resiliency, and between the 1970s-1990s the coral reefs of Jamaica had a catastrophic bleaching and decline. The most emotionally persuasive moment in Dr. Jackson’s talk was when he talked about the devastation of realizing the ecological system he spent his career studying no longer existed.
Overfishing undermines the resiliency of reefs because many of the species humans fish are grazers like the parrotfish that consume seaweed growing near coral reefs. Corals and seaweeds abundance are in equilibrium in most reefs, however, once the grazers are depleted, seaweeds can overtake and outcompete the corals. Climate change and human impact further stress corals, and decrease their ability to persist in changing environments.
Because much of Dr. Jackson’s research involved studying the decline of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, he garnered the nickname “Dr. Doom.” Given this knowledge before his talk, I along with many of my classmates were expecting a rather bleak seminar. However, the talk Dr. Jackson gave contained immense hope. With proper management of fisheries and coastal management strategies to mitigate human impact, Dr. Jackson believes we can help preserve the world’s coral reefs. As Dr. Jackson said during the discussion, “It is not about changing coral reefs, it is about changing human behavior.”
Dr. Jackson also spoke about the importance of being involved in politics, and making your voice heard as a “public” scientist. In other words, all of scientists’ immense knowledge cannot solely exist in the ivory tower of academia: it must be distributed to the public. To that end Dr. Jackson gives guest lectures at the elementary school in his hometown in Maine, which is primarily still a fishing community, about the importance of sustainability in fishing. He also routinely meets with government officials to discuss environmental issues. Dr. Jackson encouraged us to reach out to our representatives and make it known that when we vote we care about environmental policy.