Dr. Sylvia Earle: Can Marine Migratory Species Thrive in the Face of Consumption?
January 10, 2017
We are proud to collaborate with James Ketchum, shark expert at UC Davis and core member of the MigraMar network. MigraMar is committed to conducting scientific research to better understand and safeguard healthy populations of marine migratory species in the Eastern Pacific. For the past decade, James has studied shark ecology in the Gulf of California and shark movement patterns in Malpelo Island in Colombia and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. He is hopeful that his work will provide answers to where, why, and how sharks move and develop an alternative method for marine conservation with application to other regions and environments. Learn more about the important work of MigraMar from Dr. Sylvia Earle below!
By: Dr. Sylvia Earle
Our Earth is defined by an ocean that was once considered unfathomable in its depths and diversity. However, our ingenious species has now plumbed those depths and labeled and hunted much of the diversity. Our ability to find schools of fish, rake ocean floors, and farm saltwater species has nourished us and fostered our propagation along ocean shores. Yet this manipulation of species populations, and our proven ability to deprive some species of their very existence, is shortsighted, lacking the ability to anticipate wider consequences and the impact the paucity we are creating will have on our own ability to thrive.
For the past few decades our consumption has surpassed the ocean’s capacity to restore itself. Humans catch fish needed for our sustenance, but along the way kill hundreds of species through bycatch and habitat destruction. We don’t destroy just one generation, but by focusing on large reproductively fertile animals, we ensure ongoing population declines. We can also learn from our experience in causing major fishery collapses as fish populations crash. These events destroy livelihoods and economies. They also lead to population declines in countless species in the trophic chain that depended upon that fish population. The numerous malnourished sea lion pups washing up on California beaches and the lack of breeding in blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos were both connected to the crash of the Pacific sardine populations in 2014.
The Eastern Pacific teems with life and nature’s complex interactions. Gray whales migrate from Canada to Baja to calve, whale sharks cross the Pacific to spend time along coastal islands, scalloped hammerheads maintain home ranges here while in tragic decline across the globe. Green turtles, tiger sharks and albatross, all highly migratory species, rely on the Eastern Pacific Ocean for part—or all—of their life cycle. For millennia, nature’s intricate interrelationships allowed these species to flourish while moving through the seas, building a complex web that we have yet to understand and adequately protect. Today, these highly migratory species are experiencing severe population declines in oceans around the world, including the Eastern Pacific.
Science plays a key role in identifying the most important marine areas for biodiversity. Protecting these areas as marine reserves, both national and transboundary, is an imperative investment—spots of hope to save the blue heart of our planet. The role migratory species play in supporting marine ecological functions and how we can safeguard continued migrations are key questions for those of us committed to sharing our planet with other life forms. The recognition that national borders are irrelevant for transboundary species raises important questions of linking marine reserves, creating corridors or “swimways” and otherwise improving ocean management. Science also informs new conservation tools needed to reverse these tragic population declines. Areas of safe passage, changes to fishing equipment, no take zones in nursery areas, seasonal protection for spawning aggregations—these conservation tools emerged from research that provided a greater understanding of the needs of species, and the threats facing them.
The MigraMar scientific network enhances our knowledge of these amazing migratory species. Their research informs and enhances recommendations to conserve key areas and reduce the cavalcade of unrelenting hooks, nets, lines, and trawlers that threaten species’ lives every single day and night. MigraMar’s science can help fellow species secure safe passage for their migrations and rebuild healthy populations. The ocean is our life support system. The MigraMar network’s scientific research helps us learn about the migratory species that are such a bellwether for our marine environment, so that we can do what we can to save them—and thereby save ourselves.