Advances in Understanding Grey Seal Pup Behavior

By Emma Schillerstrom, SRC Intern

Grey seals are pinnipeds which inhabit the North Atlantic Ocean. They were once popularly hunted, and until 1967, grey seal numbers in the North Sea had dwindled to near absence for centuries (Peschko, et al., 2020). Today, the population counts are steadily rising, and they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (Magera, Flemming, Kaschner, Christensen, & Lotze, 2013).

Image of a grey seal pup (Jaan Minakov, CC BY 4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons).


A map of the North Sea (Halava, CC BY-SA 3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons).

After birth, grey seals wean for 15 to 18 days before their mother leaves. After, they are left on their own to undergo a fasting period followed by around 36 days of learning to forage (Peschko, et al., 2020). Researchers in Germany teamed up to investigate how grey seal pups in the southern North Sea disperse during their early stages of life (Peschko, et al., 2020). How they fare during early development determines whether they will survive past their first year of life, join the adult population, and reproduce successfully (Peschko, et al., 2020).

From 2015 to 2017, the scientists glued satellite tags to the backs of 11 grey seals found on Helgoland, a small German island in the North Sea. Each seal was a pup aged around 6 to 8 weeks. These tags provided the position of the seal each time it surfaced and paused data collection when it returned to land. The tags collected environmental data, including the water depth and distance from land, while also keeping track of temporal data, such as the number of weeks passed since the animal was originally tagged.

An aerial view of Helgoland where the seal pups were tagged (Pegasus2, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons).

The researchers were able to innovatively use tag data to understand the seals’ specific behavior patterns. Behavior was assessed using a three-part classification system based on the seal’s velocity and turning angle. High velocity with a low turn angle was classified as “fast travelling”, low velocity travel with a low turn angle was considered to be “slow travelling or resting”, and high turn angle, regardless of velocity, was identified as “foraging”. The tags were removed naturally by the seals’ annual molting (Peschko, et al., 2020).

They discovered that the pups stayed close to the island for the first week before beginning to disperse along coasts. The seals remained in waters shallower than 40 meters until at least four weeks old. The frequency of foraging increased over time until week seven then decreased thereafter. This suggests that the pups hunt more frequently as they develop their skills and less frequently once they have refined their abilities and their efforts become more efficient (Peschko, et al., 2020). Additionally, the distance travelled from the island and the frequency of fast travel increased with age, likely correlated with improved swimming ability (Peschko, et al., 2020).

Characterizing their behavior and habitat use early on is crucial for assessing the population’s adaptability as well as determining what may impact its survival. Pollution, bycatch, oil spills, and heavy boat traffic pose threats to grey seals (Gray Seal Conservation and Management, n.d.). If these anthropogenic hazards occur in an area where young tend to disperse, this could prevent the seals from maturing and reproducing, rapidly sending the population toward extinction. Therefore, knowing how the young disperse allows for more-informed conservation efforts to be established.


Works Cited

Gray Seal Conservation and Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Magera, A., Flemming, J., Kaschner, K., Christensen, L., & Lotze, H. (2013). Recovery Trends in Marine Mammal Populations. PLOS One.

Peschko, V., Muller, S., Schwemmer, P., Merker, M., Lienau, P., Rosenberger, T., . . . Garthe, S. (2020). Wide dispersal of recently weaned grey seal pups in the Southern North Sea. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 1762–1771.

Fishing for Answers: Learning About Fishery Research Volunteers Through Surveys

By Oliver Topel, SRC Intern

Today’s blog revolves around a group of researchers who interviewed volunteers from the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP). Their paper, “Long-term participation in collaborative fisheries research improves angler opinions on marine protected areas,” examines how the volunteers’ time in the program impacts their views on marine protected areas (MPAs). The survey showed a clear relationship between time as a volunteer and perceptions of marine resource value and fishery management. 

Let’s start with a quick little history lesson, shall we? In 1999, California passed the Marine Life Protection Act, which directed the state to increase the protection of their local marine habitats, which led to several marine-focused organizations coming together under this unifying law, and in 2006 the CCFRP was created. The California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program monitors groundfish populations, such as rockfish, groundfish, skates, and rays. It uses the data collected to make future predictions of species diversity and catch rate. According to the article, “Between 2007 and 2016, CCFRP annually surveyed four sets of MPAs along the central coast including Año Nuevo State Marine Reserve (SMR), Point Lobos SMR, Piedras Blancas SMR, and Point Buchon SMR” (Mason et al., 2020).  

While the benefit of the CCFRP is more than evident, what’s not as clear-cut as the volunteers’ perception of the work they do. This where the survey comes in. To conduct this experiment, the researchers distributed a 29-question survey to 722 volunteer anglers in CFRP. The survey consisted of several different types of questions, such as multiple choice and ordinal scale. They were distributed through email in the Spring of 2018 (Mason et al., 2020). The questions themselves ranged from being about CCFRP, MPAs, and personal demographic data about the individual taking the survey. Despite so many recipients, only 15% of the volunteers completed and sent in their survey. A majority of the responses were positive, with volunteers not only believing that the CCFRP is a beneficial organization but that they have learned from and contributed to the work the organization does. To learn more about these results, you can look at Figures 2-4 below.  

Figure 1: From Mason et al. (2020, pg. 2): “Marine Protected Areas in central California monitored by CCFRP between 2007 and 2016”


Figure 2: From Mason et al. (2020, pg. 15): “Predicted probability of CCFRP volunteer anglers having an opinion change on MPAs relative to time”

Overall, this article portrays who CCFRP volunteers are and how they have been affected by the program. Results show that positive change in opinion became significant after an extended time with the program (sometimes up to 7+ years) (Mason et al., 2020). Hopefully, this article, and maybe even this blog, encourages people to volunteer with programs such as the CCFRP and put some real-time in, and you might even have a change of viewpoint.


Work cited

Mason ET, Kellum AN, Chiu JA, Waltz GT, Murray S, Wendt DE, Starr RM, Semmens BX. 2020. Long-term participation in collaborative fisheries research improves angler opinions on marine protected areas. PeerJ 8:e10146. DOI 10.7717/peerj.10146

Genomic vulnerability of a dominant seaweed species points to future-proofing pathways for Australia’s underwater forests

By Rebecca VanArnam, SRC Intern

Endemic to Australia, Phyllospora comosa “is a forest-forming seaweed inhabiting the south-eastern Australian coastline that supports vital ecosystem functions” (Wood, 2021) (Figure 1). Like other species, climate change is causing biological changes within seaweed and seaweed-dependent organisms (Wernberf, 2011). As climate change impacts this seaweed species in Australia, scientists look to find adaptation patterns that the organism may possess. An organism’s genome can be assessed and used to understand how organisms adapt to changing environments.  

Figure 1: A photograph providing an image of Phyllospora comosa at a restoration site. (a) Represents an area that was restored (b) represents donor Phyllospora comosa to the area. [Image source: Coleman, 2017]

The increasing destruction caused by climate change influences scientist’s to perform research and look to find possible solutions while using marine genomics to do so. “Seascape genomics” became a popular tool to assess the seaweed species, Phyllospora comosa, within this study that took place in Australia. Seascape genomics evaluates a species’ spatial movement and dependence on environmental factors, such as climate change, and what role that dependence plays in the structure of an organism’s genomic patterns (Liggins, 2019).  In this study, genetic turnover was measured against sea surface temperature allowing for the further understanding of which genes within Phyllospora comosa are more vulnerable to changing temperatures (Wood, 2021). 

The analysis found that the Phyllospora comosa have relatively high gene flow, which means that their genetic material passes from one population to another, connecting their generations. The results also showed that genetic diversity was lower close to the edges of the species’ range. When linking these results to future climate change and fluctuating temperatures, it became evident that ocean warming is a definite threat to the populations where local adaptation is most likely occurring (Figure 2). This causes the central range, where diversity is highest, to be recognized as the most vulnerable area for the Phyllospora comosa (Wood, 2021).

Figure 2: A close-up photograph of the complexity of Phyllospora comosa [Image source: Wikipedia/ Phyllospora comosa]

Overall, the genetic methods used to analyze this data need to be used further to model patterns that can be developed and used to describe “genetically desirable populations” to protect this critical endemic seaweed. Not only are these methods needed for Phyllospora comosa, rather they have become and should continue to become understood and used as essential resources to help reduce climate change effects (Wood, 2021). 


Works Cited: 

Coleman, M. A., & Wernberg, T. (2017). Forgotten underwater forests: the key role of fucoids on Australian temperate reefs. Ecology and Evolution, 7(20), 8406-8418.

Liggins L., Treml E.A., Riginos C. (2019) Seascape Genomics: Contextualizing Adaptive and Neutral Genomic Variation in the Ocean Environment. In: Oleksiak M., Rajora O. (eds) Population Genomics: Marine Organisms. Population Genomics. Springer, Cham.

Wernberg, Thomas, et al. “Seaweed Communities in Retreat from Ocean Warming.” Current Biology 21.21 (2011): 1828-32. Print.

Wood, Georgina, et al. “Genomic Vulnerability of a Dominant Seaweed Points to Future‐Proofing Pathways for Australia’s Underwater Forests.” Global Change Biology (2021). Print.

2020 Shark Research and Conservation Highlights

2020 was a year for the books! While we were unable to conduct in-person research and outreach for most of the year, we developed new ways of advancing our research and engaging the public. Despite the challenges of 2020, we are proud of what we were able to accomplish and are excited to share some of the highlights with you:

  • We published 9 research papers in scientific journals. These papers ranged in topics from evaluating spatial management options to conserve tiger sharks in the Western North Atlantic Ocean to describing the development of new satellite tagging technologies to remotely monitor animal activity levels across the ocean.
  • In the first months of the year prior to COVID-19, our team brought over 413 Citizen Scientists, mostly school kids, on our research vessels to participate in our hands-on shark science. These participants were of diverse origins, representing 29 countries and another 33 states within America.
  • We tagged 201 sharks, the smallest being a 1.6 ft spiny dogfish shark and the largest being a 15 ft great hammerhead shark.
  • We deployed 37 acoustic tags and 8 satellite tags on sharks of various species, in both Florida and South Africa. We collected 245 vials of plasma, 179 muscle biopsies, and 97 fin clips.
  • 17 of our sharks tagged with conventional ID tags were recaptured: 16 in the USA with 1 in South Africa! 3 of these sharks were originally tagged 6 years prior!

A satellite tagged shark

  • We proudly launched a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion committee comprised of undergraduate, graduate students, staff and faculty to promote racial diversity, equity, and inclusion within our lab and in the scientific community through innovative outreach.
  • Our work was featured in three major television programs, including one show on National Geographic Australia (Save this Shark with Mick Fanning) and two shows on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (Monsters Under The Bridge and ShaqAttack).
  • Our research program Urban Shark was featured on the NBC Today Show with Kerry Sanders. Sanders and his team joined us for a day of fishing off downtown Miami to witness firsthand how close sharks are to a metropolitan city like Miami.
  • SRC’s Dr. Liza Merly was featured in international media discussing squalene from sharks and the development of the COVID -19 vaccine.
  • Our social media platforms connected new audiences, with our Instagram reaching 47,200 total followers, our Twitter reaching 6,217 followers, and our Facebook page reaching over 15,427 followers.
  • We launched a new way for our audiences to engage in science, through “Little Moe” – a new social media platform. Follow Little Moe FB: @LittleMoeShark twitter/insta: @LittleMoe_Shark
  • Four SRC students defended their thesis, including MS student Mitchell Rider, Elana Rusnak, Chelsea Black, and Trish Albano.
  • We presented at 7 conferences and virtual speaking engagements, including Capitol Hill Ocean’s Week and the American Elasmobranch Society Annual Meeting.
  • Despite the significant impact of COVID-19, we were able to finish up our research at De Hoop nature reserve in South Africa.

Students deploying an underwater video in South Africa

  • We participated in the first online version of the Rosenstiel School’s popular Women in Marine Science Day for middle school and high school girls. Over 300 girls attended from schools across the country.
  • We proudly continued collaborations with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to focus on conserving threatened species in the Biscayne Bay Habitat Focus Area. This culminated in a scientific publication documenting growing numbers of critically endangered smalltooth sawfish within coastal waters off Miami.

We are optimistic for 2021 and grateful to our donors, friends, collaborators, followers, and students.We are especially grateful to our active funders and contributors, notably the Batchelor Foundation Inc, Rock the Ocean Foundation, Ruta Maya Coffee, the Isermann Family Foundation, the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, William J. Gallwey, III, Cannon Solutions America, H.W. Wilson Foundation, Interphase Materials, Waterlust, Hook & Tackle, the Ocean Tracking Network, Vineyard Vines, the Alma Jennings Foundation, the Shark Conservation Fund, the International SeaKeepers Society, Give Back Brands Foundation, NOAA, the Hefner Fund, and all generous individuals and groups who have Adopted a Shark.

Directed by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, the Shark Research & Conservation Program (SRC) at the University of Miami conducts cutting-edge shark research while also inspiring scientific literacy and environmental ethics in youth through unique hands-on field research experiences. To impact an even larger audience from across the globe, SRC continues to use a variety of online education tools, including social media, blogs, educational videos and, online curricula. SRC’s science focuses broadly on understanding the effects of environmental change on the behavioral ecology and conservation biology of sharks in a human‐altered world. To learn more, visit



Trophic transfer of microplastics from copepods to jellyfish in the marine environment

By Meagan Ando​, SRC intern

 Our oceans face great threats in this day and age. The list is quite expansive, but one such threat is microplastics. Microplastics are tiny bits of plastic, usually around the size of a sesame seed or smaller, that originate from everyday items such as water bottles or straws that find their way into the ocean (Image 1). Because of their size proximity to plankton, many marine organisms ingest these microplastics unknowingly, which can easily accumulate and be passed through trophic levels from zooplankton to fish and to other larger marine animals (Cole et al., 2013; Farrell and Nelson, 2013). Trophic levels are sequential stages in a food chain that comprises primary producers and subsequent primary, secondary, and sometimes tertiary consumers. Each predator/prey interaction involves a fraction of the amount of energy produced/consumed on the previous trophic level, making it possible for the exchange of these microplastics from level to level. This can be quite alarming, especially if these microplastics end up in the fish you eat for dinner in your home. That’s why the study of microplastic transfer between trophic levels is necessary. Although there was some information known regarding this topic, Costa et al. (2020) set out to answer more questions and fill the gap of knowledge regarding the microplastic transfer among zooplankton. This information about zooplankton was vital due to the fact that they are an important link between the primary producing phytoplankton (Turner, 2004), that use the process of photosynthesis to create energy, and the higher trophic levels (Costa et al., 2020).  

In order to simulate a trophic level transfer system, the group created a simple two-level trophic cascade using the nauplii zooplankton species of the T. fulvus copepod as the prey and the ephyrae stage of the Aurelia species of jellyfish as predator (Costa et al., 2020). We know these species for being easy to study because of their large abundance, ease of culturing methods, and their role as excellent models in the evaluation of microplastic contamination. In short, they exposed the zooplankton nauplii to polyethylene microplastics for 6 hours and then offered to the ephyrae jellyfish for 24 hours in order to simulate the consumption of prey in the wild. The amount of consumed microplastics in the zooplankton were examined and verified using fluorescent microscopes to confirm that the nauplii were contaminated and that there was something for the jellyfish to be polluted with. In order to test the negative side effects of the microplastic contamination in the jellyfish, they evaluated both immobility and pulsation frequency in hopes of shedding some light on what ecotoxicological effects these tiny bits of plastics could have on a predator in a short time. Such results were determined using a recording system along with a video graphic analyzer. Immobility percentages, including those jellyfish that were completely motionless, were recorded, along with the pulsation frequency that was calculated using a recording of pulsations in a time frame of 1 minute (Costa et al., 2020). 

Overall, the results found that the jellyfish had in fact ingested microplastics, confirming this physical trophic transfer (Image 2). Quite interestingly, there were not any significant ecological responses because of the influx of microplastics in the jellyfish population; immobility percentages were not statistically significant, and pulsation frequencies were only slightly decreased (Figure 1). To conclude, this group of researchers found that the trophic transfer of microplastics is clear through the indirect ingestion by predators and is significant in the ocean because of the ability of these jellyfish to carry heavy metals in their gelatinous tissues. Also, they agreed that a longer exposure time frame (over 24 hours) could lead to more visible, measurable ecotoxicological effects (Costa et al., 2020). This information is vital in protecting the health and well-being of not only the oceans and the organisms that inhabit it but also our very own family and friends. We can all help take steps in the reduction of microplastics in the environment by reducing our plastic usage (by using reusable items such as water bottles and bags) and recycling those items in which we use. 

Figure 1: Graphic visual showing the pulsation frequencies between uncontaminated jellyfish and jellyfish containing the contaminated copepods (Costa et al., 2020).

Image 1: Example of everyday plastics found on a beach (Tim Hüfner).

Image 2: Set of images showing the trophic transfer after 24 hours. Image A shows the control jellyfish, completely free of contamination. Images B,C show copepod clusters within the jellyfish with white arrows pointing to the polyethylene microplastics (Costa et al., 2020).

Works cited 

Cole, M., Lindeque, P., Fileman, E., Halsband, C., Goodhead, R., Moger, J., et al. (2013). Microplastic ingestion by zooplankton. Environ. Sci. Technol. ​47, 6646–6655. 

Costa, E., et al. (2020). Trophic transfer of microplastics from copepods to jellyfish in the marine environment. Frontiers in Environmental Science​​. Vol. 8. 

Farrell, P., and Nelson, K. (2013). Trophic level transfer of microplastic: Mytilus edulis ​(L.) to Carcinus maenas ​(L.). Environ. Pollut. ​177, 1–3. 

Tim Hüfner via Unsplash. 

Turner, J. T. (2004). The importance of small planktonic copepods and their roles in pelagic marine food webs. Zool. Stud. ​43, 255–266. 

Social adaptive capacity: How coastal fishers will respond to a changing environment

By Peter Aronson, SRC intern

As a pandemic has devastated the entire planet, scientists warn that the accelerating impacts of climate change in the future could be similar, or worse, as they are anticipated to lower productivity in many ecosystems (Asch et al., 2017). This will lead to severe changes to ecosystem services, with dire consequences for humanity (Vitousek, 1997). In the face of global environmental catastrophe, human societies’ futures will depend on social adaptive capacity: the adjustments to current, perceived, or anticipated social and environmental change (Janssen and Ostrom, 2006). By understanding the roles and extents of what determines social adaptive capacity in different circumstances, actions taken to reduce the impacts of environmental changes can be identified (D’agata et al., 2020). Not much research has been done in this area, so a group of scientists studied the social and ecological determinants of social adaptive capacities for fishing communities in East Africa at multiple scales. 

Coastal fishing communities and other resource-dependent communities will face challenges from climate change in coming years. (Cun, 2020).

Researchers conducted surveys with members of over 650 households across 29 fishing-dependent communities in Madagascar and Kenya. They created a composite index of Adaptive Capacity (AC) which ranks households in AC according to a number of indicators. They then assessed the relationship between the index and several social-economic and environmental determinants that were predicted to affect social adaptive capacity at multiple scales (D’agata et al., 2020). They also observed the ecological conditions and management strategies in adjacent coral reef ecosystems using transects to conduct visual surveys of fish and estimate percent coral coverage. They used this data to assess fish biomass and total percent coral cover for all reefs surrounding villages to determine the overall ecological condition.

Markets and market accessibility can be very economically beneficial to fishers and strengthen their social adaptive capacity. (WikiCommons, 2020).

They found that market accessibility was the most influential factor determining fishers’ AC, with middlemen playing an important role (D’agata, 2020). This was followed by climate stress, which decreased AC by about 20%. They also surveyed households on whether they’d change their fishing activities in response to a hypothetical 50% decrease in fish catch. Overall, 95% of surveyed households would stay in fisheries by fishing at a certain level or changing fishing grounds or gear. Households with higher AC scores were more likely to change fishing gear, fish less, or stop fishing, while those with lower AC scores were more likely to keep fishing or fish more if facing halved catches (D’agata, 2020). Interestingly, ecological conditions were not consistently associated with social adaptive capacity, with an inverse relationship observed for 80% of fisher households (D’agata, 2020). This suggests the relationships within social-ecological systems may be complex and could be promotive of social-ecological traps. Scientists are worried that households with lower social adaptive capacities and better ecological conditions will be tempted to exploit resources faster, which will be beneficial in the short term but will lead to resource degradation and poverty in the long term (Cinner, 2011). Further, communities with higher social adaptive capacity, degraded environments, and low interest in exiting fisheries, can be trapped in poverty due to decreasing ecosystem services (Cinner, 2011). Those in poor social-economic conditions with low social adaptive capacity and a degraded environment may already be trapped in poverty (D’agata, 2020). In the future, similar studies should continue to monitor the complex social-ecological relationships, as global environmental changes will have strong social and ecological impacts (Birkeland, 2015; Cinner et al., 2018).   

Works cited

Asch, R.G., Cheung, W.W.L., and G. Reygondeau. 2017. Future marine ecosystem drivers, biodiversity, and fisheries maximum catch potential in Pacific Island countries and territories under climate change. Mar. Policy.

Birkeland, C. 2015. Coral reefs in the anthropocene. Coral Reefs in the Anthropocene.

Cinner, J.E. 2011. Social-ecological traps in reef fisheries. Glob. Environ. Chang. Part A 21, 835–839.

Cinner, J.E., W. N. Adger, E. H. Allison, M. L. Barnes, K. Brown, P. J. Cohen, S. Gelcich, … and T. H. Morrison. 2018. Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities. Nat. Clim. Chang. 8, 117–123. 

Cun, C. 2020. Kurau fishing village in Central Bangka [Photograph]. WikiCommons.

D’agata, S., E. S. Darling, G. G. Gurney, T. R. McClanahan, A. N. Muthiga, A. Rabearisoa, and J. M. Maina. 2020. Multiscale determinants of social adaptive capacity in small-scale fishing communities. Environmental Science & Policy, 108, 56-66.

Janssen, M.A. and E. Ostrom. 2006. Resilience, vulnerability, and adaptation: a cross-cutting theme of the international human dimensions programme on global environmental change. Glob. Environ. Chang. Part A 16, 237–239. 

Vitousek, P.M. 1997. Human domination of Earth’s ecosystems. Science 277, 494–499.

WikiCommons 2020. The fish market in Mwanza, Lake Victoria [Photograph].

Coral Stress and Conservation

By Morgan Asmussen, SRC intern

The oceans are vital to Earth and its inhabitants as it covers more than seventy percent of the planet and holds about ninety-seven percent of Earth’s water. Climate change, however, is linked to human habits and activity in our daily lives. Climate change occurs with the increase of greenhouse gases due to human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels for sources of heat and energy, the production of industrial products, raising livestock, fertilizing crops and even deforestation (Trenberth 2001). All of these human activities then cause a buildup of greenhouse gases to heat up our atmosphere. With rising composition of gases in the atmosphere causes the ocean to absorb an excess amount of carbon dioxide and methane leading to many consequences specifically impacting the survivability of coral species on a global scale.  

The ocean regulates global climate and makes the Earth habitable for humans and all of its inhabitants. Carbon dioxide levels that have been measured in Earth’s atmosphere have been at an all-time high and most likely ties to human activity (Rogers 2018). The greenhouse effect is then amplified due to the large amount of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane which hold heat within the atmosphere and warm the Earth. Initially this was seen as beneficial for Earth as a large diverse population of species was then able to flourish at warm temperatures. However, as time went on and temperatures continued to rise, the presence of greenhouse gases rose almost thirty percent (Rogers 2018). Earth contains absorbent oceans which trap this heat and prevent it from reaching uninhabitable temperatures. With higher values of carbon dioxide, the chemistry of the ocean then began to alter which inevitably effected its inhabitants. With rising gas comes ocean acidification leading to a decrease in growth rates and structural integrity of coral reefs.

A warming ocean puts more thermal stress on its organisms causing corals to bleach. Raising the oceans’ temperatures just a few degrees Celsius can cause coral to die. It is similar to human response to an unknown threat. Humans produce a fever and attempt to flush the body as rapidly as possible to remove any foreign bodies. Corals do the same when it comes to a rise in temperature of the waters in which they live in. When the temperature of water rises, corals flush out the essential algae within their polyps as a response to the stress. These algae produce food for the corals, therefore, when corals no longer have access to this symbiotic relationship they begin to bleach. With excess bleaching of coral species comes devastation of marine ecosystems and eventually a negative impact to humankind’s lifestyle, food sources, and living environment as these changes will not just be detrimental to corals and other marine species (Poloczanska et al. 2013). 

One of the most widely used procedures of coral conservation and restoration that has been implemented is coral nurseries and transplants which has been utilized to restore coral populations. Coral transplants are a growing practice in which researchers restore old, dead coral with healthy coral grown by humans. Although this has been successful in many locations, scientists found that transplantation of coral fragments is best utilized when there is (1) a “phase shift” within the communities that have been dominated by soft corals and/or macroalgae which limits the hard corals access to sunlight, (2) natural recruitment is limited within the colony at hand, (3) when donor coral colonies are available and healthy, and (4) when the water quality is favorable in order to promote growth and survival of the donor coral (Rinkevich 2005).

Coral Fragment (Source: Meaghan Johnson,

Corals themselves are vital for the ocean’s ecosystems to survive but they also provide many health benefits for humans. It has been found that corals have possible cancer fighting components. For instance, there is currently a drug called prostaglandin that comes from sea fans and another drug called bryostatin that comes from coral rhizomes which also fights cancer. There has been other medicinal product as a result of marine organisms which have helped researchers with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and heart disease. Humankind has only explored about eight percent of all world oceans and it has already provided the human species with so much to benefit their health. There is so much that coral reefs have to offer making them even more vital for not just human survival but all species survival. Coral reefs provide includes their ability to serve as a natural breakwater that protects people from large waves and dangerous cyclones that might have otherwise devastated the United States of America’s coastlines. Coral breakwaters are proven to be better than the ones that man can produce, because they’re growing and rebuilding themselves at all the times (Tobler 2012).

Coral Nursery (Source: NOAA Fisheries,

Thirty-eight million people worldwide are currently employed by the fish industry would then left be jobless if there was a devastation if coral and fish populations which may be a reality on the current path Earth and its atmosphere is on. The Caribbean would lose its main source of income if corals were to disappear which would leave people with nowhere to turn. Even human health would suffer due to the medical benefits that corals provide and the advancements the medical world has found through animal species such as sea cucumbers, jellyfish and as discussed previously, coral. There would be complete disruption of biodiversity most likely resulting in mass extinction throughout the animal kingdom (Richardson 2012). Over 62 million people would no longer have the surge protection that corals provide from rises sea level and numerous other unfathomable losses our planet won’t be able to sustain due to coral extinction. 

Coral restoration and conservation are essential for the survival of ocean ecosystems and human economies worldwide. Practices such as transplants and coral nurseries are necessary procedures in attempt to reverse the anthropogenic effects of climate change. They have become very common within the marine science field and support the recovery of the oceans.

Works Cited

Poloczanska ES, Brown CJ, Sydeman WJ; Kiessling W and Schoeman DS. (2013). Global imprint of climate change on marine life. Nature Climate Change 10:919-925

Rogers JW (2018) Climate Change: Science and Threats. The Ocean Portal 2:1-12

Richardson AJ, Brown CJ, Brander K, Bruno JF and Buckley L. (2012). Climate change and marine life. Biology Letters 8:907-909

Rinkevich, Baruch. “Conservation of Coral Reefs through Active Restoration Measures:  Recent Approaches and Last Decade Progress.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 39, no. 12, 2005, pp. 4333–4342.

Tobler C, Visschers VH and Siegerist M. (2012). Consumers’ knowledge about climate change. Dordrecht 114:189-209

Trenberth KE (2001) Stronger evidence of human influence on climate: The 2001 IPCC assessment. Environment 43:8-10

Teaching Ocean Stewardship through Board Games

By Megan Buras, SRC intern

When you think about ocean conservation, the last thing that probably comes to mind is board games, but scientists from Northern Germany have found a creative way to link the two (Koenigstein et al. 2020). In order to teach students the cognitive skills required to solve marine sustainability problems, they have developed Ocean Limited, an immersive tabletop game that focuses not only on being educational, but linking ocean stewardship to the actions of each individual. Students play as different characters, such as a shipping company CEO, a journalist, the mayor of a coastal town, a commercial fisher, or even an aquaculture farmer. Each character has an objective to accomplish and has specific actions they can take to fulfill their goal. Depending on the players’ choices, their actions can cause environmental impacts. As time progresses, game events occur (ranging from invasive species’ population booms to oil tanker spills) that impact players’ economic activities and income. Mirroring real-world sustainability issues, the game requires players to collaborate to mitigate these negative impacts. When Ocean Limited was play-tested with students in high school and environmental education groups, they found it was very successful at having players actively take part in a way that promotes an understanding of the interdependency of ocean users and their own direct and indirect environmental impacts (Koenigstein et al. 2020).

A group of students play testing Ocean Limited (Source: Koenigsteing et al. 2020)

This game was specifically developed to be played face-to-face to encourage student participation and minimize distractions that digital games often provide (Koenigstein et al. 2020). However, the global pandemic has required educators to be more creative with actively engaging their students at a distance. While Ocean Limited might not be an option for teachers at this time, other digital games focusing on ocean and environmental stewardship exist. FishBanks is an online multiplayer fishery management game that can teach players to manage renewable resources sustainably while tying in economic context (Newton et al. 2015). Games such as Keep Cool and Climate Quest are other online alternatives that focus more on global climate change policies and protecting fragile ecosystems, but still have a strong emphasis on active participation (Creutzig et al. 2020).

FishBanks is a web-based fishery management game where players must find a balance between maximizing profits and sustainably handling fish stocks (Image source: Meritt Thomas on Unsplash)

Through Ocean Limited, these scientists could show that educating people with games provides a direct understanding of complex real-world issues (Koenigstein et al. 2020). As technology advances, it will open more doors of opportunity to expand how we can teach others environmental stewardship in a meaningful and impactful way.

Works cited

Creutzig, F., and F. Kapmeier. 2020. Engage, don’t preach: Active learning triggers climate action. Energy Research & Social Science 70:101779.

Koenigstein, S., L.-H. Hentschel, L. C. Heel, and C. Drinkorn. 2020. A game-based education approach for sustainable ocean development. ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Newton, E. 2015. A Brief Analysis of Fishbanks and Natural Resource Management Decision-Making Simulation Games: Converting a current NRM game into a web-based application.

How Engine Noise Can Protect Marine Protected Area

By Konnor Payne, SRC intern

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are internationally recognized areas of the ocean, with laws in place to protect natural or cultural resources. For instance, the Great Barrier Reef, where goals are to conserve endangered or commercially viable species, promote ecosystem health, and restore species diversity. As of 2018, there were 13,000 MPAs worldwide, contributing to approximately 6.6% of the world’s oceans (Kline et al., 2020). In theory, MPAs provide a haven for habitats of great significance, but in practice, surveying the area to ensure this is costly and resource-demanding. To ensure the laws in an MPA are upheld, either manned surface patrols or aerial patrols are required. Strong enforcement of MPA laws have been associated with a rapid increase in the numbers and density of otherwise targeted species (Kline et al., 2020). However, most methods of monitoring cannot be used every hour of every day, which leaves the MPAs susceptible to illegal fishing and pollution. 

This Marine Protected Area in Australia serves as a sanctuary for the species that live there. (Riccardo Trimeloni via

In this study led by Dr. Kline, a research team proposes a cost-effective and efficient solution to protecting our MPAs. The study tests a passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) system using three acoustic recorders (Soundtrap 3000) which can detect the acoustic signatures produced by the propeller blades and engines of boats. The PAM system was installed in Australia within Cod Grounds Marine Park (CGMP) and Solitary Islands Marine Park National Zone (SIMP NPZ), chosen for their proximity to boat ramps and significant vessel usage. Illegal fishing is known to occur here, as these locations are home to snapper, pearl perch, and yellowtail kingfish (Kline et al., 2020). From July 1st to September 12th, 2018, the PAM recorded the sounds of 41 vessels within CGMP and 34 vessels within SIMP NPZ. By analyzing the acoustics picked up in the water, the researchers could give a rough generalization of the size and behavior of the vessels recorded. They could only accomplish this with strong enough acoustic signatures, which likely excluded vessels that were drowned out by biological noises. 

Illegal fishing counteracts the goals of Marine Protected Areas (Tadeu Jnr via

Patrols were set to maximize vessel detection by being most active during holidays, weekends, lunar cycles, early mornings, and evenings, when infractions were most expected. However, the study found that the vessels within the CGMP in noncompliance were most active on Thursdays and Saturdays on a regular schedule between the hours of 6-11 am AEST. Within the SIMP NPZ, a similar consistent pattern was found on Thursdays between the hours of 3-6 pm AEST. These patterns indicate that people may be taking an extended weekend to capitalize on fishing from Thursday through the weekend (Kline et al., 2020). The incorporation of PAM systems in MPAs to provide the data of where and when illegal vessels are fishing coupled with manned patrols could significantly reduce the illegal activities and boost deterrence. If real-time acoustic systems could be utilized, the acoustic recorders could triangulate the location of vessels within MPA boundaries that would alert the park managers.  

Works Cited 

Jnr, Tadeu. Landscape Photography of Sailing Boat During Golden Hour.

Kline, L. R., DeAngelis, A. I., McBride, C., Rodgers, G. G., Rowell, T. J., Smith, J., … & Van Parijs, S. M. (2020). Sleuthing with sound: Understanding vessel activity in marine protected areas using passive acoustic monitoring. Marine Policy, 120, 104138.

Trimeloni, Riccardo. Body Wave of Water Near Rocks.

The Power of Propagules: Restoring Coastal Marine Ecosystems

By Nina Colagiovanni, SRC intern

As the health and extent of coastal marine ecosystems are at risk worldwide, scientists are working diligently to reverse the damage done. Propagules––structures such as fruits, seeds, larvae and more––act to propagate an organism into the next stage of its life-cycle. They can last from days to months or remain dormant until satisfactory conditions are present. However, scientists are still learning more about how propagules can be used successfully. Research conducted by Vanderklift et al. in 2020 has analyzed the life histories of main habitat-forming taxa in six coastal marine ecosystems: mangrove forests, tidal marshes, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, coral reefs and bivalve reefs. 

But you may wonder, why is this research important? Well, restoration efforts will help increase survival rates of species that cannot thrive in degraded ecosystems. And, in addition, ecological restoration can be a nature-based solution to problems that humans face, such as food security and climate change (Vanderklift et al. 2020).

A mangrove tree in the Florida Keys [Photo by Hayden Dunsel via Unsplash]

One example of propagule usage is mangroves, pictured in Figure 1. Mangrove trees are a diverse group of small trees or shrubs that occur worldwide. Their propagules can float for up to a few days, allowing currents to disperse them, and this is a major advantage (Vanderklift et al. 2020). Mangroves also offer a variety of other traits in which scientists can use to establish restoration techniques, some of which have been used for a long time..

Examples of how propagules are used in restoration [Source: Vanderklift et al. 2020]

Figure 2 shows eight ways in which propagules are prepared and used in restoration. A majority of these methods rely on collection and planting, such as in (a) and (b), while others like (c) use nurseries or aquaria and are more time-consuming (Vanderklift et al. 2020).

This research expressed many challenges faced by scientists. Unlike mangroves, coral reefs––pictured in Figure 3 below––pose a bigger task for scientists. Research has found that while corals regrow from their fragments, it can be both labor-intensive and limiting to specific coral taxa (Vanderklift et al. 2020). While some recovery techniques are worthwhile, they will rarely fully replace a lost habitat (Elliot et al. 2007). But as some of the greatest threats to biodiversity include habitat loss and disturbance, scientists must understand and assess restoration methods (Milbrandt et al. 

A coral reef in the Red Sea [Photo by Francesco Ungaro via Unsplash]

Propagules can restore a large area of a specific ecosystem, as well as be dispersed to different locations. Thus, they are a powerful tool for researchers. Not only does the health and extent of coastal marine ecosystems rely on the locations analyzed in this research, but working to reverse the degradation will also aid in resolving problems that humans face, such as food security, climate change and susceptibility to natural disasters (Vanderklift et al. 2020). While better techniques are still being explored, propagules will continue to aid in coastal marine ecosystem restoration efforts on a global scale.

Works cited

Elliott, M., Burdon, D., Hemingway, K. L., & Apitz, S. E. (2007). Estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystem restoration: confusing management and science–a revision of concepts. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 74(3), 349-366.

Milbrandt, E. C., Thompson, M., Coen, L. D., Grizzle, R. E., & Ward, K. (2015). A multiple habitat restoration strategy in a semi-enclosed Florida embayment, combining hydrologic restoration, mangrove propagule plantings and oyster substrate additions. Ecological Engineering, 83, 394-404.

Vanderklift, M. A., Doropoulos, C., Gorman, D., Leal, I., Minne, A. J., Statton, J., … & Wernberg, T. (2020). Using propagules to restore coastal marine ecosystems. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, 724.