Congratulations to Brown University students Lee Stevens, Morgan Ivens Duran, Carmen Tubbesing, and Veronica Clarkson! Their podcast – I am a scientist - was featured on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog recently. This podcast was the final project for Heather Leslie’s spring 2013 course, Engaged Environmental Scholarship & Communication (ENVS 1965), which she teaches in collaboration with Marty Downs, also of Brown University.
Lab News & Views
May 10, 2012
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May 10, 2012
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One was picked up by Chronicle.com, another by ‘Shark Week’! Nice work, Voss Fellows! See http://blogs.brown.edu/bef/2012/05/03/new-video-from-voss-fellows/
February 21, 2012
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Heather Leslie, an interdisciplinary marine conservation scientist at Brown University, is investigating the importance of incorporating knowledge of humans’ varied connections to the marine environment, and integrating it into ocean policy and management. This post is based on her remarks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Vancouver on February 18. 2012.
Leslie joined a panel of scientists who described the Ocean Health Index (OHI), the first global framework to assess the ocean’s ability to meet our current and future needs. The index encapsulates the diverse benefits people receive from the ocean, including food provision, ocean-based employment, and conservation.
The Ocean Health Index can help us to better understand and act on the knowledge of human-ocean connections. My part in this global project is focused on opportunities created by applying this tool at different geographic scales, from the local to the global. In collaboration with both natural and social science colleagues, I’m asking How does the scale at which the Ocean Health Index is applied create different opportunities for integrating knowledge of human-ocean connections?
A major innovation of our approach is that we explicitly integrate human connections to ocean ecosystems into our assessment of ocean ecosystem health. Humans are part of ocean ecosystems, everywhere. I want to take a moment to unpack this assertion, as it summarizes decades of scholarship and environmental policy and practice.
Different natural and social science fields articulate and analyze human-environment linkages in distinct ways. It is as though we had two plays being put on in tandem, on different stages, or even different theatres.
Traditionally, natural scientists have studied ocean ecosystems as systems separate from human activities and values. This is particularly the case in my own field of ecology, where we focus on the interactions among the animals and plants inhabiting a particular place, and how those relationships are influenced by climate and other environmental factors. Here the ‘actors’ on the stage are the non-human members of the ecosystem, and the plot, who eats whom, and how currents influence growth and persistence of individual animals and populations.
Even those scientists focused on resource management – including fisheries – have traditionally seen as people as largely ‘offstage’, entering the scene as harvesters removing fish from the ocean or gliding above the sea surface as tourists. If and when humans play a role in this narrative, it is largely negative, as sources of environmental impact.
In terms of the social sciences, geographers and some anthropologists, economists, and sociologists have studied connections between humans and the environment for decades. The causes and consequences of decisions by individuals and groups of people, and how laws, economic markets, social organizations, and culture shape those decisions are studied through many different disciplinary lens by social scientists. Often, however, these investigations see fish population as props and the environment as merely a stage, rather than among the actors themselves.
More recently, however, sustainability science has created a common stage on which we can understand the interactions among the human and non human members of ocean ecosystems. The diverse community of sustainability scientists includes ecologists, fisheries scientists, economists, geographers and many others at this very meeting, and has provided a more integrative lens for understanding human-environment interactions.
So what you see with the Ocean Health Index is the first attempt to pull together perhaps the greatest diversity of actors imaginable – organisms that are highly tied to particular ocean places, as well as though that migrate through; local human actors like fishermen, scuba instructors and businesspeople, as well as government entities like the navy. The index allows us to directly integrate and compare among the many, many dimensions of ocean health that these diverse actors impact and are impacted by.
There are two complementary ways this can happen:
First, knowledge of key ecological and social dynamics can more explicitly frame the boundaries of the assessment; and
Second, richer data sources about human-ocean connections – particularly qualitative data that describe human behaviors, perceptions, and preferences – may be more readily integrated into the index application.
To illustrate this first opportunity, I want to introduce you to Cabo Pulmo, a small community in Mexico. Cabo Pulmo is a town of 200 people in the southern part of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, several hours north of the mega resort town of Cabo San Lucas. This community has been the engine behind a startling change in ecosystem health just offshore, in the 72 km2 Cabo Pulmo National Park. Scientists have documented the largest relative change in fish biomass, and of top predators in particular, of any marine reserve studied in the world to date.
Historically the community primarily focused on fishing, but recognizing declines in fish abundance in the early 1990s, community members voluntarily reduced fishing effort close to town and shifted their efforts to ecotourism. Preliminary interviews with community members suggest that sense of place and food production are two key benefits provided by the marine environment, in addition to the recreation and tourism values.
The reasons for these responses to protection involve both ecological and social dynamics, including leadership within the local community and interactions between the community, adjacent towns, the Navy and other federal gov’t entities; as well as shifts in predator-prey dynamics and associated ecosystem processes. In short, mapping the spatial scales of these different processes suggests that if the community of Cabo Pulmo wanted to use our developing tool – the ocean health index – to track changes in ecosystem service provision in an integrated way through time, the extent of the region where ocean health was assessed would be larger than the town and even larger than the park.
Because of knowledge we have of ecosystem and social dynamics in Cabo Pulmo and other places throughout the peopled ocean, we have the opportunity to set the spatial boundaries in a way that’s more informed by the human-ocean ecosystem connections in this region.
Check back to learn more about the Ocean Health Index and how it may be applied in your ocean place.
February 21, 2012
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Heather Leslie joined collaborators engaged in creating the first-ever ‘Ocean Health Index’ in Vancouver, BC last week. Heather was part of an interdisciplinary session describing the new tool for ocean management. See Nicola Jones’ report from Nature on the Index, and earlier coverage from Miller-McCune.
Stay tuned for a description of Heather’s talk…
January 24, 2012
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In January 2012, our research team also visited Cabo Pulmo, a Mexican national park south of La Paz where fish, sharks, and other marine species have made a tremendous comeback in the last decade, following the creation of a 72 km2 no-take marine reserve. While we know a great deal about the ecological success of Cabo Pulmo, we know far less about social, institutional, and historical questions. For example, what were the social and ecological conditions that enabled this recovery? What could we learn about how the diverse perspectives of fishermen, divers, and scientists enable or inhibit such successes?
Driving the two and a half hour drive over increasingly narrow, bumpy roads between La Paz and Cabo Pulmo, I had plenty of time to imagine what we would find at the end of the road. Octavio Aburto, one of our collaborators at Scripps, first studied the reefs of Cabo Pulmo in 1994, while still a student at UABCS, one of Mexico’s premier marine biology programs. He and his colleagues monitored the reef fish communities of Cabo Pulmo in 1999, four years after the local community began to enforce the reserve. They returned to the area in 2009, and were astonished by how the ecosystem had changed. Gulf groupers larger than any seen elsewhere in the Gulf, dense schools of predatory jacks, and numbers of black tip reef sharks and other top predators that rivaled near-pristine reefs elsewhere in the Pacific, like the Line Islands. See the recent article in PloS One to learn more.
Cabo Pulmo, a community of less than 200 people, is the epicenter of these startling ecological changes, and far from ‘pristine.’ Water comes from the sierra, electricity from battery-powered generators sprinkled around town, and fish from fishermen living in neighboring communities fringing the rich, rich waters fringing the ‘East Cape’, as this part of Baja California Sur is known. When we eased off the washboard road that leads to Cabo Pulmo, onto a smoother but still unpaved main road through town, I was struck by the mix of cultures: eco resort meets small town Mexico. Tiendas advertising Cerveza Pacifico, hand labeled signs announcing la comida tipica, were sprinkled among modest houses of cinderblocks and palm frond roofs. We also drove by imposing pastel houses surrounded by barbed wire fences, a number of very skinny cattle, brightly painted dive shops, and many, many signs which declared ‘Welcome to Cabo Pulmo,’ in both English and Spanish.
Leila and I had come to Cabo Pulmo with our colleague Sheila Walsh, senior scientist with The Nature Conservancy, to hoping to hear some of the stories of those who have been involved in the formation of the national park. We heard the stories of the original champions of the reserve, the Castro family, some of whom now lead dive and sport fishing trips for tourists. We watched David pursue the shadowy forms of the sharks with a camera in the surf just south of the town, and spotted the towering, swirling schools of jacks that Octavio Aburto captured on film during his earlier research trips. We also heard tales of conflict among Cabo Pulmo’s fishermen-turned-tourist operators and fishermen from other nearby towns, and how the Navy and other government authorities have enabled the community of Cabo Pulmo to steward the reef.
Working in collaboration with scientists and the Mexican government, the community of Cabo Pulmo is developing a new model for sustainable tourism in southern Baja. The dream, as Judith Castro described it to us, is to maintain the rustic, environmentally friendly atmosphere of the community, and to expand that vision to other towns in the region. Sitting in the twilight in front of her tienda with her three-year old climbing affectionately all over her lap and hearing her passion for the reef and the town, it all seemed possible. But the social changes that enabled the protection and recovery of Cabo Pulmo’s reef have not been easy, she admitted. Recently, the economic and ecological success of Cabo Pulmo has caught the attention of developers and government officials keen to increase this remote part of the peninsula’s draw as an international tourism destination. Only time will tell whether the success of Cabo Pulmo’s reserve is a lasting one, and what that will mean for the people who live in and visit this area.
January 24, 2012
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Leslie Lab members Heather Leslie and Leila Sievanen traveled to La Paz, Mexico earlier this month for fieldwork and meetings with collaborators from Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Gulf of California Marine Program and The Nature Conservancy . The interdisciplinary research team, which includes experts in anthropology, ecology, economics, fisheries, and sustainability science, gathered in this vibrant fishing and tourism center in Baja California Sur, to review initial results of their NSF-funded project, and map out future research focused on small scale fisheries and related ecosystem services provided by the Gulf’s marine ecosystems.
TNC senior scientist Sheila Walsh, a former Leslie Lab postdoctoral research associate, shared the results of the group’s research with leaders of fishing cooperatives, as well as fishermen in the community of Sargento.
Heather, Leila, and Sheila also visited Cabo Pulmo, a Mexican national park south of La Paz where fish, sharks, and other marine species have made a tremendous comeback in the last decade, following the creation of a 72 km2 no-take marine reserve. Working in collaboration with Mexican and American academic groups and Mexican government, the community of Cabo Pulmo is developing a new model for sustainable tourism in southern Baja. Learn more…
This project is funded by NSF’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, with additional support from Brown University’s Environmental Change Initiative and The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Contact the Lead PI, Prof. Heather Leslie, to learn more.
November 14, 2011
This week I find myself in the final location of my trip: Sinaloa. To learn more about the artisanal shrimp fishery here, today I woke up at 4am to experience a day in life of a shrimp fisherman on the Bay of Santa María. This was the last day of shrimp fishing for a week as la “marea muerta” (neap tide, when the tidal current is at a minimum) was approaching. As the shrimp nets must constantly be moving against the current and against the direction of the shrimp to work, the cooperatives forbade their members to fish on these days. In a small boat, we set off to a nearby island and waited for the tide to shift at sunrise. At sunrise, we joined the 20 other boats as we set off from the island and assumed a spot in the bay. After hearing about the violence in the fishery (and on land in the region), corruption in the cooperatives, and the scramble for resources here, I didn’t expect the peacefulness that greeted us on the water.
We arrived at a spot near the two other boats in our team (Don Heraldo fishes with 4 other family members. They compile their catch at the end of the day and share profits equally which helps protect them if one has a bad fishing day) and dropped in a plumb line to test the depth of the water. We then dropped a triangular-shaped sail (la burra) from one side of the boat and the net (suripera) on the other. The suripeda is a special net tied to two poles which extend outward from the boat. Once the net was set, we relaxed, made aguachile (a ceviche made from lemon, hot sauce, salt, and shrimp) and held the net to feel the shrimp dropping inside. The burra drags in the water and pulls the boat along. Once the steady tug of the shrimp falling stopped, we hauled up the net and moved to another spot. Our first haul pulled up about 40 kilos of shrimp, the total catch from the day before, which set a relaxing mood for the rest of the day.
Despite my pleasant day on the water, the shrimp fishery here faces major hurdles if it is to be a sustainable fishery. About 3,000 boats use the bay during the days when shrimp numbers are at peak levels, many fishing cooperatives are a far cry from the political ideal that motivated their existence here in Mexico, and there are many conflicts between inshore and offshore fleets. However, on that sunny day, making aguachile, swimming with dolphins, and waiting for the steady tick tick of the falling shrimp, the struggle for livelihoods on the waters of Sinaloa seems a little more human.
November 11, 2011
October 24, 2011
Day 14. I’m about halfway through my first research trip here in Mexico’s Gulf of California. As an environmental anthropologist, I am interested in how people (scientists, managers, fishermen, and fishing cooperatives) understand and respond to changing conditions in their fisheries. Fisheries management in the Gulf varies a great deal by species and geography. I’ve spent my days so far interviewing fishermen, managers, and fishing cooperative leaders about distinct spots in Baja and the Gulf: La Paz, Loreto, Santa Rosalia, and el Pacifico Norte. The latter spot is one of the few places in region known for its successful fisheries management. The lobster fishery in this spot is the only certified sustainable fishery in this area. Armed with many questions about how things were in this fishery in the past, I had the good fortune to meet with one of the two fishermen still alive from the early days of Punta Abreojos’ fishing cooperative: Don Felix.
To reach Don Felix, we drove from our base of Santa Rosalia, an old mining town on the Gulf, into Baja’s interior. Passing dust tornados in the near distance, we arrived at the cactus-laden ranches from whence Punta Abreojos’ first fishers came. Before permanently settling on the coast, they traveled three days by donkey to reach the lobster-rich waters of the Pacific, and then returned to ranching in San Ignacio. Don Felix told us about the days when lobster were plentiful and labor was scarce, unlike today when many people would like to enter the lucrative lobster and abalone fisheries of the Pacific Norte. He explained that in the 1930s, when the Mexican government granted to fishing cooperatives exclusive access to certain valuable species, their cooperative was issued a large zone, much larger than they have today. In these days, they didn’t guard against outsiders encroaching in their territory, as there was enough to go around and they caught whatever they could sell. It didn’t matter if the lobsters were small or berried, the market could absorb them.
So what instigated the change in management strategies to make it the certified fishery that we see today? Did the community see declines in their stock, did the market demand a certain size of lobster, did the state put certain limits on the fishery? According to Don Felix, these processes intermeshed in the lobster fishery. The number of people entering the fishery increased and more cooperatives formed and were granted their own fishing concessions. As this happened, the fishing concession in Punta Abreojos grew smaller to make room for these new cooperatives. The market also demanded large sizes of lobster and the state imposed a minimum size of lobster. At the same time the community saw the number of lobster diminish so imposed a set of rules for their sustainable capture.
These are several other stories where communities have taken action to create sustainable fisheries in the Gulf. More soon…
For more on the Leslie Lab’s work in Mexico, please see the project website.
October 23, 2011
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On October 5, 2011, three members of our group – Marcy Cockrell, Kara Woo, and Bridgette Black – attended the second annual research conference held by the Research Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine (RARGOM) in Portsmouth, NH. The major theme for the conference was “The nexus between climate change and marine spatial planning.” Below are some thoughts from the meeting.
“More than the hammers and nails”
by Marcy Cockrell
While listening to the talks at the RARGOM conference, it was certainly clear that there is a lot of exciting research happening on coastal and marine spatial planning in the Gulf of Maine! Speaker topics ranged from creating long-term study areas for habitat restoration in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, to modeling the trade-offs and dynamics of human-nature connections, to speaking effectively about science to a lay audience.
While the talks covered a wide range of topics, there was one idea that, at least at some level, connected all of them – we need to include social and economic considerations and engage the stakeholders when developing coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), since CMSP is ultimately about managing the activities of people. CMSP should be adaptive and flexible, stakeholder driven, and should address social and economic, as well as environmental, concerns. Other major topics that pervaded were the impacts and scale of climate change, and developing ecosystem-scale research plans.
Key questions posed included: How do we prepare for a future with rapidly shifting baselines? How do we plan when ecosystems and people don’t behave as expected? What do the stakeholders, and the greater population, want out of marine spatial planning and what does it mean to them?
Ru Morrison, of the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, summed it up nicely when he stated: “What does CSMP mean for the greater population? As with building a house, people don’t talk about the hammers and nails, they talk about the finished house they are going to live in.”
What we do with the hammers and nails of science, management, and policy is certainly important, but we also need to take care to think about the finished product, the whole CMSP house, that is presented to the greater population. It will be exciting to see what develops with CMSP in the Gulf of Maine in the coming years!
“Expanding the toolbox for marine spatial planning”
by Kara Woo
Several presenters at the RARGOM Annual Science Meeting described projects aimed at improving decision support tools for coastal and marine spatial planning. The Marine Integrated Decision Analysis System (MIDAS) for the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership is one such tool. Built around the Multi-scale Integrated Model of Ecosystem Services (MIMES) modeling framework, MIDAS allows users to easily visualize management scenarios and tradeoffs. The Northeast Ocean Data Portal is another resource for those involved in CMSP in the northeastern United States that provides maps, models, and other data to inform management.
As useful as they are, these tools are of less interest to the broader public than the house we build with them, said Ru Morrison of the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS). Many other speakers at the conference addressed stakeholder involvement in marine spatial planning. It will be interesting to see how stakeholders engage with these new resources, and how the tools themselves evolve in order to facilitate stakeholder involvement.
“New Tools Inform Ecosystem-Based Management in Light of Climate Change”
by Bridgette Black
Many of the conference presentations focused on integrated approaches – across disciplines, professional networks, and the diverse ways that humans are connected to marine ecosystems.
Suchi Gopal of Boston University introduced one such integrated approach, the MIMES-MIDAS modeling framework. In assessing the linkages between humans and other components of ocean ecosystems, a number of questions arise: How do we incorporate non-monetary ecosystem services? What does marine spatial planning mean to different and diverse stakeholders? What weight should we give certain system linkages? Gopal called the MIMES-MIDAS tool a “facebook for marine spatial planning,” because it can help elicit diverse stakeholders’ views on ocean activities and management. It should be ready for public use by December 2011.
Later, Michelle LaRocco spoke about how concerns of different stakeholders regarding climate change may be incorporated into CMSP. Informants from many industries she surveyed were at least somewhat concerned about sea level rise and global warming. However, they were more concerned regarding the limits and boundaries CMSP could place on their activities. Michelle argued that as managers we have to make the benefits of CMSP tangible, and create collaborative opportunities for scientists, managers, and stakeholders to work together.
Towards the end of the conference, presentations focused on engaging the community outside of the scientific and management sector. MTPI, a tidal power initiative in Maine, is a great example of a project that aims to incorporate community members to the utmost. Initially, interviews with fishermen were conducted in order to gauge support for the project. It was found that fishermen and other community stakeholders were extremely interested in being involved in the project. Thus, the initiative now incorporates stakeholder meeting and community councils into the project framework in order to ensure the connection between social and ecological system. Now the members of the community feel an ownership for the project and hope to have continued involvement.
Michael Orbach of Duke, a keynote speaker, emphasized the importance of understanding social dynamics around CMSP. CMSP, he argued, is all about allocation, about who gets what. Thus, while ecological science is important, the importance of social and institutional knowledge cannot be understated. The biophysical, the human, and the institutional combine to create a “total ecology” that must be understood in order to move forward in the implementation of CMSP.
September 21, 2011
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Functioning coastal and marine ecosystems produce a wide array of benefits to society, including food production, protection from coastal storms, and opportunities for recreation and tourism. Stewardship to ensure continued provision of these benefits requires understanding the connections between ecosystems and the people who are part of them.
Brown junior faculty Heather Leslie and Sri Nagavarpu just received funding from the US National Science Foundation to explore the interplay between key ecological, economic, and institutional processes related to small-scale fisheries in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Initial support for this project was provided by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Brown’s Environmental Change Initiative.
To sustain fisheries in the gulf, a variety of management tools are under consideration, including marine reserves and other marine protected areas, catch shares, and territorial use rights. Moreover, the expected decentralization of fisheries management due to the recently amended Fisheries Law is anticipated to alter both ecological and socioeconomic dynamics within the region.
Previous scholarship focused on the gulf and other areas with low governance, enforcement, and monitoring capacity often has emphasized ecological or institutional dynamics, but rarely has integrated ecological, economic, and institutional analyses as proposed here. Through the development of an interdisciplinary framework for understanding coastal marine environment-society connections, along with gulf-specific analyses, we will help inform development of innovative marine management strategies in this region and other coastal and marine areas worldwide.
Collaborators on the project include Octavio Aburto-Oropeza (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Leila Sievanen (Brown University), and Sheila Walsh (The Nature Conservancy/Brown University).
To learn more, contact Heather_Leslie@brown.edu or see Heather’s earlier, related work in this area: Leslie, H.M., M. Schlüter, R. Cudney-Bueno, and S. A. Levin. 2009. Modeling responses of the coupled social-ecological systems of the northern Gulf of California to anthropogenic and natural perturbations. Ecological Research 24(3); 505-514.