Three studies recently published in the November 24 special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Science describe the actions resource managers need to take in order to avoid the tipping points that have potentially disastrous ecological, economic, and social consequences. These studies are the initial findings of the Ocean Tipping Points Project.
The Ocean Tipping Points Project, an international research collaboration, focuses on documenting ecological thresholds around the world, and works with local policymakers and stakeholders to develop management strategies to designed to mitigate them.
“In a sea of tipping points, identifying, anticipating, and reacting to sudden ecosystem changes will be critical as we seek to maintain the delivery of the goods and services from our oceans,” NOAA fisheries biologist and co-author Phil Levin said in a news release.
Embracing Thresholds for Better Environmental Management
The first study by scientists at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University and the Environmental Defense Fund found that successful management of systems with known tipping points depends most strongly on three factors:
- Consistent monitoring
- Explicit incorporation of tipping points data into management actions
- Management at small geographic scales
“Managers who use tipping points science are achieving positive results for virtually every kind of ecosystem,” said co-author Ashley Erickson, of the Center for Ocean Solutions. “The findings of our study can help resource managers focus and prioritize their efforts.”
Marine Ecosystem Regime Shifts: Challenges and Opportunities for Ecosystem-Based Management
The second study from NOAA and the University of Hamburg “provides additional guidance for marine managers on how to incorporate the risk of reaching a tipping point into current ecosystem-based management frameworks.” The study shows how to adapt NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) framework for marine environments. This approach helps decision-makers determine the possibility of an ecosystem crossing its threshold, and what the social, economic, and environmental impacts will be.
Human and Natural Drivers of Multiple Coral Reef Regimes Across the Hawaiian Archipelago
In the third study, researchers from the Center for Ocean Solutions, Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Hawai`i, NOAA, and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography identified three distinct regions of the Hawaiian Archipelago reef system: hard corals, turf algae, or macroalgae. Over half the reefs in Hawaii are currently algae-dominated as a result of overfishing and nutrient pollution.
“To safeguard Hawaii’s coral reefs, we need to increase herbivore populations and decrease other human stressors, such as land run-off, that encourage the growth of algae,” said lead author Jean-Baptiste Jouffray of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “By quantifying tipping points this study offers tangible targets for just how much those stressors need to be reduced to avoid regime shifts in healthy reefs and restore those already in decline. For managers working with limited funds and resources, this is critical information.”
To learn more, check out the Ocean Tipping Points website.
Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.