OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

New tag revolutionizes whale research - and makes them partners in science

NEWPORT, Ore. – A sophisticated new type of “tag” on whales that can record data every second for hours, days and weeks at a time provides a view of whale behavior, biology and travels never before possible, scientists from Oregon State University reported today in a new study.

This “Advanced Dive Behavior,” or ADB tag, has allowed researchers to expand their knowledge of whale ecology to areas deep beneath the sea, over thousands of miles of travel, and outline their interaction with the prey they depend upon for food.

It has even turned whales into scientific colleagues to help understand ocean conditions and climate change.

The findings, just published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, showed sperm whales diving all the way to the sea floor, more than 1000 meters deep, and being submerged for up to 75 minutes. It reported baleen whales lunging after their food; provided a basis to better understand whale reactions to undersea noises such as sonar or seismic exploration; and is helping scientists observe how whales react to changes in water temperature.

The ADB tag is a pretty revolutionary breakthrough,” said Bruce Mate, professor and director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “This provides us a broad picture of whale behavior and ecology that we’ve never had before.

“This technology has even made whales our partners in acquiring data to better understand ocean conditions and climate change,” Mate said. “It gives us vast amounts of new data about water temperatures through space and time, over large distances and in remote locations. We’re learning more about whales, and the whales are helping us to learn more about our own planet.”

The new tag, the researchers say, expands by several orders of magnitude the observations that can be made of whale feeding and behavior. Researchers say it’s showing what whales do while underwater; when, how and where they feed; how they might be affected by passing ships or other noises; and what types of water temperatures they prefer.

In the new study, researchers outlined the continued evolution and improvements made in the ADB technology from 2007-15, in which it was used on sperm, blue and fin whales. The research has been supported by the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Navy and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers.

“By using this technology on three different species, we’ve seen the full range of behavior that is specific to each species,” said Daniel Palacios, a co-author on the study. “Sperm whales, for instance, really like to dive deep, staying down a long time and appearing to forage along the seafloor at times. During summer the baleen whales will feed as much as possible in one area, and then they move on, probably after the prey density gets too low.”

Unlike earlier technology that could not return data from the deep sea for much longer than a day, the new ADB tags are designed to acquire data constantly, for up to seven weeks at a time, before they detach from the whale, float to the surface and are retrieved in the open sea to download data. The retrieval itself is a little tricky – scientists compare it to searching for a hamburger floating in thousands of square miles of open ocean – but it has worked pretty well, thanks to the tags transmitting GPS-quality locations and flashing LED lights once they have released.

The tag can sense water depth, whale movement and body orientation, water temperature and light levels.

“With this system we can acquire much more data at a lower cost, with far less commitment of time by ships and personnel,” said Ladd Irvine, the corresponding author on the study. “This tag type yields amazing results. It’s going to significantly expand what we can accomplish, learning both about whale ecology and the ocean itself.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202

bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu

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Whale with tag


Whale tag 2

Whale with tag

Whale travels
Whale travel and feeding

Wave energy center receives $40 million to construct world’s premier test facility

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center today was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

The NNMREC facility, known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site, or PMEC-SETS, is planned to be operational by 2020. It will be able to test wave energy “converters” that harness the energy of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. Companies around the world are already anticipating construction of the new facility to test and perfect their technologies, OSU officials say.

“We anticipate this will be the world’s most advanced wave energy test facility,” said Belinda Batten, the director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This is a tribute to the support we received from the state of Oregon, and the efforts of many other people who have worked for the past four years – in some cases since the mid-2000s – to see this facility become a reality. It will play an integral role in moving forward on the testing and refinement of wave energy technologies.”

Those technologies, Batten said, are complex and expensive.

“These devices have to perform in hostile ocean conditions; stand up to a 100-year storm; be energy efficient, durable, environmentally benign – and perhaps most important, cost-competitive with other energy sources,” Batten said. “This facility will help answer all of those questions, and is literally the last step before commercialization.”

The DOE award is subject to appropriations, federal officials said today, and will be used to design, permit, and construct an open-water, grid-connected national wave energy testing facility. It will include four grid-connected test berths.

“OSU researchers are already international leaders on several new sources of energy that will be dependable, cost-competitive and efficient,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray.

“This is another enormous step for alternative energy, especially for an energy resource that Oregon is so well-suited to pursue. In coming years this new facility, aided by the assistance of OSU experts, will provide great learning opportunities for our students and have repercussions for wave energy development around the world.”

In making the award, the agency noted that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of coastlines, offering America the potential to develop a domestic wave energy industry that could help provide reliable power to coastal regions.

Investments in marine and hydrokinetic energy technology will encourage domestic manufacturing, create jobs, and advance this technology to help achieve the nation’s energy goals, DOE officials said in their announcement of this award. Studies have estimated that even if only a small portion of the energy available from waves is recovered, millions of homes could be powered.

The new facility and award also received support from a range of academic and political leaders:

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden: “This is great news for OSU and its partners and will launch a new level of local job creation and clean energy innovation. Oregon will use this opportunity to build on its solid position nationally and internationally as a leader in renewable wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley: "This is a huge success story for Oregon State University, and I thank the Department of Energy for helping us harness the enormous potential of wave energy off the Oregon coast. This test facility will make Oregon the leader in bringing wave energy to the United States, which will create good-paying local jobs, and strengthen our coastal economies."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader: "Being able to tap into our rich marine energy resources will unleash the potential for billions of dollars in investment along our coastlines. The research that will be made possible through this grant is absolutely critical to the full and effective implementation of wave energy converters into the U.S. green energy portfolio. This federal support is terrific news for OSU and the entire local economy as it allows Oregonians to lead the pack here at home on wave energy."

Oregon U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: "OSU is at the forefront of wave energy research. Wave energy has tremendous potential as a renewable resource to put our country on a path to a clean energy future. This critical federal support will allow the university, researchers, and students to continue to investigate and test the potential of wave energy. With this investment we are one important step closer to harnessing the power of the ocean to meet our nation’s clean energy needs, create good-paying jobs, and spur economic growth in our communities.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: “I commend the talented team of Oregon State University researchers, staff, and students who lead the nation in research and development of wave energy technology. This U.S. Department of Energy grant announcement of up to $40 million leverages years of work and partnership with our state. This innovative work will contribute to Oregon and the nation’s clean energy mix of the future.”

Oregon State Sen. Arnie Roblan: “After the work of the coastal caucus during the 2016 session to secure a state match for this grant, I am pleased by this news. This grant will enable cutting edge research that will bring a variety of individual innovators to the Oregon coast. We are uniquely positioned to help the nation determine the efficacy of their energy devices to Oregon.”

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at OSU: “This award is a major win for Dr. Batten and her team.  It comes after years of collaboration among OSU researchers, state and federal agencies, and industry partners. With it, we are one step closer to a clean, affordable and reliable energy future.”

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Belinda Batten, 541-737-9492

belinda.batten@oregonstate.edu

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Wave energy test site
Wave energy test center

New study: Weakening of North Atlantic current can be prevented by reducing carbon emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Continued melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet could have a significant impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a system of surface and deep ocean currents – including the Gulf Stream – in the Atlantic Ocean that keeps upper North America and Europe temperate.

A new international study incorporating a comprehensive assessment of Greenland Ice Sheet melting suggests the freshwater influx could weaken the AMOC over the next three centuries, though the impact could be offset if human-caused carbon emissions decline and global temperatures stabilize.

However, if carbon emissions continue unabated, there is a 44 percent likelihood of a collapse of the system by the year 2300, the researchers say.

The findings are being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Previous studies and assessment reports, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have not considered the impacts on the AMOC from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, or they have looked at it simplistically,” said Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the study.

“Our study, using eight state-of-the-science global climate models, incorporates a realistic assessment of the ice sheet melting and shows a definite weakening of the AMOC system, but one that can be partially mitigated by a decline in carbon emissions.”

The study also suggests that the freshwater influx from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will have less of an impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation than will overall global warming, rising sea surface temperatures, and intensification of the water cycle leading to more precipitation and evaporation.

“The good news is that we can still do something to lessen the impact of AMOC weakening and prevent an unlikely, but still possible collapse of the system,” said lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

“Our models predict that the ice sheet may not melt as rapidly as another recent study has suggested, but everything comes down to what will we in the United States, and people in other countries, do to lessen our carbon emissions.”

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation brings warm waters up from the tropics and transports cooler water to the south. A weakening of the system could mean that the North Atlantic would not warm as rapidly or thoroughly as it does now, affecting regional climate in North America and northern Europe.

The AMOC also is important for preserving ocean ecosystems, affecting nutrient transport.

“A weakening of the AMOC system would probably lead to more stratification of ocean waters and less biological productivity,” Schmittner said. “It may create more sea ice in the North Atlantic, which could be beneficial in some ways. At the same time, however, it would likely reduce the transport of cooler water to the south and shift rainfall patterns near the equator.”

The study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies.

 

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Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

New, complex call recorded in Mariana Trench believed to be from baleen whale

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called “Star Wars” sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say.

The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet.

Minke whales are baleen whales – meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater – and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include “boings” in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

“We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.”

Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call – complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion – that it’s reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it.

But scientists can’t yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang.

“Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk said. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Dwarf minke whale

OSU Press publishes first guide to Oregon freshwater fishes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first comprehensive guide to Oregon’s freshwater fishes has been published by the Oregon State University Press.

Written by Professor Emeritus Douglas Markle in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State, the guide includes tips on identifying the state’s 137 known species and subspecies, along with photos and illustrations of native and non-native fish.

“A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” is available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-621-2736, or by ordering online at osupress.oregonstate.edu

The guide includes information about Oregon’s most iconic fishes – including Chinook and coho salmon – as well as those species not as well-known, such as sculpins and minnows. Markle notes that the number of introduced, non-native fishes continues to increase and “they often are responsible in part for the decline of native fishes.”

“The book is a great guide for anglers and others who may encounter a fish that they cannot easily recognize,” said Marty Brown, marketing coordinator for the OSU Press. “Many groups of Oregon fishes are difficult to identify because of their size, diversity of forms, or lack of study, and there are ongoing debates about the actual number of species and subspecies of fish in the state.”

The guide covers fish both large and small. The white sturgeon is Oregon’s largest freshwater fish, reaching sizes of up to 19 feet and 1,800 pounds, and it is the most long-lived reaching estimated ages of close to 100 years. Among the smaller fish are minnows, which are the largest family of fishes in Oregon, and include such species as the Oregon chub and Umpqua chub – species only found in this state.

Markle is a long-time faculty member at Oregon State who parlayed a childhood interest in aquarium fish into a career teaching and conducting research on deep-sea fishes, coral reef fish, and a variety of freshwater fishes.

In addition to the many color photographs in “A Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Oregon” are numerous illustrations by well-known fish artist Joseph R. Tomelleri.

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu;

Doug Markle, 541-737-1970, douglas.markle@oregonstate.edu

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Freshwater Fishes of Oregon

Douglas F. Markle

Douglas Markle

New study shows impact of Antarctic Ice Sheet on climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have known for decades that small changes in climate can have significant impacts on the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now a new study suggests the opposite also is true. An international team of researchers has concluded that the Antarctic Ice Sheet actually plays a major role in regional and global climate variability – a discovery that may also help explain why sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere has been increasing despite the warming of the rest of the Earth.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Global climate models that look at the last several thousand years have failed to account for the amount of climate variability captured in the paleoclimate record, according to lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

The research team’s hypothesis was that climate modelers were overlooking one crucial element in the overall climate system – an aspect of the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere or ice sheets – that might affect all parts of the system.

“One thing we determined right off the bat was that virtually all of the climate models had the Antarctic Ice Sheet as a constant entity,” Bakker said. “It was a static blob of ice, just sitting there. What we discovered, however, is that the ice sheet has undergone numerous pulses of variability that have had a cascading effect on the entire climate system.”

The Antarctic Ice Sheet, in fact, has demonstrated dynamic behavior over the past 8,000 years, according to Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“There is a natural variability in the deeper part of the ocean adjacent to the Antarctic Ice Sheet – similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or El Niño/La Niña but on a time scale of centuries – that causes small but significant changes in temperatures,” Schmittner said. “When the ocean temperatures warm, it causes more direct melting of the ice sheet below the surface, and it increases the number of icebergs that calve off the ice sheet.”

Those two factors combine to provide an influx of fresh water into the Southern Ocean during these warm regimes, according to Peter Clark, a paleoclimatologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“The introduction of that cold, fresh water lessens the salinity and cools the surface temperatures, at the same time, stratifying the layers of water,” Clark said. “The cold, fresh water freezes more easily, creating additional sea ice despite warmer temperatures that are down hundreds of meters below the surface.”

The discovery may help explain why sea ice has expanded in the Southern Ocean despite global warming, the researchers say. The same phenomenon doesn’t occur in the Northern Hemisphere with the Greenland Ice Sheet because it is more landlocked and not subject to the same current shifts that affect the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“One message that comes out of this study is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is very sensitive to small changes in ocean temperatures, and humans are making the Earth a lot warmer than it has been,” Bakker said.

Sediment cores from the sea floor around Antarctica contain sand grains delivered there by icebergs calving off the ice sheet. The researchers analyzed sediments from the last 8,000 years, which showed evidence that many more icebergs calved off the ice sheet in some centuries than in others. Using sophisticated computer modeling, the researchers traced the variability in iceberg calving to small changes in ocean temperatures.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area of more than 5 million square miles and is estimated to hold some 60 percent of all the fresh water on Earth. The east part of the ice sheet rests on a major land mass, but in West Antarctica, the ice sheet rests on bedrock that extends into the ocean at depths of more than 2,500 meters, or more than 8,000 feet, making it vulnerable to disintegration.

Scientists estimate that if the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise some 200 feet.

Other authors on the study include Nicholas Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Despite evolutionary inexperience, northern sockeye manage heat stress

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sockeye salmon that evolved in the generally colder waters of the far north still know how to cool off if necessary, an important factor in the species’ potential for dealing with global climate change.

Sockeyes, which spawn in fresh water and spend two to three years in the Pacific Ocean, range from southern Alaska south to the Columbia River.

Research by Oregon State University revealed that sockeyes at the northern edge of that range, despite lacking their southern counterparts’ evolutionary history of dealing with heat stress, nevertheless have an innate ability to “thermoregulate.”

Thermoregulation means that when their surroundings warm up too much, the fish will seek cooler water that precisely meets their physiological needs. A study conducted by an OSU researcher at an Alaska lake during a heat wave shed light on sockeyes’ ability to find the water temperatures they need.

Multiple earlier studies had demonstrated thermoregulation behavior among sockeye salmon at lower latitudes, but northern populations’ behavioral response to heat stress had largely gone unexamined.

While it may seem obvious that any fish would move around to find the water temperature it needed, prior research has shown thermoregulation is far from automatic – even among populations living where heat stress is a regular occurrence.

“Often what’s happened has been counterintuitive, so we had no idea what to expect,” said Jonathan B. Armstrong, assistant professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Fish and Wildlife, the lead author on the study. “About 40 million sockeye return to Bristol Bay every year. These huge salmon runs are a big part of the regional culture and economy, so how these fish respond to climate change will have very real effects on people’s lives. It’s encouraging that the sockeyes showed this innate capacity to respond.”

Results of the research were recently published in Conservation Physiology.

Armstrong and his collaborators at the University of Washington worked in 2013 at Little Togiak Lake – one of five major lakes in the Wood River watershed that drain into Bristol Bay, a fishery that produces nearly 70 percent of all the sockeye salmon caught in the United States. Bristol Bay is close to the 60-degree latitude that marks the northern boundary of the sockeyes’ primary range.

Adult sockeye salmon return to the Wood River system from the Bering Sea in early summer, then mature and develop secondary sexual traits before spawning later in the summer or at the beginning of fall.

During the time between entering fresh water and spawning, the fish group together in their lake’s epilimnion – the upper, warmer level of water in a thermally stratified lake. Usually the fish congregate, or stage, near tributary inlets and along shorelines.

During a staging period of unusually warm weather – maximum daily air temperatures hovered around 80 degrees for a week, the second-warmest heat wave on record – researchers used a seine to capture fish and outfitted 95 of them with devices that logged water temperatures at 20-minute intervals.

What they learned from the 40 recovered temperature loggers was that when the epilimnion temperature rose above about 12 degrees Celsius, or about 53 degrees, the fish thermoregulated by moving to tributary plumes or to deeper water.

By swimming away from the rising temperatures, the fish expended 50 percent less energy during the warmest conditions – 64 to 68 degrees – than they would have had they stayed put.

“The hotter it is, the more energy they burn, but these fish don’t just want the coldest water possible,” Armstrong said. “If they were cars looking for maximum fuel efficiency, they’d just find the coldest water, but instead it’s a Goldilocks sort of thing - they’re looking for not too warm, not too cold.

“They want their system to go fast enough for them to go through maturation before they spawn, where they go from these silver torpedoes to these crazy, exaggerated beasts of sexual selection with a red body and green jaws.”

Armstrong noted the broader message of the study is what it says about the ability of animals to exploit the kinds of diversity of temperature and diversity of habitat found in ecosystems that are intact and not heavily developed.

“There’s all this diversity and connectivity up there,” Armstrong said. “Fish have lots of options for coping with warming or environmental change in general.

“When we develop watersheds, we often simplify habitats and take away these options. In our research we are constantly stumbling across new and interesting ways that fish and wildlife thrive by exploiting diversity in temperatures, often at small spatial scales that would be very easy to overlook. This study is one more example of how all the little details matter, and they could be what save animals from climate change, or at least reduce the impacts.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039 

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Sockeye salmon

Marine incentives programs may replace 'doom and gloom' with hope

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Incentives that are designed to enable smarter use of the ocean while also protecting marine ecosystems can and do work, and offer significant hope to help address the multiple environmental threats facing the world’s oceans, researchers conclude in a new analysis.

Whether economic or social, incentive-based solutions may be one of the best options for progress in reducing impacts from overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification and pollution, researchers from Oregon State University and Princeton University say in a new report published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And positive incentives – the “carrot” – work better than negative incentives, or the “stick.”

Part of the reason for optimism, the researchers report, is changing awareness, attitudes and social norms around the world, in which resource users and consumers are becoming more informed about environmental issues and demanding action to address them. That sets the stage for economic incentives that can convert near-disaster situations into sustainable fisheries, cleaner water and long-term solutions.

“As we note in this report, the ocean is becoming higher, warmer, stormier, more acidic, lower in dissolved oxygen and overfished,” said Jane Lubchenco, the distinguished university professor in the College of Science and advisor in marine studies at Oregon State University, lead author of the new report, and U.S. science envoy for the ocean at the Department of State.

“The threats facing the ocean are enormous, and can seem overwhelming. But there’s actually reason for hope, and it’s based on what we’ve learned about the use of incentives to change the way people, nations and institutions behave. We believe it’s possible to make that transition from a vicious to a virtuous cycle. Getting incentives right can flip a disaster to a resounding success.”

Simon A. Levin, the James S. McDonnell distinguished university professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University and co-author of the publication, had a similar perspective.

“It is really very exciting that what, until recently, was theoretical optimism is proving to really work,” Levin said. “This gives me great hope for the future.”

The stakes are huge, the scientists point out in their study.

The global market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is about $3 trillion a year; more than 3 billion people depend on fish for a major source of protein; and marine fisheries involve more than 200 million people. Ocean and coastal ecosystems provide food, oxygen, climate regulation, pest control, recreational and cultural value.

“Given the importance of marine resources, many of the 150 or more coastal nations, especially those in the developing world, are searching for new approaches to economic development, poverty alleviation and food security,” said Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, a postdoctoral scholar working with Lubchenco.  “Our findings can provide guidance to them about how to develop sustainably.”

In recent years, the researchers said in their report, new incentive systems have been developed that tap into people’s desires for both economic sustainability and global environmental protection. In many cases, individuals, scientists, faith communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments are all changing in ways that reward desirable and dissuade undesirable behaviors.

One of the leading examples of progress is the use of “rights-based fisheries.” Instead of a traditional “race to fish” concept based on limited seasons, this growing movement allows fishers to receive a guaranteed fraction of the catch, benefit from a well-managed, healthy fishery and become part of a peer group in which cheating is not tolerated.

There are now more than 200 rights-based fisheries covering more than 500 species among 40 countries, the report noted. One was implemented in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper commercial fishery, which was on the brink of collapse after decades of overfishing. A rights-based plan implemented in 2007 has tripled the spawning potential, doubled catch limits and increased fishery revenue by 70 percent.

“Multiple turn-around stories in fisheries attest to the potential to end overfishing, recover depleted species, achieve healthier ocean ecosystems, and bring economic benefit to fishermen and coastal communities,” said Lubchenco.  “It is possible to have your fish and eat them too.”

A success story used by some nations has been combining “territorial use rights in fisheries,” which assign exclusive fishing access in a particular place to certain individuals or communities, together with adjacent marine reserves. Fish recover inside the no-take reserve and “spillover” to the adjacent fished area outside the reserve. Another concept of incentives has been “debt for nature” swaps used in some nations, in which foreign debt is exchanged for protection of the ocean.

“In parallel to a change in economic incentives,” said Jessica Reimer, a graduate research assistant with Lubchenco, “there have been changes in behavioral incentives and social norms, such as altruism, ethical values, and other types of motivation that can be powerful drivers of change.”

The European Union, based on strong environmental support among its public, has issued warnings and trade sanctions against countries that engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. In the U.S., some of the nation’s largest retailers, in efforts to improve their image with consumers, have moved toward sale of only certified sustainable seafood.

Incentives are not a new idea, the researchers noted. But they emphasize that their power may have been under-appreciated.

“Recognizing the extent to which a change in incentives can be explicitly used to achieve outcomes related to biodiversity, ecosystem health and sustainability . . .  holds particular promise for conservation and management efforts in the ocean,” they wrote in their conclusion.

Funding was provided by OSU and the National Science Foundation.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

lubchenco@oregonstate.edu

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Catch share
Catch share program

Rockfish siblings shed new light on how offspring diffuse and disperse

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A splitnose rockfish’s thousands of tiny offspring can stick together in sibling groups from the time they are released into the open ocean until they move to shallower water, research from Oregon State University shows.

The study conducted in the OSU College of Science sheds new light on how rockfish, a group of multiple species that contribute to important commercial and recreational fisheries in the Northwest, disperse through the ocean and “recruit,” or take up residence in nearshore habitats. Previously it was believed rockfish larvae dispersed chaotically to wherever currents carried them.

“When you manage populations, it’s really important to understand where the young are going to and where the young are coming from – how populations are connected and replenished,” said Su Sponaugle, a professor of integrative biology based at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “This research helps us better understand what’s possible about offspring movement. We don’t know fully by what mechanisms the larvae are staying together, but these data are suggestive that behavior is playing a role.”

The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Primary funding came from the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Mamie L. Markham Research Award.

The discovery of “spatial cohesion” among the larvae came via the collection of newly settled rockfish in a shallow nearshore habitat off the central Oregon coast. Nearly 500 juvenile fish that had started out up to six months earlier as transparent larvae at depths of a few hundred meters were collected and genetically analyzed, with the results showing that 11.6 percent had at least one sibling in the group.

“That’s much higher than we would have expected if they were randomly dispersing,” Sponaugle said.

Bearing live young – a female can release thousands of able-to-swim larvae at a time – and dwelling close to the sea floor in the benthic zone, rockfishes make up a diverse genus with many species.

Adult splitnose rockfish live in deep water – usually 100 to 350 meters – but juveniles often settle in nearshore habitats less than 20 meters deep after spending up to a year in the open sea. Taking into account dynamic influences such as the California Current, siblings recruiting to the same area suggest they remained close together as larvae rather than diffusing randomly and then reconnecting as recruits.

“This totally changes the way we understand dispersal,” said lead author Daniel Ottmann, a graduate student in integrative biology at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “We’d thought larvae were just released and then largely diffused by currents, but now we know behavior can substantially modify that.”

Splitnose rockfish range from Alaska to Baja California and can live for more than 100 years. Pelagic juveniles – juveniles in the open sea – often aggregate to drifting mats of kelp, and the large amount of time larvae and juveniles spend at open sea is thought to enable them to disperse great distances from their parental source.

“This research gives us a window into a stage of the fishes’ life we know so little about,” added Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an assistant professor of integrative biology at OSU’s Corvallis campus. “We can’t track the larvae out there in the ocean; we can’t look at their behavior early and see where they go. But this genetic technique allows us to look at how they disperse, and it changes the conversation. Now that we know that siblings are ending up in the same places, we can consider how to more effectively manage and protect these species.”

Because larval aggregation shapes the dispersal process more than previously thought, Ottmann said, it highlights the need to better understand what happens in the pelagic ocean to affect the growth, survival and dispersal of the larvae.

“Successful recruitment is critical for the population dynamics of most marine species,” he said. “Our findings have far-reaching implications for our understanding of how populations are connected by dispersing larvae.”

In addition, Grorud-Colvert adds, there’s the simple and substantial “gee whiz” factor of the findings.

“These tiny little fish, a few days old, out there in the humongous ocean, instead of just going wherever are able to swim and stay close together on their epic journey,” she said. “These tiny, tiny things, sticking together in the open ocean – it’s cool.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Kelp forests globally resilient, but may need local solutions to environmental threats

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first global assessment of marine kelp ecosystems shows that these critically-important habitats have exhibited a surprising resilience to environmental impacts over the past 50 years, but they have a wide variability in long-term responses that will call for regional management efforts to help protect their health in the future.

The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists noted that kelp forests have a remarkable ability to recover quickly from extreme damage, but they can still be overwhelmed in some instances by the combination of global and local pressures.

This points to the need for regional management efforts that carefully consider local conditions when trying to offset human-caused impacts from climate change, overfishing and direct harvests, researchers said.

Kelp forests, the largest species of algae in shallow, coastal waters almost everywhere except the tropics, are a globally important foundation species that occupy almost half of the world’s marine ecoregions. Often harvested directly, they help support commercial fisheries, nutrient cycling, shoreline protection, and are valued in the range of billions of dollars annually.

The new research was conducted by an international team of 37 scientists who analyzed changes in kelp abundance in 34 regions of the planet that had been monitored over the past 50 years.

“Kelp forests are cold-water, fast-growing species that can apparently withstand many types of environmental disturbances,” said Mark Novak, an assistant professor of integrative biology in the College of Science at Oregon State University, co-author of the study, and an organizer of the international group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis that conducted this research.

“The really surprising thing in this study was how much region-to-region variation we found, which is quite different from many other ecosystems. Thus, despite global threats like climate change and ocean acidification, the battle to protect our kelp forests of the future may best be fought locally – in the U.S., by states, counties, even individual cities and towns.”

These forests can grow fast, tall, and are highly resilient – but also are often on the coastal front line in exposure to pollution, sedimentation, invasive species, fishing, recreation and harvesting. Even though “they have some of the fastest growth rates of any primary producer on the planet,” the researchers wrote, there are limits to what they can take.

In their study the scientists concluded that of the kelp ecosystems that have been studied, 38 percent are in decline; 27 percent are increasing; and 35 percent show no detectable change. On a global scale, they are declining at 1.8 percent per year.

Where kelp resilience is eroding and leading to declines in abundance, impacts to ecosystem health and services can be far-reaching, the researchers wrote in their report.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the University of California/Santa Barbara, and the state of California.

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Mark Novak, 541-737-3610

mark.novak@oregonstate.edu

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