Dynamic and interconnected marine systems cover about 70% of the earth’s surface. Marine and coastal systems are vital to many ecological processes necessary for general life and human well being, including food provisioning, climate regulation, and the freshwater cycle. This module serves as an introduction to the aspects of marine biology concerning conservation. An overview is provided of marine biodiversity and physical oceanography, as well as major marine ecosystems and marine ecology. Sections focus on topics specifically relevant to conservation, namely resource use, threats, and management strategies. The synthesis is accompanied by exercises and recommended resources for understanding marine systems, applying mathematical tools and designing research projects for marine conservation.
Synthesis: Introduction to Marine Conservation Biology
Author: T. Agardy
This synthesis reviews the physical and biotic structure and function of many different marine systems, including coral reefs, mangroves, kelp forests, and others. Human pressures on coastal resources are compromising many marine systems. Habitat loss remains the biggest threat to coastal and marine systems; other threats include habitat degradation via point source and land-based sources of pollution, climate change impacts, invasive species, and changes to riverine hydrology. Responses discussed in the synthesis include spatial management through zoning and marine protected areas, fisheries management, restoration, integrated coastal zone management, and treaties. It underscores why integrated approaches and international cooperation are needed.
As a supplement to the Globally Endangered Sea Turtles of the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Exercise, consider having your students compile reports and analyze data from the turtle stranding information from over 20 years available on this website. Also, check out the extensive list of organizations involved with the STSSN and the anatomy of sea turtle videos available both in English and Spanish.
Reef fish near the islands of Fiji eat seaweed that is toxic to coral, helping maintain a healthy reef system. But some species of fish limit their grazing to only one type of seaweed. Herbivorous fish diversity is the coral’s best insurance for keeping different varieties of harmful algae in check.
Exercise: Introduction to Marine Conservation Biology
Author: D.R. Brumbaugh, T. Agardy, F. Staub
This exercise has students explore structure of typical marine food web, and learn how understanding linkages between species helps predictions about how species removal/use will affect other species and ecosystem function.
Exercise: Calculating Perpendicular Distances Using Indirect Measurements
Author: P.J. Ersts
When surveying for highly mobile or inconspicuous animals, such as marine mammals and sea turtles, it may not be possible to directly measure perpendicular distance. This exercise introduces students to two mathematical methods for calculating perpendicular distance when direct measurements cannot be obtained while highlighting common errors and their potential effect on subsequent analyses.
Exercise: Globally Endangered Sea Turtles of the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Author: E. Naro-Maciel, K. Holmes, P.J. Ersts, K. McFadden, N. Bynum, E. Sterling
In this exercises, students make suggestions for designing a comprehensive research program on globally endangered sea turtles. Students use existing survey data to answer questions about the relative abundance of endangered sea turtles, and critically analyze their results. Then, students carry out research to devise their own methods for studying sea turtles at the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.