Desert island discs – the marine conservation edition

In the UK, there is a famous and long-running radio show called Desert Island Discs. On this show celebrities are asked to imagine that they are marooned on a desert island, but they have rescued 10 discs (mp3s I suppose these days…) of songs that they have rescued from their sinking ship to keep them company on the desert island.

clipart credit:

My chum – marine mammal scientist and general ocean hero – Asha De Vos recently asked for a list of key papers in marine conservation that she could pass onto students working on marine conservation issues in Sri Lanka. So I decided to write up my top ten “desert island” marine conservation papers that I think have been influential, and that all marine conservation students should read.

So after much pondering, this is my list:

Read More

Time to release the Kraken ! Addressing controversial questions in marine conservation

A few years ago, we organized a group of marine conservation scientists to meet to discuss, and list,  the most urgent issues that need to be studied. The resulting paper  came up with 71 questions which urgently needed to be addressed, because a lack of an answer was severely impeding marine conservation. However, during this exercise we also came up with a list of other questions – these were issues that were controversial, that everyone  knew were important, but were unwilling to raise as being an issue. These were the Voldemorts of marine conservation questions (they that shall not be named), the elephant (or elephant seal) in the room questions …. or as we more aquatically termed them: “the kraken in the aquarium” questions.


Read More

Huge win for orca advocates as #SeaWorld announces an end to circus-style shows, orca breeding and pledges more conservation


orca SeaWorld Orca-Shutterstock

Earlier today SeaWorld announced to the media that it was making major changes in its practices when it comes to marine wildlife. The announcement comes after years of bad publicity and failing stock prices as the result of the documentary Blackfish, criticism from marine mammal and marine conservation scientists and an unrelenting social media campaign by online activists. The changes announced are a major paradigm shift for the company and include:

Read More

Got grants? New small grants for marine conservation launched by SCB Marine

The Society for Conservation Biology Marine Section (SCB Marine) has just  initiated their Conservation Small Grants Program (CSGP) to fund worthy conservation projects around the globe.

Society for Conservation Biology - Marine Section's photo.

The grants will vary from $500-$700 and priority is being given to individuals from developing countries and those working in developing countries, where projects a small amount of money could make a big difference. The application form is short and simple and some suggested activities that describe the sort of projects that could be funded include:

providing materials to train local residents to reduce impacts of human activities on marine animals and their habitats;

developing educational materials or equipment for teaching fishers to reduce bycatch;

surveys of previously un-surveyed areas to evaluate status and conservation of marine organisms or habitats.

You can find out more about the program at :

Applications for funding are due by October 1st and queries can be sent to: [email protected].

 What is particularly nice is the efforts that have been made to make the application process accessible to all marine scientists with large type, translated and even braille versions of the application material being available.
So if you have a developing country project where $500 would make a big difference, do think about applying, or forward the details to a colleague for whom this grant might be helpful !

So what might Scottish independence mean for marine conservation ?

Tina's otter 2

A Scottish otter (which lives in the marine environment)

As the referendum for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (which besides Scotland current includes Northern Ireland and Wales in addition to England, although you would be forgiven from all the media coverage to think that it only included the former and latter) approaches, I’ve been asked what would independence for Scotland mean for marine conservation? Well in some ways, not a lot. Nature Conservation in Scotland is largely a devolved issue anyway, dealt with by Scottish Natural Heritage, and numerous laws related to the marine environment have been passed by the Scottish parliament over the past decade or so.

Marine issues have had a slightly higher political profile in Scotland compared to south of the border, probably because of the large fishing industry, extensive marine natural resources and a large large marine tourism industry. From public surveys, it appears that the Scottish public actually has a reasonably good knowledge about the marine environment and many species within, and is greatly concerned about its conservation (1). With greater budgetary freedom, it’s possible that a fully independent Scottish government may allocate more financial resources to oceans.

Read More

Marine Conservation, Inspiration and a Great Big Geek

From 14-18th August 2014, the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress was held in Glasgow, Scotland. The IMCC meetings are the largest international academic conferences on marine conservation. IMCC3 had over 700 presentations ranging from fisheries science to how marine scientists could better interact with the media, from Marine Protected Area effectiveness to the ethical treatment of marine species, from the impacts of oil spills and debris in the marine environment   to how to better use social media and storytelling to communicate marine conservation science to the general public. For a glimpse of some of the topics covered at the meeting and key information and quotes, look for #IMCC3 on Twitter.

I got several requests to post my closing speech – although the number of requests might partly because people wanted to count quite how many geek references I managed to sneak in. There are 13, can you find them all?

The IMCC3 Chair’s Closing Speech

So here we are on the raggedy edge, at the ending of IMCC3, the third one. I’ve received many positive comments about the content of this meeting and I’d like to give you a quote with exemplarizes what people have been saying:

“In my department, I was told not to step out of the ivory tower, that if I wanted to engage with marine conservation more than just doing the science, then I was being a bad scientist. I was made to feel that I was a freak for wanting to do so. But after this meeting I know that I’m not alone. I have a huge community that feels the same way and who are supportive. I feel like I can finally come out of the conservation closet as a scientist”

A famous professor from a nearby academic institution, Albus Dumbledore, once said: “dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when one must choose between what is easy and what is right”; the situation in the oceans is so dire we must now do what is right!

A major theme of this meeting has been… well, conservation, this word does not mean what you think it means. Conservation is very unlikely to happen if you just publish a paper and nothing further. Don’t get me wrong, papers are important – they give vital evidence on which to base good conservation decisions. But, you need to get that science into the right hands, at the right time, in the right format. Some of our community are excellent communicators … so we’ve got that going for us, and that’s nice. But some of us don’t feel so comfortable about putting ourselves out there quite so much.

The good news is though that there are many people who will gladly help you to get your science into the right hands, and minds. “There can be only one” is not the tagline for marine conservation. As Sesame Street would extol… cooperation, and collaboration, is the key.

This meeting has showed that marine conservation scientists are making a difference. It’s important that we remember that scientists can, and have, changed the world. Once upon a time, a Fellow of the Royal Society was frustrated with the inequality of the world and collaborated with a science nerd colleague, who was an eloquent writer, and came up with an idea… which we now call the United States of America.

(Incidentally had the internet existed in Benjamin Franklin’s time he would have had quite an impressive h-index, including highly cited publications on oceanography)

Another one of my favorite sayings coined at this meeting  by the SCB [Society for Conservation Society] Marine Board was “don’t just whine about it, do it!”

This has been most apparent this meeting with the case of the Vaquita,* the Gulf of California harbor porpoise. There are only 97 individuals left of this critically endangered species, with maybe just 25 reproductive females. The science is in for the vaquita, we know what it will take to fix this crisis, it will cost $60million. So yesterday the SCB marine section decided to do something. We didn’t want yet another dolphin to go extinct on our watch. We put in seed money to pay for a fund-raiser/lobbyist to raise that $60million and we challenge other NGOs to match us and contribute.** We can make a difference, this is a species we can save so easily. We can fix this, yes we can! So come on NGOs and governments !  As Yoda says “do or do not, there is no try!”

Time is fleeting and I can’t talk for very much longer, so I would like to finish off with a quote from an undergraduate student who told me last night (admittedly they were somewhat in their cups) “I learnt more about what I want to do with my life these past 4 days than in the last 4 years at my university”.

A key theme for this meeting has indeed, been inspiration and #oceanoptimism***. Scientists can indeed make a difference. So now everyone just go, and walk out that meeting door, take what you’ve learnt from this meeting, and “engage”. ****

*For a truly geeky site with information about the vaquita go to the Vaquitas are Browncoats Facebook site. Another great site is Viva Vaquita who also have a Facebook page.

** Anyone wishing to give a donation to the fund, please send a check to “Society for Conservation Biology” at Society for Conservation Biology, 1017 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, USA. Please note that the money is for the Vaquita fund.

*** Another relevant quote from Albus Dumbledore would be that “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” #oceanoptimism.

****So geeky references include: Firefly, Sharknado 2, Harry Potter, the Princess Bride, Caddyshack, Highlander, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, the  Empire Strikes Back, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Star Trek: the Next Generation.

World Oceans Day #OceanFacts

On World Oceans Day, I asked the online marine science and conservation community to tweet their favorite facts about the ocean using the hashtag #OceanFacts . Dozens of people joined the discussion, and more than 300 #OceanFacts were contributed. These tweets cover a variety of topics, from marine invertebrates, fish, sharks, and marine mammals to facts about the ocean itself and conservation policy. The discussion also inspired a great deal of humorous posts, including an entire spinoff #OceanFibs hashtag. Some of my favorite #OceanFacts tweets are saved in the Storify below.

Read More