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MIIS Liaison Since 2015mcoomer@miis.edu

Matthew is a Paul D. Coverdell Fellow and first-year Master’s student in International Environmental Policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He is specializing in Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, and hopes to work in communications and multimedia with an organization fighting illegal fishing and other marine issues. After graduating from the University of Montana with High Honors BA’s in Journalism and Environmental Studies in 2011, he served with Peace Corps Togo from 2012 to 2014. He feels most at home with the lakes and long winters of Minneapolis, MN.

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Stanford Liaison Since 2016shanswan@stanford.edu

Shannon is a PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, a Teresa Elms and Robert D. Lindsay Fellow and a National Geographic Young Explorer. She uses the frameworks of political ecology and institutional analysis and development to study resilience of fishing communities in developing island nations in South East Asia and Oceania and how they are affected by NGO and government interventions, such as marine protected areas and alternative livelihood projects. Drawing from her career as a conservation/travel photojournalist, she is also interested in further developing participatory methods of research using film and photography. Before coming to Stanford, she received a masters in Coastal Management from Duke University and a B.S. in Biological Sciences and B.A. in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara.

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CSUMB Liaison From 2015-2017caboyle@csumb.edu

Carrie is a second-year Master's student in the Applied Marine and Watershed Science program at CSUMB. After studying environmental biology at UC Berkeley, she spent a few years as a Marine Science Instructor at SEACAMP San Diego before moving back north to work as an educator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. As a native Californian, Carrie is looking forward to learning more about the marine policy process and applying her background in marine science communication. She is currently working with Dr. James Lindholm on a project communicating scientific literature to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

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UCSC Liaison Since 2015, mmoritsc@ucsc.edu

Monica is a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She is interested in intertidal community ecology and the trophic interactions that influence marine ecosystems. Her research focuses on identifying possible environmental contributors to sea star wasting syndrome outbreaks and its ecological consequences for intertidal communities. She is also interested in helping fellow students access resources to benefit their careers and connect with the greater marine science community. Monica is originally from Sacramento and received a BS in Molecular Environmental Biology from UC Berkeley. For more information about Monica's research, visit her website.

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Otter wrapped in kelp, Mike Baird. CC.
 
A fashion for otter fur in the 19th Century has given researchers insight into how social changes can be a warning for ecosystems on the brink of collapse. In a new paper published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, scientists argue that environmental managers need to broaden their focus from routine ecological monitoring to include social and economic factors if we are to protect ecosystems before it is too late.
 
As part of the study, the team at Lancaster University, the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, Conservation International and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University looked back into history to examine four iconic marine ecosystems that collapsed, investigating the social changes that preceded their demise. From the dramatic decline in Canadian cod populations to the decimation of Jamaican coral reefs, they found social factors from fashion to technological advances had a strong influence in driving environmental collapses.
 
For example, in the North Pacific, otter populations had been harvested by native hunters for thousands of years but were driven close to extinction by commercial hunting in the 1800s due to lucrative foreign markets for otter fur, which saw the value of otter pelts leap from a mere $15 to over $28,000 for a single pelt at the height of the market. The near extinction of otter populations created an explosion in urchin densities that diminished kelp forests and associated fish and invertebrates.
 
Sometimes ecosystems can undergo major changes in species composition, known as a regime shift, and although these shifts appear to unfold quickly, it often takes decades to get to that point. Undoing the damage is not easy,” said lead author Christina Hicks of Lancaster University Environment Centre.
 
"By examining these four iconic marine regime shifts, we found that in all cases a range of social factors set the scene for the ecosystem shift, ultimately driving them towards collapse."
 
Researchers say their new study underlines the importance of looking beyond ecological systems for clues, to understanding the root social causes that may forewarn when and where we are heading into dangerous waters.
 
“If we can tune into these social drivers we could potentially use them as an early warning signal of ecosystems at risk. This is really important if we want to spot these changes before they happen and take action,” explained co-author Larry Crowder of Stanford University.
 
"Without knowing the root social drivers, we can get caught in a trap of treating the symptoms, rather than the underlying causes of the disease – this is critical for saving ecosystems before they are irreversibly lost.”
 

Contacts:

UK Christina Hicks: +44 (0)7479 434 791, christina.hicks@lancaster.ac.uk
Nick Graham: +44 (0) 7479 438 914
US Larry Crowder: +1 831 402 6938, larry.crowder@stanford.edu
US Jack Kittinger: + 1 808 397 9077

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The 2015-2016 El Niño event was one of the strongest on record, causing a number of unusual—and some catastrophic—events, from severe rainstorms in Southern California, to thousands of dead animals washing ashore in Chile due to harmful algae. Species such as pelagic red crabs and tuna have been observed much farther north than in typical years as they follow warm water currents up the North American coast.

In light of this extraordinary El Niño season, CalCOFI and the Center for Ocean Solutions co-hosted a science workshop to discuss its potential impacts on the California Current region and the wider Pacific ecosystem. Over 70 ocean scientists and managers gathered at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California on December 16, 2015. Participants exchanged knowledge and perspectives and identified key research gaps and management needs integral to understanding how El Niño events impact the Pacific region.

Ashley Erickson takes notes from group discussion.

Capitalizing on a diverse range of participant expertise, including oceanography, climate modeling, fisheries management and ocean law and policy, the workshop helped generate a broad, interdisciplinary understanding of the current state of the science surrounding El Niño and its ocean impacts. Participants discussed some of the primary barriers to better characterizing the phenomenon (including financial and technological constraints) and ways to overcome these barriers through improved institutional collaboration and data sharing.

In a series of presentations, researchers described forecasting El Niño as challenging because other oceanographic and climate events – such as the recent “warm blob” – often confound climate patterns.

A map of the Pacific Ocean from November of 2015. The red indicates higher temperatures. Photo: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab. 

As Francisco Chavez of MBARI put it, “No two El Niños are alike.”

Workshop participants discussed ways to strategically mobilize research efforts to better prepare for future El Niño events (e.g., by clarifying priorities for data collection, synthesis and securing funding quickly). They also cited the need to improve understanding of management needs under El Niño conditions and to improve trans-boundary knowledge sharing and collaboration, for example between the U.S. and Mexico.

Full group discussions as well as smaller breakout sessions, facilitated in part by COS staff Ashley Erickson and Larry Crowder, allowed for diverse sharing of ideas. Topics discussed throughout the day ranged from the physical and oceanographic impact of El Niño events to resulting changes in fisheries, harmful algal blooms and the health of coastal habitats.

COS and CalCOFI are drafting a summary report highlighting the key ideas and outcomes generated by participants. This work will serve as a “time marker” of the state of the science in December of the 2015-2016 El Niño year. The hope is that the workshop discussions will catalyze future research collaborations by elucidating some of the key scientific and management priorities related to El Niño impacts in the Pacific region in order to manage the resilience of both natural and human systems in the face of future climate anomalies.

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