Last fall, our MARINE (Monterey Area Research Institutions’ Network for Education) program hosted two innovative events that brought students and experts together to discuss pressing ocean issues. The first event focused on the importance of linking art and science, while the second stressed the need to link national security with ocean protection.

Converging Currents: Where Art and Science Meet

On October 8th, 2016, MARINE hosted its first ever art and science event, “Converging Currents: Where Art and Science Meet” at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. The event kicked-off with presentations by a variety of artists who are all inspired in some way by science, whether it’s through remedial environmental art installed in nature, sculptures based off of data, or science illustration.

Enid Ryce, Chair of the Cinematic Arts & Technology Department at Cal State University Monterey Bay, opened the evening by presenting her projects that focus on participatory environmental art—engaging audiences in artwork to communicate science. Daniel McCormick and Mary O'Brian, sculptors who apply their art to habitat restoration, also emphasized the importance of engaging local communities in their projects to instill a sense of ownership in restoration efforts.

Science illustrator Andrea Dingledein described to the audience how she grew up loving both art and science, and how she learned to incorporate her artistic talent into her science classes. “Art can sell your research,” Dingledein said, explaining that she hopes to help integrate art back into science courses at the university level.

Adrien Segal, artist and data sculptor, discussed her passion for turning scientific data into interpretative, three dimensional art pieces. "I'm very interested in asking WHY,” she emphasized. “I like putting data into the greater context of its meaning in life." Segal has created captivating sculptures out of wood, metal, and even ice based on environmental data from a variety of sources, depicting phenomena such as fires, tidal action, and climate change.

All four presenters later came together for a panel discussion on the integration of art and science, and to answer questions from the audience. The evening concluded with a pop-up art gallery reception, with pieces contributed by members of the MARINE community. Displays ranged from drawings and paintings to photography, quilts, and multimedia.

Secure Oceans: Recommendations for the World’s Largest Crime Scene

On November 1st, 2016, MARINE and the Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS) co-hosted a seminar and panel discussion entitled “Secure Oceans: Recommendations for the World’s Largest Crime Scene”. The evening began with a presentation from Johan Bergenäs who spoke about illegal overfishing and similar activities that can pose threats to national security. Bergenäs described his job as the study of ‘natural security’, i.e. the study of how environmental challenges impact national and global security.

“Illegal fishing is a kind of natural resource theft and therefore a national security issue,” Bergenäs stated, citing that Secretary John Kerry and other political leaders argue this point as well. He argued that ocean protection needs to be made relevant to national security personnel by highlighting these kinds of “environmental warfare” that can lead to dangerous resource conflict. “We have the capacity right now to link natural resources to national security,” Bergenäs stressed. “We just need the political will.”

Afterwards, a panel of experts gathered to continue the discussion on the role of government and the protection of our ocean’s natural resources. Two retired Navy Captains and the head of a large environmental NGO shared opinions and advice on how we can improve the link between U.S. national security agencies, environmental agencies, and civilians to increase ocean protection. All the panelists agreed that illegal and undocumented fishing is both an environmental and human security threat that deserves more attention.

The successful evening with a full house ended with a reception where attendees were given the opportunity to network and mingle. The event attracted a diverse group of university students, academic staff, and local citizens with an interest in ocean conservation and security.



In late October, Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) Early Career Science Fellow, Elena Finkbeiner, was invited to attend a United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) workshop in Rome exploring human rights-based approaches to fisheries governance.  The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, published by the FAO in the spring of 2015 after a long, inclusive participatory process of creating and vetting the document, represent an unprecedented opportunity to improve governance of small-scale fisheries by integrating environmental sustainability with human rights goals.    

The purpose of the October workshop was to discuss ideas for on-the-ground implementation and monitoring of the Guidelines in countries around the world to ensure the transition towards adoption is effective, meaningful, and respectful of the human rights principles that the Guidelines are predicated upon. The workshop was attended by folks working in and alongside small-scale fisheries from around the world.

“It was an honor to be present at such an important meeting, to learn from folks from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences, and to all come together around our belief that human wellbeing, particularly of marginalized and vulnerable populations, should be at the forefront of conservation agendas.”

While in Rome, Finkbeiner presented a forthcoming paper she is co-authoring with former COS Early Career Fellow, Jack Kittinger and others, entitled "Committing to socially responsible seafood."  In the paper, the authors describe the importance of developing a definition of socially responsible and ethically sourced seafood, which will inform a range of efforts across the broad community of practice.

 “This paper represents a tremendous effort involving 38 co-authors from the academic, non-profit, government, philanthropic and private sectors. We seek to generate dialogue around the importance of human rights, equal opportunity to benefit, and food and livelihood security within the seafood production sector,” Finkbeiner said. 

As part of her work for COS, Finkbeiner and a global partnership of scholars, practitioners, and funders are co-developing a decision support tool, aimed to provide practical guidance for integrating human rights and fisheries sustainability goals, policies, and practices on the ground. The decision support tool will be informed by a global literature review and online survey of small-scale fisheries practice and policies.

The time for moving forward on addressing social issues in fisheries couldn’t be more appropriate. Recent news articles on slavery in the seafood industry shocked the world and have created a sense of urgency around incorporating human rights and social responsibility considerations in seafood production that encourage responsibility on behalf of consumers, governments, funders, and NGOs.  Significant action is occurring including the publication and adoption of FAO Guidelines, the recently released rules on IUU fishing by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the decision support tool for funders and practitioners led by COS, as well as Kittinger’s paper on defining socially responsible seafood.  

“There is tremendous momentum moving forward to incorporate human rights considerations in fisheries planning, programs, policies, and practice,” Finkbeiner says. “I’m really excited COS is involved in this effort.  It’s going to be important.”


Winter storms in 2016 brought large swells and heavy rains to coastal California, and often coincided with extremely high king tides. Images of flooded coastal trails and roadways, and collapsing seaside cliffs during these events provided a stark reminder that coastal communities are already experiencing the impacts of rising sea levels. The Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) is working with resource managers and planners around the state to identify and highlight the ways that coastal habitats, such as wetlands and sand dunes, can mitigate against the effects of sea level rise and help reduce the vulnerability of the state’s coastline. Our ultimate goal is to support decision-makers in their efforts to manage coastal resources in a changing climate, so they are better able to respond and adapt to increasingly hazardous events as we enter a future facing climate change.

COS initiated this effort in 2010 by bridging climate science and coastal planning in Monterey Bay. With funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, we partnered with the Natural Capital Project to connect our “ocean and coastal science to policy” experience with their “ecosystem services science in decision making” toolset to aid coastal adaptation planning at a local scale. We analyzed the role of coastal habitats in buffering and reducing the exposure of critical water infrastructure to sea level rise through the Integrated Regional Water Management Planning process in the Monterey Bay, with the intention of scaling up the “lessons learned” from this work to broader audiences and other geographies.

Building from that experience, we expanded our focal geography from Monterey Bay to the central and north coasts and shifted the decision context from water management to local coastal planning. We partnered with four counties (Monterey, Santa Cruz, Marin, and Sonoma) to provide similar analyses regarding the protective role of coastal habitats as well as the other beneficial ecosystem services they provide. In addition, we distilled complex coastal adaptation policy questions becoming increasingly relevant for local management.

Work with these counties concluded last year, and lessons learned will help inform our current and future climate adaptation work. The coastal planning audience and efforts in California have significantly expanded through an injection of funding at the state level to better understand the most vulnerable areas of the coastline. With this expansion in interest and need comes the next set of hurdles. Currently, coastal communities have a stronger understanding of where their coastlines are most exposed. Yet, they have limited capabilities and capacity to define and implement legally defensible strategies.

COS is now focused on this disparity as we scale up from local planning along the central and north coasts to statewide prioritization of adaptation strategies throughout California. Our coastal adaptation project team recently traveled to scout highly vulnerable areas along the coast and met with regional planners to better understand the major policy approaches they are considering and the challenges they face.

Through this approach, we are collecting a wealth of knowledge about new policy barriers as well as the best available legal strategies to address them. Ultimately, the resources we collect, distill, and share, will help planners and resource managers throughout the state pursue and implement strategies that foster a resilient coastline for future generations.

California is fertile ground for progressive, environmentally minded actions that can proliferate throughout the nation and beyond. The center’s coastal climate adaptation work echoes that model. As we look toward the future, the center will continue this work and build upon the lessons learned from this long-term investment, which will in turn help inform broader coastal adaptation decisions at the federal and international levels.


A lack of publicly available information about the chemical composition of fuel mined from tar sands hampers efforts to safeguard marine habitats. A new analysis recommends that officials gain a better understanding of the fuel’s environmental impacts before setting regulations.

Read the paper


As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to overhaul energy and environmental regulations, a troubling question hangs over an emerging source of unconventional oil Trump has indicated he wants to expand. Bitumen – a tar-like fuel extracted from oil sands in Canada and elsewhere – is often stored in coastal areas and transported by ship. So, what are its potential effects on valuable ocean environments?

The short answer, according to a studypublished Dec. 20 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, is: we have no idea. The study recommends collecting more information about the possible environmental effects of bitumen before making regulatory decisions.The Athabasca oil sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada, are a major producer of heavy crude oil. 

Although a great deal of research has focused on the effects of conventional oil spills, little information exists about potential impacts from spills of unconventional oil derived from the bitumen extracted from oil sands. Diluted bitumen is chemically distinct from conventional oil, and its composition varies according to the chemicals used to make the viscous material flow. Because manufacturers are not required to fully report the makeup of these chemical mixtures, little is known about bitumen products’ effects on marine life and food chains.

“There just isn’t enough science in the public eye to answer questions about the risk bitumen poses to the ocean,” said study lead author Stephanie Green, a Banting postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. “We found almost no research about bitumen’s effects on marine species.”

These knowledge gaps make it impossible to create effective policies on oil sands development, transport and disaster response in the ocean. These issues are at the center of energy and environmental policy debate in Canada, America’s key source of oil sands products. Canada’s federal government recently approved expanding transport of diluted bitumen from inland deposits to the Pacific coast via pipeline.

“In this context, policymakers risk confusing the lack of evidence for particular environmental effects with evidence that there is no risk,” Green said.

The first-of-its-kind global analysis considered the footprint of existing and proposed oil sands developments and coastal transport routes, to reveal 15 different types of stress to ocean environments. These stresses range from oil spills and ship-animal collisions to ocean acidification and temperature increases caused by climate change, with oil sands products contributing more greenhouse gas per barrel than light crude oil throughout its lifecycle. In addition to noting the lack of information on many of these impacts, Green and colleagues concluded that many of these stresses are overlapping. Up to 10 of the 15 impact pathways co-occur within the footprint of proposed coastal tanker routes, but there are few scientific studies examining the effect of two or more impacts arising simultaneously.

“The gaps in scientific understanding we identified cast doubt on claims that risks can be effectively managed or mitigated,” said co-author Wendy Palen of Simon Fraser University. “Projects should not be considered in isolation, and multiple types of impacts need to be considered simultaneously. Everything is connected.”

To rectify the situation, the study’s authors recommend using a framework that can assess the consequences of multiple environmental impacts and their cumulative effects, including the ultimate fate of the petroleum products in the atmosphere. The authors urge scientists, governments, and industry to work together to fill information gaps so that the risks of such projects are known ahead of regulatory decisions in the United States and Canada.

“The findings in our paper are part of a broader effort by independent scientists to pull together what is known from various fields of research to inform sound decisions about energy and environmental policy,” said co-author Thomas Sisk of Northern Arizona University.

The Center for Ocean Solutions is an interdisciplinary center for ocean science, policy, and law at Stanford, in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Co-authors of “Oil sands and the marine environment: current knowledge and future challenges” include researchers at Simon Fraser University, Oregon State University, Northern Arizona University, and the Hakai Institute.

Media Contacts:

Stephanie Green
Center of Ocean Solutions
(778) 808-0758

Rob Jordan
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
(650) 721-1881


Header Image Credit: Michael Collier