In January of this year, I joined the Wildlife & Landscape Science Directorate of Environment and Climate Change Canada in a science position! It's been a busy 5 months getting up to speed with Canada's deliberate approach to assessing and managing cumulative effects, and getting new projects off the ground. In June I had the opportunity to present some of my work on plastic pollution and seabirds during the Science Odessey Open House! During this annual event, the Directorate opens it's doors and welcomes the public. We had a great turn out from elementary, middle and high school students, as well as students from Carleton University. It was also a unique opportunity to learn about my co-workers research. Here are some photos from the day - and you can learn more by following the unofficial twitter accounts run by colleagues: @LandSciTech & @ECCCWildlifeSci!
Conservation 'triage' is a controversial topic (see recent Science Feature), but the fact remains that wildlife managers around the world are faced with difficult decisions when deciding how to spend insufficient funds to reverse the decline of endangered species. Increased investments would help - but in the meantime, can we help managers weigh out their options?
Yes, we can. Almost 3 years ago, I joined a SESYNC working group lead by Drs. Leah Gerber (Arizona State University) and Michael Runge (USGS) to develop a Resource Allocation Explorer Tool that the US Fish and Wildlife Service can use to explore resource allocation scenarios. In October 2018 we published a Policy Forum article about our efforts (Link to paper / PDF of paper / Press release). This was an ambitious project, and one that benefited greatly from the direct input of many USFWS staff from all levels.
In the paper we propose that the diverse social, economic and environmental values of competing stakeholders, as well as consideration of many hundreds of federally protected species and conservation actions complicate decisions. This complex decision landscape often leads to decisions on how to allocate funding being approached in an ad hoc and implicit fashion. We propose a structured, logical and transparent approach to allocating limited resources to conservation and recovery efforts as an alternative to the status quo. Our proposed framework improves the quality and transparency of Endangered Species resource allocation decisions by identifying which objectives are most important and how best to allocate funds to save the most species for a given budget. Transparent and cost-effective resource allocation can instill greater confidence in funding agencies and conservation partners in the impact and success of their spending, a process that has led to overall increases in conservation investment in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
To read about our efforts, please check out our paper and stay tuned for additional outputs from the working group!
This week a mansucript I lead was published in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment (here). In this comment article, my co-authors and I, acknowledge the pervasiveness of plastic pollution and challenge the research community to think creatively about how we can better link plastic ingestion research with wildlife conservation efforts. This is an essential step in an increasingly polluted world, and will enable the development of tools to better predict and manage the impacts of plastic ingestion on vulnerable marine wildlife species.
Plastic is an increasingly pervasive marine pollutant. Concomitantly, the number of studies documenting plastic ingestion in wildlife is accelerating. Many of these studies aim to provide a baseline against which future levels of plastic ingestion can be compared, and are motivated by an underlying interest in the conservation of their study species and ecosystems. Although this research has helped to raise the profile of plastic as a pollutant of emerging concern, there is a disconnect between research examining plastic pollution and wildlife conservation. We present ideas to further discussion about how plastic ingestion research could benefit wildlife conservation by prioritising studies that elucidates the significance of plastic pollution as a population-level threat, identifies vulnerable populations, and evaluates strategies for mitigating impacts. The benefit of plastic ingestion research to marine wildlife can be improved by establishing a clearer understanding of how discoveries will be integrated into conservation and policy actions.
Our study, recently published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, provides new information on plastic pollution in the western North Atlantic
The Labrador Sea – a chilly body of water between Canada and Greenland in the western North Atlantic - provides important habitat for marine animals and supports important commercial fisheries. Although plastic is now one among one of the most pervasive pollutants on the planet, little is known about plastic pollution in this region.
Due to a small human footprint in the surrounding coastal areas, we hypothesized that the Labrador Sea would have low levels of plastic pollution. Using the northern fulmar, an internationally recognized biological monitor for trends in plastic pollution, we set out to evaluate how plastic pollution here compares to other regions. We found that 79% of fulmars collected from Canadian waters of the Labrador Sea had ingested plastic, but that the amount ingested is lower than many other regions in the Atlantic and Pacific. This suggests that levels of plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea may also be lower. However, despite the low human footprint, the Labrador Sea does not meet the EcoQO marine litter target for 'acceptable ecological quality', and ocean circulation models predict that the Arctic will become another plastic pollution accumulation zone in the future.
I believe it is time for a strategic approach. A coordinated effort to manage waste is needed, and monitoring trends in plastic pollution could help to detect reductions as waste-management strategies come online. This is critical as the rapid loss of sea ice due to climate change and an increase in commercial activities make the area vulnerable to increasing plastic pollution.
Citation: Avery-Gomm, S., Provencher, J. F., Liboiron, M., Poon, F. E., & Smith, P. A. (2017). Plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea: An assessment using the seabird northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis as a biological monitoring species. Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.10.001
From April 12-14, more than 125 seabird scientists, conservationists and NGOs from all over the world shared research, on Twitter. In case you missed it, here is mine!