Rigorous Research Lights Our Way

The following comes from Hakai Magazine in Vancouver, BC. It’s reassuring to learn just how rigorous the research is that points us in the right direction for next steps in protecting and preserving our oceans’ marine life.

Ask any environmental scientist about their biggest challenge and many of them will tell you—or at least, many of them have told me—that it’s not always getting the data, it’s processing it. Acousticians scrub through thousands of hours of hydrophone recordings for a few precious seconds of whale song. Oceanographers parse endless temperature and salinity logs from monitoring buoys to find trends. It’s astounding how often science’s rate-limiting step is just dealing with all the information.

The University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us initiative has just compiled a mind-blowing volume of data on fish stocks around the world. They measured species biomass since 1950 and looked specifically at how much of the fish that people like to eat is actually in the ocean. This scope of study is valuable, and this one draws a pretty clear picture: we’re decimating most of our favorite fish.

The group used computer-based statistical methods to assess over 1,000 populations of 483 fishes and invertebrates humans find delicious and found 82 percent of these populations had dwindled beyond what can support maximum levels of fishing. Some places were worse than others, but with such big data the overall trend is clear.

Next comes the question of policy. Catch limits and protected areas can help stocks recover. Implementing them, however, can be tricky. Sustainable aquaculture can alleviate fishing pressure, too. But whatever comes next, the first step in any solution is getting a clear picture of the problem. Now, there are some good numbers to lean on.

So this week, let’s give a shout-out to the researchers, students, and everyone everywhere crunching numbers and weeding through and making sense of the deluge of information out there. Without them, we’d be far more in the dark about the problems, and solutions, of our world.

Amorina Kingdon
Staff researcher and writer for Hakai Magazine


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