Global marine biodiversity: causes, consequences, conservation

Marine biodiversity in space and time

My research interests have long focused on the interaction between people and marine biodiversity, at a regional to global scale. I am interested in how patterns of marine biodiversity arise, how hotspots of high species richness are formed and maintained. On the more applied side I have been tracking changes in marine biodiversity over time and space, with some emphasis on large marine predators such as sharks, tuna, billfish and whales. I am keen to understand what forces these changes, and what the relative contribution is of human-induced versus natural variation. A lot of my work has focused specifically on the impacts of fishing and climate change, and how they may interact in contemporary ecosystems. From this basis of understanding my students and I try to devise management solution that can help to conserve and restore marine biodiversity worldwide.

A major new research initiative I co-lead under the Ocean Frontier Institute addresses the challenge of designing Marine Protected Area networks which are resilient to climate change. Marine Protected Areas are often designed to protect biodiversity, sustain or enhance productivity and critical habitat, and provide insurance against sudden or drastic changes in the ecosystem and its resources.  At present Canada is committed to expanding its Marine Protected Area coverage from ~1% to 10% by the year 2020. This research aims to complement existing efforts to help ‘future-proof’ such Marine Protected Area networks and other spatial management tools such as fisheries closures and critical habitat designations. By integrating observational data on shifting habitats and ecosystems with real-time remote sensing, animal movement, and vessel tracking data, this project will help to understand in ocean conditions, biological resources, and human use patterns relevant to Marine Protected Areas.
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Ecosystem oceanography
Core support for my current research program ‘Ecosystem oceanography: understanding the dynamics of a changing ocean’ comes from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The goal of this program is to analyze the causes and consequences of recent changes in marine food webs. Specifically, our lab attempts to analyze the potentially complex interdependencies of observed changes in predator and plankton abundance throughout the world’s oceans.
NSERC
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Boris Worm
Professor in Marine Conservation Biology
Dept. of Biology, Dalhousie University Halifax
Email: Boris.Worm@dal.ca
Phone: +1 902 4942478 (office)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Boris Worm,
Professor Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Surveying baleen whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence using VHR satellite imagery

North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are an endangered species of baleen whale that is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean. With its population severely depleted from historical whaling, the global population size is currently estimated to be around 400 individuals. Right whales typically migrate annually from their winter calving grounds in Florida and Georgia in the United States to northern feeding and nursery grounds in the Gulf of Maine, Bay of Fundy, and the Scotian Shelf. In recent years, these whales have been observed more frequently in other parts of the Northwest Atlantic, such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Although several known habitats for right whales have been identified, the movements of these whales between habitats are not well understood, with large parts of the population unaccounted for in certain seasons. In addition, vessel strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear account for a large percentage of right whale mortalities. To adequately protect right whales from the variety of anthropogenic threats they face, a complete understanding of the seasonal movements of this endangered species is needed. Traditional survey methods for marine mammals are costly, time-consuming, difficult to coordinate, and often not present in all of the regions where they are needed most. Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery has been successfully implemented to assess a variety of wildlife populations, including emperor penguins, polar bears, seals, and some whale species. This tool can be used worldwide to deliver high-quality images in a shorter time and at a lower cost compared to traditional survey methods. As such, it has the potential to revolutionize how we track, monitor, and ultimately protect whale populations.

 

My PhD project aims to develop an automated census method using VHR satellite imagery and deep learning algorithms to automatically detect, identify, and count whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This methodology can be used to answer important biological questions about the distribution and conservation of right whales and other baleen whale species.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Olivia Pisano
Ph.D. Candidate, Dalhousie University
Email: Olivia.Pisano@dal.ca
Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Olivia Pisano
Ph.D. Candidate
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Assessing Changing Baleen Whale Distributions Relative to Human Pressure

The Northwest Atlantic Ocean (NWA) is home to six baleen whale species, that are becoming threatened by increasing human pressures. Baleen whales are commonly injured by collisions with vessels. Furthermore, their food supply and habitat quality is threatened by environmental changes caused by climate change, but there are significant knowledge gaps surrounding these threats.

I will be addressing these gaps by determining the space and time distributions of baleen whales in the NWA relative to vessel activity to assess vessel strike risk, using observation data, GIS technology, and statistical modelling. In addition, I will be predicting the distributions of the baleen whales under climate change conditions using a high-resolution spatiotemporal point process model. This work aims to determine present and future aggregations of whales, habitat usage, and hotspots of interaction with vessels. Lastly, I will evaluate the effectiveness of the current management strategies that are in place to protect baleen whales from vessel strikes, based on the results found, and ultimately determine if they need reassessment to best conserve threatened whale species.

From this project, we will be able to better predict NWA baleen whale distribution with regard to human interaction and environmental change, which will strengthen the scientific basis for more targeted protection measures.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Hannah Solway

Master’s Student

Dalhousie University

Email: hannah.solway@gmail.com

Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Hannah Solway
Master’s Student
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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The effects of anti-finning legislation on global shark mortality

The unhalted expansion of industrialized fishing fleets has exerted huge pressures on the sustainability of marine megafaunas, mostly in case of large chondrichthyan species comprising of sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras. There are about 1041 chondrichthyans living in the world oceans and one-quarter of these species are threatened according to IUCN Red list criteria. This is mainly due to overfishing, as sharks are often killed for their valuable fins (‘shark finning’) when caught as bycatch, as well as targeted for their meat, oil and other products.Shark finning coupled with 18-fold increase in relative fishing pressure, has reduced sharks and rays’ populations (collectively referred as sharks) by 71% since 1970.As a result, shark finning has been banned in many jurisdictions since the 2000s; however, despite the anti-finning legislations within many national jurisdictions and its violation of the UN FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, shark finning continues in many areas. Consequently, there exists little motivation to reduce shark catch and bycatch, while a lucrative shark fin market still prevails in some nations due to weak enforcements and high monetary incentives associated with the fin trade.

My master’s project aims to evaluate how the changes in anti-finning legislation at the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO) and country level affected the incidence of finning, and total shark mortality over the last 20 years.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Nidhi Gloria D’Costa

Master’s of Marine Management Student

Marine Affairs Program

Dalhousie University

Email: Nidhi.D’Costa@dal.ca

Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
Nidhi Gloria D’Costa
Master’s of Marine Management Student
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St. PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Developing a Canadian ocean literacy evaluation framework

With the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science and the Canadian Ocean Literacy Strategy (the Strategy) this year, there has been increased recognition of the need for ocean education at all levels to increase ocean literacy. According to the Strategy, ocean literacy in Canada is multi-dimensional and includes ocean knowledge, value, and action. However, while the Strategy has identified action streams in raising ocean literacy, there has yet to be an evaluation framework to track the effectiveness of each stream.

My Master’s project focuses on the development of a multi-dimensional ocean literacy evaluation framework to help track the progress of different initiatives in raising ocean literacy. The framework will use Ocean Week Canada as a case study to assess its effectiveness and it will be a valuable tool to aid the implementation of the Strategy.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Lisa Chen

Master’s of Marine Management Student

Marine Affairs Program

Dalhousie University

Email: Lisa.Chen@dal.ca

Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

Dr. Jerry Bannister (Dalhousie University) Canada

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
Lisa Chen
Master’s of Marine Management Student
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St. PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Assessing the effects of climate change on fishery catches of the NW Atlantic Ocean

Climate change is already affecting marine ecosystems and shifting species from their historical ranges into previously unsuitable and sometimes poorly protected environments. The Northwest Atlantic is an ideal region to study ocean change because of its more rapid rate of warming. My research aims to assess climate change effects as reflected in fisheries catches of the NW Atlantic Ocean, including both Canadian and US waters, using the mean temperature of the catch (MTC) index. It ultimately aims to inform future fisheries management strategies about regional and transboundary shifts in species and catches, so that management can adequately respond and adapt to the challenges of accelerated environmental and ecosystem change.
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Donna Dimarchopoulou

Postdoctoral Researcher

Biology Department

Dalhousie University

Email: ddimarch@dal.ca

Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

Dr. Heike Lotze (Dalhousie University) Canada

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
Donna Dimarchopoulou
Postdoctoral Researcher
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St. PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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