I was trained as a marine ecologist and have done field work around the world, primarily in coral reef, rocky intertidal, and rocky reef ecosystems. Over the last decade my research has become much more interdisciplinary; I regularly collaborate with economists, anthropologists, decision scientists, and conservation scientists, as well as ecologists and marine scientists. Topically I focus my research on a range of issues and questions related to effective and efficient protection and sustainable use of marine resources. The project descriptions below highlight how these interests have translated into specific research programs and focal geographic regions. Ultimately, these projects aim to inform the science and application of marine protected areas (MPAs) and no-take marine reserves, ecosystem based management (EBM), and marine spatial planning (MSP).
Ocean Health Index
For the past six years I have served as lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index project, a large collaborative project involving many people and institutions. In this work we aim to capture the many different goals that people have for healthy marine systems, and provide indicators of those goals, as well as an overall Index across all goals. We launched our first global assessment and the accompanying website in August 2012. Currently we are focused on four key activities: 1) applying the methods to regional case studies (Brazil, US West Coast and Fiji have been completed; additional regional studies are just beginning for several locations in North America, South America and the Arctic), 2) calculating annual global scores using updated methods and data (launched each year in September, 3) developing a software toolbox that will allow others to explore and calculate their own index scores for their own regions, and 4) actively supporting agencies and countries around the world to explore how the Index can be used to inform decision making in those regions.
I am co-lead of the Conservation Aquaculture Research Team (CART) based at NCEAS, and was co-PI for a SNAPP working group on sustainable offshore aquaculture that addressed a range of topics aimed at understanding and guiding how to expand offshore aquaculture sustainably around the world. I am recently collaborated with a team of Chilean researchers on a project called MUSELS that modeled biophysical and socio-ecological drivers of sustainable shellfish aquaculture in Chile.
Ocean Tipping Points
I am part of a large collaborative project that seeks to understand and characterize ecological thresholds, or “tipping points,” in coastal and ocean systems, in which small changes in human use or environmental conditions result in large, and sometimes abrupt, impacts to marine ecosystems. Our ultimate goal is to help agencies and decision-makers anticipate and manage for these tipping points, and are working in two case study locations – Hawaii and Haida Gwaii, British Columbia – towards that end.
Cumulative Impact Mapping
Over the last decade I have led several projects that mapped at global, regional and local scales the cumulative impact of human activities on marine systems. The work began with developing the methodology to do so and applying it globally. Since then I have co-led projects to apply the methods regionally in Hawaii, Massachusetts, the California Current, South Africa, the Mediterranean (data and project descriptions available on my Products page), and recently in the Great Lakes and soon-to-be-released global update. For several of these efforts I have worked closely with policy makers and managers to integrate findings into management decisions. I have also been involved in several projects that have adapted the methodology to particular taxa (billfish and plankton, marine mammals and seabirds) with the aim of informing strategic action to better protect those species, and to all mapped marine taxa to identify global hotspots. I continue to explore ways to expand and adapt the methods to new systems and new questions, and to refine the methods as we learn more about where key gaps remain.
Climate change impacts on biodiversity
Understanding species responses to climate change is a fundamental need for conservation planning. In collaboration with scientists from around the world, we conducted the first global synthesis of the response of marine species to climate change, which served as primary content for the marine species chapter of the 5th report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We have also explored global rates of change of climate variables in the oceans, and more recently the potential impact of these future changes on species and biodiversity. I am currently collaborating with the Sustainable Fisheries Group to use these approaches and results to explore implications for fisheries management and sustainability under climate change
Equity in conservation
With support from the Australian Research Council, colleagues and I are exploring if, and if so how, the equity in benefits or costs from management actions affects the probability of success for conservation outcomes. This work builds on ideas from a paper we recently published exploring the feasibility of ‘triple bottom line’ solutions to conservation. The project involves synthesis of existing research from around the world, further development of models used to test these questions, and an in depth empirical test of hypotheses in a case study location (still to be determined). I also lead a project within the Bren School to explore issues of equity in resource management and teach a seminar on this topic.