Flight of the Phytoplankton

While debating various Biol 420 term paper titles (that included many, many puns), we created a Phytoplankton movie franchise for a variety of genres.
It all began with:

Flight of the Phytoplankton

Horror: Fright of the Phytoplankton
Thriller/Medical Mystery: Blight of the Phytoplankton
Action: Might of the Phytoplankton
Supernatural: Sight of the Phytoplankton
Dance Movie: Tights of the Phytoplankton
Comedy: Night at the Phytoplankton Museum
Romance: Light of the Phytoplankton
Fringe/Cult Movie: Rite of the Phytoplankton
Drama: Plight of the Phytoplankton


In case you’re wondering we did get our term paper finished. Our title ended up being: Vancouver steps it up by skirting marine habitat degradation. A summary blog of our term paper about the Vancouver Convention Centre’s habitat skirt can be found here: http://blogs.ubc.ca/vcchabitatskirt/.


CCAM(LR) we save the oceans with poli-seas before we krill them all?

The world’s most pristine ocean is being threatened by climate change and commercial fisheries. For the sake of one of the last intact ecosystems, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has been tasked with the conservation and management of Antarctic marine life and habitat since 1982. It is currently made up of 25 members from 24 countries and the European Union.

How does CCAMLR work?
Before CCAMLR members vote on issues, policies, and motions, they are advised by their Scientific Committee, which assesses fish population health, as well as ecosystem monitoring and management. There is also a committee that oversees implementation compliance with the commission’s decisions. The commission must come to a unanimous decision before any action can be taken.

The CCAMLR Scientific Committee uses ecosystem-based fisheries practices to manage its fish populations. This involves taking into consideration both ecosystem and human interactions when planning fisheries management. It is a much larger-scale picture compared to single species management.

Fisheries affect much more than fishers and their fish; they create numerous interactions between the environment and people. The marine habitat is a complex and diverse ecosystem affected by many physical, biological, and chemical processes and society is made up of many groups with different interests and goals. By understanding how the ecosystem works, fisheries management can become much more effective. (Image credit: Oceanecology)

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), a goal was set to achieve a representative network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2012. In response to this, CCAMLR developed a conservation measure to guide MPA establishment in Antarctica based on the best available scientific evidence. Designation of an MPA in Antarctica would allow for the protection of marine ecosystems and their processes, biodiversity, and habitats, as well as the establishment of scientific reference areas.

A rare sight of “Jade Icebergs” from Dr. Steve Nicol; usually the dark green ice is underwater, but here it is afloat.

A rare sight of “Jade Icebergs” from Dr. Steve Nicol; usually the dark green ice is underwater, but here it is afloat.

Courtesy of BBC Earth Frozen Planet, a majestic minke whale in the Ross Sea coming to the surface to breathe.

Courtesy of BBC Earth Frozen Planet, a majestic minke whale in the Ross Sea coming to the surface to breathe.

Why does CCAMLR exist? Why is it important?
Antarctica is home to over 10,000 species, many of which are endemic, meaning they can be found nowhere else on the planet. Two areas, known as the Ross Sea and the East Antarctic, are under consideration to become MPAs. The Ross Sea MPA would cover 1.32 million km2, down from the original proposal of over 2 million km2, while the East Antarctic MPA would protect 1.6 million km2.

Plans for the Ross Sea MPA were first blocked in 2011 by the Ukraine and Russia. International relations soured in 2013 with Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia and again in March of this year with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Although Ukraine backed Russia in 2011, with current political tensions, it is unclear how the CCAMLR negotiations will play out this year.

What does the Ross Sea policy proposal include?
New Zealand and the USA have proposed a 1.32 million km2 MPA, with a no-take zone of 1.25 million km2 (purple in the figure below) where no commercial harvesting would be allowed. The establishment of a Special Research Zone (light blue) would allow harvesting for scientific purposes only. The current fishing activities will be distributed to areas outside of the MPA, which will be determined by research so as to maintain a sustainable fishery.

ross sea edited

The Ross Sea MPA proposal can be found here.

But why Antarctica, you ask? Why should YOU care?
Often called The Last Ocean, the Ross Sea is considered to be the most pristine marine areas on Earth. As you can see below, Antarctic has experienced very little human impacts.

This map shows the intensity of human impacts in marine areas from high impacts (red) to low impacts (blue). Notice that Antarctica has experienced very low impact from humans, which is why it is still so pristine. Making the Ross Sea an MPA would allow CCAMLR to maintain the beauty and life of the area. (From Halpern et al 2008)

This map shows the intensity of human impacts in marine areas from high impacts (red) to low impacts (blue). Notice that Antarctica has experienced very low impact from humans, which is why it is still so pristine. Making the Ross Sea an MPA would allow CCAMLR to maintain the beauty and life of the area. (From Halpern et al 2008)

If that isn’t enough to persuade someone of the importance of conserving this area, then you may be interested to know that the Antarctic krill population is used in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, which are products and supplements that keep humans healthy.

How has CCAMLR been successful?
In the 1990s, the rapidly developing Antarctic longline fishery resulted in a high quantity of seabird bycatch, meaning that seabirds were being entangled by mistake. This was detrimental to seabird populations in the region, especially albatross and petrel.

Image credit to ocean.si.edu

Image credit to ocean.si.edu

CCAMLR created a group to annually study seabirds (excluding penguins and other coastal bird species) and fish stocks in existing and potential fishery areas. Their analyses resulted in major preventative measures that successfully worked to reduce seabird bycatch. This method and approach indicates that the proposed MPAs can be effectively managed by CCAMLR without major disruptions to fisheries in these areas.

Image from: PEW Charitable Trusts

Image from: PEW Charitable Trusts

What’s next for CCAMLR policy?

  • CCAMLR has yet to determine the course of action regarding the management of krill fisheries. The sheer abundance of the crustacean makes it one of the largest protein sources on Earth, utilised by fish, penguins, whales, and, of course, humans.
  • Aquaculture is a major driving force in expanding this fishery with fish farms globally becoming reliant upon krill-based fish feed. Enzymes and chemicals derived from krill are also coming to the fore in medicinal products.
  • The changing environment is also impacting krill populations. Their numbers have declined by 80% since 1970 in the Southern Ocean, as their algal prey have dwindled around the Antarctic Peninsula.
  • CCAMLR is currently meeting to determine the management practice to preserve this ecologically and economically vital fishery. They must protect from overexploitation of certain areas and crucial spawning grounds whilst maintaining economic interests. This is a challenge that must be met with conviction to preserve a final frontier of our oceans.

To sign a petition supporting CCAMLR please visit: http://antarcticocean.org/


How to contact the blog authors on Twitter:
Toby Buttress (@toby_buttress)
Shannon Keefe (@shannonkeefe333)
Josephine Ling (@josephinejling)
Jeremy Mayer (@jeremymayer5)
Kate McGivney (@katemcgivney)
Kelsey Webb (@kelseywebbratz)


Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources. (2011). General framework for the establishment of CCAMLR Marine Protected Areas. (Conservation Measure 91-04). Hobart, Tasmania: CCAMLR-XXX.

Fabra, A., & Gascon, V. (2008). The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the Ecosystem Approach. The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, 23(3), 567-571.

Halpern, B.S., Walbridge, S., Selkoe, K.A., Kappel, C.V., Micheli, F., Agrosa, C.,…Watson, R. A. (2008). Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems. Science, 319, 948-952.

Marine, M. (2010). Ecologists fear Antarctic krill crisis. Nature, 467, 2.

Miller, D.G.M., Sabourenkov, E.N., & Rarnm, D.C. (2004). Managing Antarctic Marine Living Resources: The CCAMLR Approach. The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, 19(3), 317-363.

Sherirff, N. (2014, Oct 17). East-West hostility may stall Ross Sea conservation. Aljazeera America. Retrieved from http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/17/environmentalistsfeareastwesthostilitymaystallrossseaconservatio.html

Vincent, A. (2014). CCAMLR, EBM and the Ross Sea [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from UBC Connect <http://elearning.ubc.ca/connect/>.

Waugh, S., Baker, G., Gales, R., & Croxall, J. (2008). CCAMLR process of risk assessment to minimise the effects of longline fishing mortality on seabirds. Marine Policy, 32, 442-454.

Saving Sharks by Seeing Sharks: Ecotourism in Palau

Palau – a beautiful destination for going on a “Journey to the South Pacific,” as illustrated by MacGillivray Freeman Films. It really brings tropical diving to life and captures the diversity that lies waiting in the islands of Palau.

But wait! Where in the world is Palau?


Where in the world is Palau? It’s here! (Source: placesbook.org)

Here, located between Australia and the Philippines, sit the approximately 300 islands of Palau. A tropical paradise that locals and travellers are encouraged to explore and enjoy. A quick Google Images search of simply “Palau” will pop hundreds of gorgeous shots of animals, fish, birds, trees, people etc. However, the prevalent focus of these pictures is on the ocean. The ocean is everywhere!


Amazing Palauan corals! (Source: “soft coral” by Jeff~ via Flickr Creative Commons)


A stunning Palauan shark! (Source:”shark” by Jeff~ via Flickr Creative Commons)






What makes Palau special is its amazing coral reefs, which attract small fish and larger animals such as sharks.

Luckily for tourists around the world who come to visit this marine oasis, much of Palau’s coast is conserved through Marine Protected Areas and many terrestrial areas are protected as well. The map below shows Palau, including the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, the country’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site which was established in 2012 and covers 100,200 ha (387 mi2).


Map of Palau (Source: Compare Infobase Ltd)

The country has realized that instead of killing a shark and then selling it for a single profit; they can “sell” sharks over and over again to tourists who want to dive with them. A single shark is valued to be worth $1.9 million in Palau, which makes ecotourism very profitable for the country and more sustainable for wild populations. On Feb 4, 2014, the president of Palau announced that he intends to make the entire country a National Marine Sanctuary, with no industrial fishing because “our economy is the environment and the environment is our economy.”

Scientific research (which is referenced below in case you’re curious) has shown that the ecotourism industry is very valuable. Palau welcomes over 80,00 tourists every year, over half of whom are divers, who come to experience the lush life of Palau’s reefs. In taxes, the government alone makes over US$1.5 million from hotels and restaurants for a year.

The researchers also estimated how much money could be made from 100 sharks over a 16 year life expectancy, which totalled up to US$200 million in revenue. Compare this to the US$18 million in revenue that shark fishers could acquire from just killing the 100 sharks outright, it’s an unbelievable difference!


So given the choice, which would you take: the $18 million or the $200 million?

I know what I would choose.



Knip, Danielle, et al. “Evaluating marine protected areas for the conservation of tropical coastal sharks.” Biological Conservation 148: 200–209 (2012).

UNESCO. “Rock Islands Southern Lagoon.” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1386/

Vianna, G.M.S. et al. “Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations.” Biological Conservation 145: 267–277 (2012).

Spam prevention powered by Akismet