Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant Project Descriptions

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Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant Project Descriptions

2012 |2011 |2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2001


Butchered archaeological grouper bones --- 2700 years ago,
Iskenderun Bay, with a modern specimen as comparison. 


New Evidence for Fish Processing in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean: Formalised Epinephelus Butchery in Fifth Century bc Kinet Höyük, Turkey

Researcher: Dr. Canan Çakırlar, Groningen University

Location: Eastern Mediterranean

Description: The Eastern Mediterranean (EM) is one of the most impoverished marine reserves of our planet. Although this condition is generally attributed to post-Suez anthropogenic impact, it is unlikely that the coastal waters of the EM were in a pristine state before recent industrialization. The EM is arguably the oldest continuously and intensively humanized seascape of the world. From Homeric Troy to Biblical Ashkelon, the basin is surrounded by some of the earliest cities in history. Their ruins are abundant with fishing equipment, mollusc shells, and fish bones; all tangible evidence for millennia of human-fisheries interaction. What was the nature and scale of this interaction? How large was anthropogenic impact on fisheries? This project aims to explore these questions through the extraction of catch composition and size range data from a rare fish bone assemblage from the ancient harbour of Kinet Höyük (5000 and 700 BP), located near the Syrian border of Turkey. This study is the first of its kind to be conducted in the region and the results will constitute a reproducible baseline for future conservation research in the EM.

A trawl net bulging with its catch on the SS Pieter Faure,
the first government-led research vessel conducting marine
surveys off South Africa between 1897 and 1906.


Measuring ecological change on the Agulhas Bank and reconstructing historical baselines in South Africa's inshore trawl grounds

Researcher: Jock Currie, University of Cape Town

Location: South Africa 

Description: This research aims to investigate the historical backdrop of the trawl fishery in South Africa and estimate how fish communities might have changed since its inception at the turn of the 20th century. Understanding the past dynamics, both of fish populations and fishing strategies, is essential to making informed decisions on the management of fish resources and their surrounding ecosystems.The 20th century saw rapid development of offshore commercial fisheries in South Africa and with the help of foreign fleets escalating catches in the 1960s and 1970s, many fishery resources were severely overexploited towards the end of the century. Yet despite the removal of vast amounts of biomass and depletion of several monitored populations, we have a poor understanding of how the broader communities or ecosystems have been changed, mainly due to a lack of information on their states prior to human impacts. Fortunately, an exceptional collection of historical research survey data was recently digitised for the first time, providing detailed insight into the initiation of ship-based research surveys and exploration of virgin fishing grounds in the late 19th and early 20th century. Representing meticulous records taken at thousands of georeferenced stations between 1897-1904 and 1920-1932, these data contain a wealth of untapped information on historical marine ecosystems, at a time prior to large-scale human impacts and industrialized fishing in the surveyed regions. This project seeks to contrast the historical records with recent and dedicated repeat survey data, in order to quantify how the demersal communities changed during a century of escalating anthropogenic pressures. Changes in the distributions, abundances and community composition of the trawl-caught fish will be investigated and pre-disturbed baselines will be estimated. The results will be interpreted in terms of improved fisheries management, marine conservation and spatial management. Relevant findings will be communicated across a broad audience of stakeholders and the public. Sharing of results with the fishing industry and fisheries managers will build joint understanding of historical baselines, subsequent impacts and the issue of shifting baselines, contributing towards more informed and improved fisheries management in South Africa.


  • Explore changes in distribution of demersal species during the 20th century and in recent decades, interpreting any such changes in light of climate change and fishery impacts.

  • Contrast the community composition of trawl-caught demersal fish assemblages of the early 20th-century and the present, assessing how these have changed in light of anthropogenic pressures.

  • Estimate baseline biomass and relative abundances of demersal fish and assess trends in trawl catch-rates, to provide reference points from a period before they might have experienced significant anthropogenic pressures.

  • Share results and interpretations across a broad audience, including  resource managers, the fishing industry and the public, with a particular emphasis on stakeholder engagement and shared learning.

Is a century of human intervention enough to change the ecology of an Antarctic marine top predator: the Weddell seal?

Researcher: Dr. Luis A. Huckstadt, University of California Santa Cruz

Population Structure and Phylogeography in Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a Mass-Aggregating Marine Fish

Researcher: Dr. Alexis M. Jackson, University of California Santa Cruz

Location: Caribbean basin

Description: To address patterns of genetic connectivity in a mass-aggregating marine fish, we analyzed genetic variation in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), microsatellites, and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus). We expected Nassau grouper to exhibit genetic differentiation among its subpopulations due to its reproductive behavior and retentive oceanographic conditions experienced across the Caribbean basin. All samples were genotyped for two mitochondrial markers and 9 microsatellite loci, and a subset of samples were genotyped for 4,234 SNPs. We found evidence of genetic differentiation in a Caribbean-wide study of this mass-aggregating marine fish using mtDNA (FST =0.206, p,0.001), microsatellites (FST =0.002, p=0.004) and SNPs (FST =0.002, p=0.014), and identified three potential barriers to larval dispersal. Genetically isolated regions identified in our work mirror those seen for other invertebrate and fish species in the Caribbean basin. Oceanographic regimes in the Caribbean may largely explain patterns of genetic differentiation among Nassau grouper subpopulations. Regional patterns observed warrant standardization of fisheries management and conservation initiatives among countries within genetically isolated regions


  • Address patterns of connectivity in a mass-aggregating marine fish


Family posing with a North Pacific Right Whale.

Soviet illegal whaling in the North Pacific: reconstructing catches, preserving memories

Researcher: Dr. Yulia Ivashchenko

Location: Russia


In November 1993, Dr Alexei Yablokov, then Science Advisor to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, revealed that the Soviet Union had conducted a global campaign of illegal whaling that began in 1947 and lasted three decades. During this time, Soviet factory ships roamed the world’s oceans and slaughtered tens of thousands of whales, regardless of their size, age or protected status. In the Southern Hemisphere, the difference between what the USSR reported to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the true catch amounted to an additional 100,000 whales. In the North Pacific in the 1960's, Soviet catches of right whales in the eastern North Pacific almost wiped out a population that was probably slowly recovering from intensive exploitation in the 19th century; today, this stock of right whales is estimated at just 30 animals (Wade et al. 2011), and as a result of the Soviet takes is arguably the most endangered whale population in the world. The damage inflicted by this highly organized campaign of industrialized plunder is hard to overstate, and the impact of what was arguably one of the 20th century’s worst environmental crimes is still evident in many whale populations today.

This project will provide a basis for future assessments of North Pacific whale populations, and will also preserve memories and materials from individuals who were involved in the whaling itself.


  • To collect data on Soviet catches of large whales in the North Pacific in order to correct the catch record and to provide details of historical whale distribution in this ocean, prior to assessments of current and pre-exploitation status.
  • Through oral histories, to preserve memories and materials of individuals who worked in the Soviet whaling industry.

NYC circa 1800

A Four-Century Retrospective of Marine Fauna and Fisheries around New York City

Researcher: Dr. Merry Camhi

Location: New York City


The abundance and diversity of the marine life that greeted Henry Hudson in 1609 upon his arrival in the New York estuary staggers the imagination. New York City’s early commercial fisheries thrived on the diversity of species in the waters surrounding Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island, making New York Harbor one of the busiest suppliers for New England fish markets. Early explorers reported encounters with whales and porpoises in New York Harbor; leatherback sea turtles graced Long Island’s shores. Sharks were frequently seen in the local coastal waters, and provided a robust sport fishery. The annual arrival of river herring was heralded as a “harbinger of spring”, and Hudson River Atlantic sturgeon, aka “Albany beef,” were so abundant as to be hazardous to boat passage. New York’s diet, economy, and even streets were built on the exalted oyster. This is just a small sample of the biodiversity historically found in the rich coastal and marine ecosystems surrounding New York City and Long Island.

Today, New York waters fringe one of the world’s largest urban centers, with a human population of almost 20 million. Most of the above species are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Species of Concern, and fisheries for each have been closed or are very limited.

This project proposes to answer the question: How has species composition in New York City’s waters changed through the centuries, and can we determine the direct impact of the local fishing industry on marine wildlife? Historical research can help hone estimates of species diversity, richness, population abundance, and distribution prior to periods of heavy exploitation.


  • Create century snapshots (1609-present) of marine fauna corresponding to key historical moments of human use (e.g., trade embargos, steamship development, Erie Canal opening) to show shifts in biological communities (loss and recovery), pre-colonization to today;
  • Map historical and current spatial and temporal distribution of marine species;
  • Undertake first comprehensive assessment of fisheries through time, including a) indigenous tribe fishing (Lenape) on fish populations pre-colonization, and b) commercial and recreational fishing through four centuries post-colonization;
  • Track geographic shifts in fishing hotspots correlated to environmental variables including pollution, temperature, and bathymetry where possible; and
  • Use findings to promote population recovery efforts and incipient coastal and marine spatial planning in the Mid-Atlantic region, including recommendations for new marine reserves.

There has been a recent spike sea turtle nesting activity along the northern coast of Peru

 Historical baseline of Diversity and abundance of Peruvian marine mega-vertebrates to disentangle climate from fisheries effects

Researcher: Shaleyla Kelez

Location: Peru


Peruvian marine ecosystems are extremely productive and support a high level of biodiversity as a result of a complex interaction of ocean-atmosphere coupling (e.g. currents, winds) as well as inter-annual (i.e. El Niño and the Southern Oscillation) and inter-decadal regimen shifts (i.e. Pacific Decadal Oscillation). Peru, along with Benguela and California upwelling ecosystems, is recognized for its large-scale pelagic fisheries since its start in the 1950’s. Even though Peru’s history of anchovy fisheries is widely recognized in text books, we know very little about the historical state of the ecosystem before industrial fishing. In addition, marine ecosystems along the Peruvian coastline have provided goods and services since the establishment of ancient coastal communities in Peru (i.e. Inca and pre-Inca settlements). Archeological evidence indicates fishingrelated activity in human settlements and associated changes in the use of marine resources, dating back ca.13000 years ago. Also, during the 1970s Peru held the largest leatherback and green turtle fishery in the eastern Pacific. However, as previously stressed, knowledge of historical changes in population trends of marine species is largely restricted to a contemporary timeline (~ 60 years) and is limited to species considered to be of economic importance. We still have only a cursory understanding of the diversity and abundance of marine mega-vertebrates species before the onset of industrial fisheries.

This study will generate the first historical baseline of diversity and abundance for Peruvian marine fauna before industrial fisheries exploitation. This will represent novel information about historical species diversity and abundance, how environmental changes affected them and will serve as input information for meaningful conservation actions aiming to maintain ecosystems functionality in the light of global climate change.


  • To obtain a historical baseline of the diversity and abundance of marine megavertebrates focusing particularly in species of whales, sea birds and sea turtles
  • To examine the relationship between changes in abundance with climatic events (i.e. ENSO) and fisheries.

Seamounts provide habitat that supports a stunning diversity of life

The historical impacts of fishing on seamount ecosystems: Applying an Ecosystem Evaluation Framework for seamount ecology, fisheries and conservation

Researcher: Dr. Telmo Morato

Location: The High Seas


The historical impacts of fishing on marine ecosystems have been long described for coastal ecosystem. The same is not the case for open-ocean or deep-sea ecosystem such as seamounts. Collapse and depletion of many historical inshore groundfish stocks in the late 1900’s encouraged fisheries to expand into deeper water, and in particular to seamounts. Advanced gear technology has been deployed since the 1970s which enabled fishing to deeper water, and on small, steep, rough seamount flanks which had not previously been trawlable. Catch reconstructions show that much of the exploitation up until the 1990s was prosecuted by large-scale distant water fleets targeting aggregations of fish on seamounts with bottom and mid-water trawls. The largest of these trawl fisheries occurred in the Pacific between 1968 and 1982, on the mid-Atlantic Ridge in the 1970s and 1980s, and in the southwestern Pacific from the 1980s through to the present . Over this period at least 2.2 million tonnes of fish were extracted from seamounts from the major world regions. Many fishing operations have long been known to have serious physical impacts on seamount habitats. Longlines, gillnets, traps and pots all have some effect on seafloor habitats, but bottom trawling is the most widely recognised for causing considerable damage to the seafloor and associated faunal communities. There have been surprisingly few research studies on deepwater fishing impacts, especially on seamounts, given the amount of fishing conducted on them in recent years.


SEEF and the historical data collected within this proposal will be available to the scientific community and general public through the SEEF Web site (http://www.seamounteef.org), and through the Seamounts Online initiative (http://seamounts.sdsc.edu; Stocks, 2009). Using this interface, individuals can update the existing knowledge of a specific seamount, thus contributing to an improved framework. This proposal expects to deliver the following products: 1) a dataset of historical impacts on seamounts to SeamountOnline, 2) maps of seamounts with different states of conservation status, and 3) a publication synthesizing the application of Ecosystem Evaluation Framework to seamount ecosystems.


Red-necked phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) have declined drastically in abundance over
the past two decades in eastern North America and the status of this
species is currently described as a “pressing conservation concern.”

A retrospective analysis of the historical abundance of a pelagic shorebird: Unanticipated effects of fisheries management failures?

Researcher: Dr. Leslie Thorne

Location: Bay of Fundy


Red-necked phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) have declined drastically in abundance over the past two decades in eastern North America and the status of this species is currently described as a “pressing conservation concern.” These small shorebirds breed in the Arctic, migrating thousands of miles to winter off the coasts of Peru and Chile, and are unique among shorebirds in that they spend their non-breeding months at sea. The highly productive waters of the Bay of Fundy serve as a critical staging area for rednecked phalaropes, where birds acquire adequate energy stores to sustain their long southward migration. Birds accumulate between 40 and 45% of body mass at this foraging area before continuing their migration. All birds breeding in western Greenland and the eastern Canadian Arctic use the Bay of Fundy as a staging ground during their fall migration.

Due to their small size and relatively high energetic requirements, the abundance of rednecked phalaropes is closely linked to that of their prey. Thus, an understanding of the factors affecting the abundance of phalarope prey over time is important to assessing trends in phalarope abundance. The Gulf of Maine and is an important food source for several fish species of commercial interest, particularly Atlantic herring. Stocks of herring increased during this time period due, at least in part, to the over-exploitation of large predatory groundfish, such as cod (Gadus morhua). It is remarkable that past failures of fisheries management could have such potentially important consequences for other ecosystem components, underscoring the challenges facing ecosystem approaches to the management of marine ecosystems.

This study will provide a historical context for observed changes in red-necked phalarope abundance, allowing an assessment of the current status of red-necked phalaropes. This research will provide information on factors affecting the abundance of phalarope prey over a long time scale, which is a critical component of the research, management and conservation plan for rednecked phalaropes. Thus, the results of this research will be used to direct future management and conservation efforts for the species.


  • To establish a historical dataset of red-necked phalarope abundance in the Bay of Fundy using historical records, records of scientific surveys, and interviews with local fishermen; and
  • To examine phalarope abundance in a historical and ecological context in relation to the abundance of its primary prey, Calanus finmarchicus, and the abundance of a dominant predator of this prey source, Atlantic herring.

Olympia oysters provide a home for many other creatures.

Assembling Historical and Archaeological Data on the Abundance, Distribution, Use and Decline of Target Biota for Restoration: Olympia Oysters (Ostrea lurida), Eelgrass (Zostera marina) and Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Researcher: Dr. Andrew Cohen

Location: San Francisco Bay


In recent years, efforts have been initiated at numerous sites on the U.S. Pacific coast to restore beds of native oysters (Ostrea lurida) and native eelgrass (Zostera marina). In San Francisco Bay, the Pacific coast’s largest estuary, these efforts have been funded by NOAA and the California Coastal Conservancy, with the first oyster restoration grant in the Bay awarded in 1999. However, both these programs have proceeded without any data on the original extent of the beds, which were assumed to have been major habitats in the Bay, or on what human activities caused their decline, though over-fishing, pollution and sedimentation from hydraulic mining were cited by various sources as having decimated or destroyed the Bay’s native oyster

Over the past few years, Dr. Cohen has been researching these questions regarding native oysters in San Francisco Bay, drawing on historical, archaeological and geological evidence, and has presented his findings in several management and scientific forums. These findings are that the evidence to date indicates that native oysters have not actually been abundant in San Francisco Bay for 2,000- 2,400 years. This calls into question the rationale for “restoring” them, and also raises doubts over whether extensive native oyster beds can be created in a Bay that has not provided a suitable environment for such beds for at least 2,000 years.

Firth of Forth, Scotland

The historical impacts of fishing in the Firth of Forth

Researcher: Dr. Elanor Partridge

Location: Firth of Forth, Scotland


Commercial fishing has taken place in European coastal waters for approximately 1000 years and there is evidence for centuries of fishing activity in the Firth of Forth. The Bass Rock, located in the waters of the Firth, is now a seabird sanctuary but was once the site of intensive hunting of the gannets that nest there. The Firth’s oyster fishery, once Scotland’s largest, collapsed in the 1950s and the European oyster was, until recently, thought to have become extinct in the Firth.

This project will investigate the history of fisheries, and exploitation of marine animal populations, in the Firth of Forth. By combining evidence from a wide variety of sources, including fisheries statistics, research reports, anecdotal evidence, fishermen’s testimonial and photographs, it will be possible to build a detailed picture of the changing nature of fisheries in the Firth. The history of fisheries is a product of the interactions between socio-economic and ecological forces and is, of necessity, a history of changes in the marine animal populations they exploit. By investigating the history of fisheries in the Firth of Forth it will be possible to uncover the historical impacts of fishing on the Firth’s marine ecosystems and, by extension, develop an understanding of their past state.

Santa Barbara Basin

Establishing ecological and oceanographic baselines through past events of rapid anoxia

Researcher: Sarah Myhre

Location: Santa Barbara Basin, California


Utilizing geochemical and microfaunal analyses of sediment records from Santa Barbara Basin, this research will ask fundamental questions relevant to climate and ecological change, including:

  • How much vertical expansion of the California Margin OMZ took place during the rapid warming transition that preceded the modern Holocene climate?
  • What changes to trophic and ecological structure occurred during this rapid warming transition, and at what timescale did a recovery progress?
  • How can past warming records shed light on the ecological response and adaptive potential of modern ecosystems to human-­‐generated anoxic events?

Green sea turtle on a coral reef in the Central Pacific

The Ecological Role of Sea Turtles in Marine Ecosystems in the Central Pacific: Reconstructing the Past

Researcher: Dr. Kate McFadden

Location: Central Pacific


In order to assess the abundance and distribution of sea turtles at Palmyra before, during and just after its occupation by the military during WWII. We will work to compile a range of historical records describing any aspects of the natural environment for Palmyra. A variety of sources of historical information will be used to guide this effort, including diaries written by military personnel stationed at Palmyra during WWII, sailor descriptions, and reports from early natural history reports, some dating back to the late 1800s. Much of this data has already been collected but has not yet been analyzed. We will conduct an inventory of published material and collect aerial and remote sensing images of the area dating from before the military occupation to the present. Military maps and cartographical data of Palmyra dating before and during the military’s occupation will be digitized and the size of potential sea turtle grazing pastures will be quantified. Green sea turtles are primarily herbivorous and data collected at Palmyra indicates they favor shallow water reef structures where abundant turf algae exist. These foraging pastures are identifiable on aerial images due to their location in shallow water. Past and current satellite or aerial images of Palmyra will be used to compare how the foraging grounds of Palmyra have changed over time.


Adelie Penguin rookery on Petermann Island, Antarctica, their droppings make the rocks pink.
Image:Stan Shebs, Creative Commons

A century of change in the Antarctic: Intertidal and nearshore community change since the Second French Antarctic Expedition of 1909-1911

Researcher: Dr. Heather J. Lynch

Location: Petermann Island, Antarctica

Baseline: Species composition of nearshore species at Petermann Island in 1909-1911

Antarctica and its coastal waters constitute one of the least disturbed ecosystems on the planet. Despite its remoteness, the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the planet’s most rapidly warming regions and these changes are affecting species richness, species ranges, and the complex species interactions that characterize any ecosystem. Antarctica thus offers a unique opportunity to explore the impacts of climate change in a marine ecosystem free from most forms of human disturbance.

This project will analyze scientific documents from the 1909-1911 Second French Antarctic Expedition on the intertidal and nearshore species composition of Petermann Island, Antarctica in order to establish a baseline against which current conditions would be assessed. Changes in the coastal biodiversity of this region would provide an important link in our understanding of the impacts of climate change.


  1. Analyze scientific documents from the 1909-1911 Second French Antarctic Expedition on the intertidal and nearshore species composition of Petermann Island, Antarctica;
  2. Use Oceanites video archives of Petermann Island to establish a modern catalogue of intertidal and nearshore biodiversity.


Petermann Island
Second French Antarctic Expedition

A beach on Utila Island, Honduras.
Image: Rythie, Creative Commons

Commercialization, conservation, and enforcement: A socio-ecological analysis of Utila’s fishery

Researcher: Ms. Brittany Y. Davis, The University of Arizona

Location: Utila, Honduras

Baseline: Determining the baseline conditions current marine management aspires to

This project is a socio-ecological analysis of how industrial production and conservation transform subjects and the marine environment. Utila, a Honduran island in the Caribbean, provides an excellent opportunity to conduct this research. Utila’s fishery has been commercially exploited since the 1960s, when fishing became the dominant economic force on the island. Utila’s economic reliance on its marine habitat—for fishing in the past, and as a place for scuba diving instruction currently—make marine protection a priority.

This study contributes to knowledge of marine conservation by providing ecological and fishery management data for a small-scale fishery in the Western Caribbean, where little of such data is currently available. As marine protected areas continue to be used as a tool for protecting sensitive marine habitats, understanding the historical ecological conditions becomes increasingly important. By providing data on the conditions at three times—initial protection, enlargement, and later active enforcement—this study will provide BICA, the marine reserve’s managers, with valuable data than can inform management practices. BICA’s director has expressed an interest in having such data and incorporating it into their management and education efforts on Utila, which may foster increased tolerance for and respect of the restrictions on extractive activities in place currently in Turtle Harbour Marine Reserve. As scientists work to increase the efficacy of marine protection, it is important to understand how marine resources were managed in the past and the effects of those management practices.


  1. Use archival research, oral history interviews, and existing ecological and socioeconomic data to document changes in Utila’s fishery and management from before commercialization in the 1960’s to the present;
  2. Establish a timeline of qualitative changes in the marine ecosystem over time.


Turtle Harbour Marine Reserve
The Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA)

Anguilla Island Harbor. 
Image: Roy Googin, Creative Commons

Establishing a pre-Columbian fishery baseline on Anguilla: Impacts on marine resources and implications for management

Researcher: Dr. John G. Crock, The University of Vermont

Location: Anguilla, Lesser Antilles

Baseline: Pre-Columbian fish abundance

Recognizing the magnitude and ubiquity of human impacts on coral reef ecosystems is a first step in addressing issues related to marine conservation. Zooarchaeology offers a unique perspective and time depth to marine conservation and fishery management. Understanding a millennium of past resource use and comparing it with current and recent historical patterns provides vital information for framing and evaluating modern conservation policy, management and educational programs.

While scientists recognize overfishing of coral reef communities is a growing problem, it remains poorly documented because few studies address how reefs and fisheries developed together both naturally and through different periods and scales of human influence. This project addresses these issues by providing data on the long-term exploitation of sea turtles, fin-fishes and invertebrates on Anguilla, Lesser Antilles in order to reconstruct a pre-Columbian fishery baseline for Anguilla (before A.D. 1500). Once the baseline is reconstructed, we will collect historical and recent information from traditional Anguillian fishers and divers on changes in marine fauna, fishing technologies, spawning areas and nursery grounds in the past century. Comparison of the zooarchaeological data with fishing practices and experience will allow documentation of the nature and extent of change through time. Parallel consultations with natural resources officials will enable the Anguillian government to integrate the information collected into fishery conservation strategies and management practices for coral reef ecosystems.


  1. Reconstruct the pre-Columbian fishery baseline;
  2. Collect historical and recent information from traditional Anguillian fishers and divers on changes in marine fauna, fishing technologies, spawning areas and nursery grounds in the past century;
  3. Identify long-term marine ecosystem trends.


Dr. John Crock
Anguilla's pre-Columbian History

Heron Island and surrounding coral reefs.
 Image: Peter Stewart

Establishing calcification and pollution baselines for the Great Barrier Reef prior to European settlement and the Industrial Revolution

Researcher: Ms. Lida Teneva, Stanford University, USA

Location: Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Baseline: Calcification and pollution baselines for the Great Barrier Reef prior to European settlement and the Industrial Revolution

Coral reefs have long been recognized as reliable recorders of environmental stressors in the marine environment: episodic or gradual, naturally- or anthropogenically-induced, local or global. Coral reefs are both hot spots of marine biodiversity and socio-economic ecosystem service havens, harboring a third of all marine species and sustaining roughly 200 million people in coastal communities. This makes these ecosystems a crucial conservation issue. In many locations, oceanographic research paired with historical accounts of settlement and resource use, has helped formulate an ecological baseline for reefs. Establishing temperature, pH, sediment loading, etc. records prior to direct human influence (local pollution, etc.) and indirect impacts (global warming and acidification) is the key to developing more successful future reef conservation policies and natural resource management practices.


  1. Reconstruct European settlement, pre-Industrial Revolution calcification and pollution rates for coral reefs surrounding Heron Island.


Heron Island
Great Barrier Reef
Ocean Acidification

Fakaofo Atoll, Tokelau. Image: Creative Commons

Historical ecology and marine resource management in atoll ecosystem: Achaeological and ethno-ecological approach to understanding the effects of the last 1000 years of indigenous marine exploitation in Tokelau, Polynesia

Researchers: Dr. Rintaro Ono, Australian National University, Australia and Mr. Alex Morrison, University of Hawai’i – Manoa, USA

Location: Tokelau, Polynesia

Baseline: Changes in the marine ecology of Tokelau over the last millennium

This project intends to use archaeological evidence of food remains (fish bone and shell) and ethno-ecological information from the contemporary Nukunonu community to understand past and current marine resource management strategies and fishing techniques in lagoon, reefs, and pelagic ocean environments.

The ethnographic portion of this work will result in a quantitative comparative ethno-ecological study of Tokelauan environmental knowledge and marine resource management practices. Archaeological datasets will be used to compare the relationship between present management strategies and past resource use. The information acquired from this project will not only be useful for generating inferences about prehistoric marine exploitation, but also for present and future conservation planning and the use of marine resources by the people of Tokelau.

Archaeological data from the last 1000 years of marine exploitation in Tokelau can provide us with insight into the historical impacts of fishing on prey populations. Furthermore, Ono’s ethno-ecological study of Tokelauan fishing lore and traditional knowledge of marine-resource diversity in a contemporary setting provides important information on the current status of marine-resource use, including conservation aspects.


  1. Understand ~1000 years of human marine resource use and management;
  2. Assess past climate-change and human impacts to the atoll ecosystems of Tokelau; and
  3. Provide relevant data of modern resource use for making potential ecological assessments and management plans for sustainable coast and sea use in the current atoll environment.



Northern elephant seal pup in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Image: NOAA

Innovative historical ecology trend analysis and interpretation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Researchers: Mr. Steven J. Choy, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Location: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, USA

Baseline: Historical ecology of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

This project will use historical information to describe the region encompassed by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary through time. This will shed light on the complex interactions between human and natural history, and provide a more historically oriented and accurate frame of reference to aid marine conservation efforts. In essence, the goal of this project is to enhance the marine environment by looking into the past to understand the present, and improve Sanctuary management for the future.


  1. Complete the archive of historical data related the historical ecology of the Sanctuary, known as The Marine Historical Database;  
  2. Conduct an in-depth analysis of the information housed in the Database to illustrate how its information can be used to help resource managers and scientists better conserve and protect marine ecosystems and biodiversity;
  3. Describe what the marine ecosystem was like during specific time periods, and how humans, and their perceptions of marine resources, have changed over time and affected the marine ecosystem. This timeline will be published on the Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network (SIMoN) website.


Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary



Freshly caught cod. Image: DFO Canada

Changing gears, changing grounds: An environmental history of changing fishing practices in Newfoundland, Canada

Researchers:  Drs. Ratana Chuenpagdee and Kurt Korneski, Memorial University of Newfoundland Canada

Location: Newfoundland CA >

Baseline: Historical fishing practices in Newfoundland, Canada

Understanding historical changes in fisheries can yield important insights for developing modern day sustainable fishing practices.  Most of the research in this area focuses on changes in the fish species and the fisheries ecosystem and, to a much lesser extent, on the social and economic consequences of these changes.   

This study examines an important aspect of changes related to the use of fishing gears, specifically how we fish and where we fish.  Using Newfoundland fisheries as an example, this project seeks to relate the technological, social, and ecological changes that have taken place in the history of the fisheries of Newfoundland, focusing on two main questions:  Why and when fishers introduced new gears and/or moved to new grounds and the effects of those changes on fish and human populations.

The project begins with the cod fishery given its historical importance.  The first phase of this research is examining historical documents, correspondences, and records that monitored the cod fishery.  Preliminary findings suggest that fishers had a tendency to use gears that would allow them to intensify their fishing effort over time, particularly as stocks declined.


  1. Use archival research, oral history interviews, and literature reviews to document changing fishing patterns;
  2. Identify the sociological and economic implications of these changes.


Ratana Chuenpagdee
Newfoundland History
History of cod fishery in Newfoundland
Video of 1930s fishing in Newfoundland

Hawaiian Monk Seal

A Hawaiian monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Image: Aviva & Rumon Carter, Creative Commons

Developing historical baselines for the Hawaiian monk seal

Researchers: Loren McClenachan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Location: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Baseline: Past distribution and abundance of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal

The Hawaiian monk seal is found exclusively in waters around the waters of the Northwestern and Main Hawaiian Islands.  Named because of its resemblance to a medieval friar, the Hawaiian monk seal is now listed by the IUCN as a critically endangered species.  Several factors have contributed to the demise of this species, and there is a concerted effort to preserve the remaining few individuals in an effort to conserve this species, which is an important historical component of the native marine ecosystem of the region. 

In order to help guide current management plans for both the Hawaiian monk seal and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands more generally, this project is compiling data on the historical distribution and abundance of the seal, employing established methods to estimate long-term changes in population size, structure, and ecological niche, and assessing the historical baseline information in the context of current ecosystem-based management efforts for the seal.  A range of sources of historical information are being used to guide this effort, including diaries written by shipwrecked sailors in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, reports from whaling and sealing voyages, and early natural history descriptions.


  1. Locate and compile information on historical occurrences of monk seal in the Main and Northwest Hawaiian Islands;
  2. Estimate a range of possible historical population abundances from quantitative information on abundances and rates of depletion in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands;
  3. Locate and compile information on historical occurrences of abundances of predator and prey species in the Main and Northwest Hawaiian Islands.


Historical Ecology of the Hawaiian Monk Seal: Summary of Historical Data Available to Estimate Historical Population Size. Final Report to MCBI.


Loren McClenachan

Hawaiian monk seal – facts

Hawaiian monk seal videos

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Elkhorn Slough

Plovers flying above Elkhorn Slough.
Image: Monterey County Mensa

Establishing historic and prehistoric baselines for tidal marsh extent in central Californian estuaries


Researcher:  Elizabeth Watson, University of California Davis

Location: South San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough, California

Baseline: Past geography of tidal wetlands in the San Francisco Bay area

Estuarine wetlands are dynamic coastal landforms that serve as the interface between land and water.  These ecosystems support among the highest productivity of any terrestrial or marine system, act as nurseries for juvenile fish and invertebrates, provide habitat for migrating and resident birds, and buffer the coastal zone from erosion and coastal flooding. 

Globally, estuaries are also among the most altered ecosystems, and estuarine restoration has become a major focus of coastal management.  Because restoration can be generally defined as the act of returning an altered system to pre-disturbance conditions, these efforts need to identify historical conditions as a basis for developing restoration targets and guidelines for restoration design.

This project is examining the history of the current configuration of tidal wetlands in the South San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough using a range of dating methods to characterize changes in the wetland vegetation over time.  The outcome from this research will be essential for guiding current restoration efforts, since it will provide a more accurate reconstruction of early historic or late prehistoric environmental conditions at these sites.


  1. Determine the age of basal peat for intact pre-historic tidal marshes in South San Francisco Bay, Elkhorn Slough, and Moro Cojo Slough and;
  2. Determine whether there is discernable pattern – either spatial or temporal – in the age of marsh establishment, and;
  3. Provide information on past wetland vegetation using presence and relative abundance of fossil pollen.


Elkhorn Slough
San Francisco Bay
Story of San Francisco Bay
Caspian terns at Elkhorn Slough

Plicopurpura pansa

Pilcopurpura pansa

The indelible stain of human impacts on Plicopurpura pansa populations in Mexico

Researcher: Raphael Sagarin, University of Arizona

Location: Pacific and Gulf coasts of Baja California

Baseline: Changing demographics of the exploited marine snail, Plicopurpura pansa

Along the Pacific and Gulf of California coasts of Mexico, native Mexican Indian communities rely on a small marine snail (Plicopurpura pansa or Plicopurpura columellaris) as an important part of their cultural heritage.  This snail has a gland that produces mucus which contains a small amount of chromagens that in turn produce a purple pigment known as “Tyrian purple” or “Royal purple.” 

This pigment has been used by Mexican Indians for a range of purposes, including the dyeing of ceremonial and funeral garments.  In harvesting these snails, most people select the largest, and thus oldest and most fertile individuals.  These size-selective harvesting practices have been occurring for decades and can heavily impact population dynamics of this vulnerable marine snail.

This study has analyzed the size structures of both living and historical collections of P. pupans in order to assess any long-term changes in size structure due to human harvesting.  Results to date indicate that specimens collected in the early and mid 20th century contain larger individuals, indicating a widespread loss of large size individuals of P. pupans from throughout Mexico.


  1. Complete data collection and analyses of size structures of living and historical collections of the intertidal Muricid gastropod, Plicopurpura pansa along the Pacific and Gulf of California coasts of Mexico;
  2. Use data for additional studies examinig the current socio-cultural uses of Plicopurpura by local populations in Mexico.


Sagarin, R and A. Pauchard.  2009.  Observation approaches in ecology open new ground in a changing world.   Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  doi:10.1890/090001


Rafe Sagarin

Dyeing of garments in Oaxaca, Mexico


Devon Brixham trawlers in England.

Overfishing in the early 19th century and the origins of the trawling controversy in the British Isles

Researcher: Ruth Thurstan, University of York, United Kingdom

Location: Coastal and inshore marine waters around the British Isles

Baseline: Historical impacts of trawling in the British Isles

Trawling has been highly controversial since the first recorded use of the bottom trawl in 14th century England. The method became notorious for its environmental impacts in the late 19th century with the addition of steam power to trawlers.  Although the effects of trawling on fish stocks and habitats during this period have been well documented, trawling had become the subject of widespread complaint in Great Britain and Ireland decades earlier. 

This project will reconstruct the early history of industrial fishing drawing heavily from eyewitness recordings, historical records and books and government reports published in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century.  A particular emphasis of this project will be on the testimony and findings of the 1866 Royal Commission of Enquiry.    

From data collected so far, it is clear that when trawling first began to expand around Britain, it destroyed seabed habitats and killed young fish on a scale that had not occurred before.  One trawl fisher from Newlyn stated, for example, that trawling was the most destructive thing ever thrown into salt water, and that his trawl was capable of catching thousands of young fish and scores of tons of spawn throughout the year.  There are numerous other statements providing quantitative evidence of these declines during fishers’ lifetimes, which have been compiled for analysis and comparison.


  1. Identify the first signs of fishing impact on fish populations in the late 18th and early 19th century;
  2. Specify how people adapted to changes in demand for and availability of fish;
  3. Establish when and where the bottom trawling controversy resurface (following phases of controversy centuries earlier), and identify the triggers;
  4. Describe the first signs of fishing impact on habitats in the late 18th and early 19th century.


Describe the first signs of fishing impact on habitats in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Overview of bottom trawling


Hawkfish in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Image: Claire Fackler, NOAA

Quantifying historical anthropogenic impacts to ecosystem integrity in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Researcher: Jack Kittinger, University of Hawai’i – Manoa USA

Location: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Baseline: Historical fishing intensity in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands comprise nearly a dozen small islands and atolls that extend northwesterly (leeward) from Kauai and Niihau.  Formed between 7 and 30 million years ago, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands contain extensive coral reefs and are home to an impressive array of marine and terrestrial species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are also a valued cultural asset and house important cultural sites for Native Hawaiians in addition to serving as a repository of maritime archaeological resources.

In 2006, this area was declared a Marine National Monument to help conserve these natural and cultural resources.  An important element of this conservation effort relies on creating an accurate picture of the historical conditions of this area.   Although some preliminary efforts have been made to develop these historical baselines, the efforts have largely been either limited to single species or geographically constrained. 

This study will analyze historical documents and data repositories to extract quantitative and qualitative information on fisheries extraction for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and thereby create an essential historical baseline for this site.


  1. Determine the ecologic conditions in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands prior to large-scale human extraction activities; and
  2. Evaluate to what extent the extraction activities have altered the ecologic resilience of the coral reef ecosystems at this site.


Historical Reconstruction Reveals Recovery in Hawaiian Coral Reefs


Press Release: Decline and recovery of coral reefs linked to 700 years of human and environmental activity


Jack Kittinger
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Multi-agency Education Project
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
Marine Debris Impacts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Derelict fishing gear clean-up in the NWHI

Convict fish

Convict surgeonfish over a dead coral head in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Image: KD Lafferty

Reading the past from coral cores: a test of ecological resilience in the Line Islands

Researcher:  Jessica Carilli, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA

Location: Line Islands, Central Pacific Ocean

Baseline: Historical condition and coral growth in the Line Islands

Warm-water coral reefs are some of the most biologically rich ecosystems in the world.  Unfortunately coastal pollution, sediment runoff, increasing water temperatures, and overfishing now threaten the survival of these important ecosystems. 
Despite the pervasive nature of these threats, not all reefs are affected equally.  Variations in these responses provide important insight for understanding how different coral reefs might respond to larger-scale climate changes.  One fundamental, yet unanswered question, is whether reefs that experience higher chronic local stress either acclimate to stress (i.e., show enhanced resilience) or deteriorate in health (i.e., demonstrate lowered resilience).

This project is investigating coral growth rates from locations that experience minimal local stress versus those that experience higher stress.   A key element of this project is to understand whether environmental conditions, such as water quality, are sufficient to allow recovery.  This is being accomplished by using historical records of water quality change and benthic foraminifera abundances, along with historic changes in human populations and current fish populations (as a measure of fishing pressure) to assess the current level of chronic local stress at each site. Since corals lay down annual growth bands (analogous to trees), coral growth rates will be assessed using x-rays of coral cores that were collected for paleoclimatic reconstructions, and compared to evaluate growth responses over time.


  1. Develop historical records of coral growth rates and growth responses to episodic stress events such as periods of unusually high water temperatures from reefs experiencing differing levels of local background stress;
  2. Develop historical records of water quality changes using benthic foraminifera from reef sediments.


Reading the past from coral cores: a test of ecological resilience in the Line Islands. Final Report to MCBI.


Scripp’s Institution of Oceanography - Expedition to the Line Islands
Georgia Tech – Climate Research in the Line Islands
Coral reef conservation in the Line Islands (History Channel)
Importance of pristine coral reefs – Line Islands (National Geographic
Coral Reefs in the Anthropocene
Paleoclimatology of corals (NASA)


Parrotfish onthe Great Barrier Reef.
Image: M. Bodeker

Shifting baselines on the inshore Great Barrier Reef – evidence of a historical collapse of coral communities following European settlement

Researcher: George Roff, University of Queensland Australia

Location(s): Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Baseline: Changing conditions in warm water coral of the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest single living structure, extending over 1,600 miles off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia.  Home to more than 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of hard and soft corals, and a variety of marine mammals and sea turtles, the Great Barrier Reef is increasingly affected by a range of human activities. 

One of the more important local and regional threats to the reef is due to long-term changes in land practices along the Queensland coast, including increased grazing, agriculture, and land practices.  There is currently only limited information about the historical condition of the reef, especially of conditions prior to the early 1970s.

By combining novel palaeoecological reconstructions of coral communities in the central inshore Great Barrier Reef (Palm Islands region) with high precision isotopic dating methods, this project aims to determine the exact timing and spatial extent of historical changes in inshore coral communities following European settlement (i.e., 1850 - present).


  1. Characterize the spatial extent of historical changes in the abundance, morphology, and diversity of inshore coral communities in corals associated with the Palm Islands group; and
  2. Determine the exact timing or mortality of corals by dating representative samples of death assemblages, temporally bracketing mortality events, and allowing correlation of coral death with major human development and El Niño events.


George Roff
Great Barrier Reef Park Authority
Exploring Oceans: Great Barrier Reef , National Geographic
Coral bleach in the Great Barrier Reef

Hawaiian monk seal

Hawaiian monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Image: Brian Omura

Status of the Hawaiian monk seal prior to human exploitation and management

Researcher: Jennifer Schulz, University of Hawai’i – Manoa

Location: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Baseline: Historical demographics and genetic composition of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal

Hawaiian monk seals are the most endangered endemic marine mammal in the USA and one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Over the last 50 years, the Hawaiian monk seal population has declined by more than 60% and is now at its lowest level in recorded history.  The primary drivers of this decline and the solutions to stabilizing the population remain elusive. 

Preliminary genetic studies on this Hawaiian monk seal suggest that it experienced a large decrease in the number and genetic diversity of the population (i.e., a bottleneck) in the late 19th century.  Information prior to this time period, however, is limited. 

This study will utilize museum collections of Hawaiian monk seals in order to assess the degree of genetic variation both before and immediately after this bottleneck event.  This information will be combined with the age at first reproduction, total fecundity, and age of senescence to evaluate the historical genetic make-up of this species.  The results will yield an historical baseline that can guide recovery plans for this critically endangered species.


  1. Obtain samples from museum collections of Hawaiian monk seals for genetic analysis;
  2. Evaluate historical genetic composition of the Hawaiian monk seal; and
  3. reconstruct past demographics to identify potential drivers of modern day decline.


Jennifer Schulz – Principal Investigator
Genetic diversity in Hawaiian monk seals


A seastar in American Samoa. Image: Peter Craig, NPS

Uncovering the historical ecology of marine conditions, resource use, and management in American Samoa: an interdisciplinary analysis of fishing activities through time.

Researchers:: Dr. David Addison (American Samoa Community College, America Samoa), Dr. Arielle Levine (Pacific Island Fisheries Center, USA) and Marlowe Sabater (Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, American Samoa)

Location: American Samoa

Baseline: Historical changes in fish populations and fishing activity in American Samoa


Native Polynesians have inhabited south Pacific Islands for more than 3000 years.   As island cultures, they have relied heavily on marine resources as an important food source, engaging in extractive activities such as fishing and gleaning.  Despite a potential for over-exploitation, Pacific Island cultures appear to have historically employed sustainable traditional management practices.

American Samoa provides a good test case for evaluating changes in sustainable resource use.  A west Polynesian island that became a U.S. territory in the early 20th century, American Samoa is currently experiencing rapid population growth and undergoing increased urbanization.  The rich ocean life of the area and the long history of sustenance fishing provide a unique opportunity to develop a comprehensive environmental history for this area. 

This project is combining current observations of fish catch and coastal resource conditions with oral accounts from elder fishermen, archival records from early explorers and colonists, and archeological records of shells and fish bones found on the island to develop an environmental history of ocean uses for this site. 


  1. Develop an environmental history of the extractive uses of marine life in American Samoa;
  2. Evaluate the driving forces behind changing marine resource use, conditions and management practices over time.

Researcher – David Addison
National Park Service – American Samoa
A Polynesian Story
Historic Fishing Methods in America Samoa



Driftwood on the shores of Puget Sound.
Photo: Zenobia Joy CC

Age and ecological role of old-growth driftwood in Puget Sound

Researcher: Daniel Tonnes, University of Washington USA (current affiliation is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Location: Puget Sound, Washington

Baseline: Historical abundance of driftwood on beaches and impacts of long-term logging activities on Pacific Northwest watersheds.


Large driftwood on Puget Sound beaches help moderate beach sand temperatures and support terrestrial and semi-terrestrial invertebrates that are an important component to the nearshore food web.  Largescale changes in upstream watersheds that began in 1850 (with the advent of industrial logging in the region) indicate that this important habitat type may have undergone fundamental changes over the past century, with important implications for the coastal environment. 

This project has been utilizing radiocarbon dating techniques to select large driftwood along beaches in the North Puget Sound area.  The results of these efforts to date indicate that 93% of the largest wood surveyed in the study area was recruited to aquatic habitat between 90 and 300 years ago, with only about 7% estimated as delivered since the mid-1900s. 

The results from this study will be used both to describe the historical context of driftwood habitat in North Puget Sound and to assess the change over time of beach-cast wood in the nearshore ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.


  1. Sample driftwood at different sites in the coastal areas of northern Puget Sound; and
  2. Use carbon dating to age the driftwood and to assist with evaluating potential impacts of logging on the accumulation rate of driftwood in these areas.


Tonnes, Daniel M.  2008.  Ecological functions of marine riparian areas and driftwood along North Puget Sound shorelines.  Master’s Thesis.  School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington.


Beaches and bluffs of Puget Sound

Video, Shifting Baselines in the Sound


A California spiny lobster. Photo: D. Stein

A life history approach to interpreting and predicting resilience: historical response of an exploited marine species to fluctuations in fishing and climate

Researcher: Deborah McArdle, U.C. Santa Barbara USA

Location: California coastal waters

Baseline: Historical numbers and distribution of California spiny lobster


The California spiny lobster is commonly found in the nearshore waters of California and serves an important function by helping keep local sea urchin populations while also serving as important prey for rockfish, cabezon, and sharks.  This species of spiny lobster is usually found in shallow waters near the coast or in offshore areas of islands and range from the southern tip of Baja California to Monterey Bay, California. 

The California spiny lobster has been extensively fished for more than a century.  Like many other exploited species, selective harvesting has greatly reduced the biomass and average lifespan of this species.  There is concern that these long-term changes in size and age at maturation may impact the sustainability of this species.

To examine the long-term population dynamics of the California spiny lobster, this study is employing a novel approach, coupling methods from ecology and history:  By fitting a time series of catch and effort, spanning 120 years, to a Bayesian model we plan to estimate historic biomass and exploitation rates and to determine whether and the extent to which life history traits, size structure and growth rate, have responded to changing exploitation over the last century.  The results from this effort should provide a new approach for interpreting historical baselines and trends in the abundance of populations of exploited marine organisms and provide insight for managing California spiny lobster populations.


  1. Compile catch and effort data sets on the California spiny lobster that span more than a century (c. 1888 – 2006);
  2. Analyze variations in the number and life history characteristics of California spiny lobster;
  3. Develop a historical baseline for this species that can guide current day management practices.


Status of the California spiny lobster
Ghost Forest: To Save Wildlife We Must Save Wild Places, Scripps Institute of Oceanography

Jakarta Bay

Jakarta Bay. Photo: NASA

Changes in the species compositions in assemblages of stony corals and mollusks in Jakarta Bay and the Thousand Islands archipelago, Java Sea, Indonesia (1920-2005)

Researcher: Sancia E.T. van der Meij, Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis

Location: Jakarta Bay, Indonesia

Baseline: Historical condition and areal extent of stony corals and mollusks in the Jakarta Bay.


The majority of Indonesia’s population (≈250 million people) lives on the small island of Java.  Because of this high population density, the coastal area of Java, especially the heavily populated area surrounding Jakarta Bay, has been subject to considerable pressure for some time. 

Coral reef ecosystems in this area, which support fish and invertebrate biological diversity, are increasingly degraded due to sedimentation, nutrient loading, chemical contamination, destructive fishing practices, and sand mining.  To better understand the history of these changes, this project is compiling information on changes in coral reef diversity in Jakarta Bay since the first half of this century. 

The accomplishments to date on this effort include identification of all coral specimens (1920-2005) from the scientific collection of Naturalis and the collection and analysis of nautical maps and historical documents relevant for the Jakarta Bay, including narrative documents and handwritten notes (Verweij, Umbgrove, Boschman).  Several additional datasets are currently being analyzed, including historical documents from the Royal Netherland Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV, Leiden) and mollusc collections from the Zoological Museum Amsterdam.  Once completed, data from this project will be presented in the context of changing coral reef conditions and human activities in the Jakarta Bay.


  1. Identify coral and mollusks from museum collections and to locate historical maps of their distribution within Jakarta Bay; and
  2. Use this information to develop a historical baseline of corals and mollusks in this area.


Sancia E.T. van der Meij .  2008.  Changes in species compositions in assemblages of stony corals and mollusks in Jakarta Bay and the Thousand Islands archipelago, Java Sea, Indonesia (1920-2005).  Final report to Marine Conservation Biology Institute. 

van der Meij, S.E.T., R.G. Moolenbeek, B.W. Hoeksema.  2009.  Decline of the Jakarta Bay molluscan fauna linked to human impact.  Marine Pollution Bulletin 59: 101-107.


Sancia E.T. van der Meij

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment of Jakarta Bay

Status of Southeast Asia Coral Reefs


A Black-browed Albatross. Photo: Chris Pearson CC

Ecological inventory of the South Guano Islands Administration Archives 1890-1950

Researcher: Lance van Sittert, University of Cape Town, South Africa 

Location: South Guano Islands, Benguela Current

Baseline: Historical numbers and distributions of seabirds in the Benguela Current


The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem is situated along the coast of southwestern Africa and has been undergoing increasingly dramatic changes over the past two decades, characterized by species collapses and distribution shifts.  Seabirds in this ecosystem, including the African penguin, the cape gannet, and several species of gulls and cormorants, have also been subjected to these changes and have served as long-term indicator species due to their high visibility on a small number of offshore breeding islands.

These birds have also been the source of guano, or the accumulated droppings of birds, which has been commercially harvested since the beginning of the 19th century.  These records of guano harvest and trade can provide important insights into variations in both seabird populations and environmental conditions over time.

This project is using historical seabird archives to characterize general ecological changes in this current system over the past several decades and to evaluate the nature and importance of modern day seabird declines in this region.  Because the Guano Islands were an important source of income for the Cape Colony, there are extensive archived records that can help contribute to our understanding of the ecology of this system.


  1. Recover fossilized biological and ecological data from guano records, including from the guano islands’ administration and those stored in online databases; and
  2. Promote the use of these data into current species and systems modeling and conservation practices.


The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme
Seabirds Threatened in the Benguela Current
History of Guano Trade
Video About the Benguela Current Ecosystem

Whale Shark

A whale shark. Photo: Oliver Roux CC

Establishing an historical baseline for the Seychelles shark fishery to enable enhanced conservation and management

Researcher: John Nevill, Green Islands Foundation

Location: Seychelles

Baseline: Historical distribution of sharks in the Seychelles


The Seychelles is an isolated archipelago in the western Indian Ocean that remained uninhabited until the 1770s.  The area has historically supported a large and diverse shark population, which has come under increasing fishing pressure over the last few decades.  Previous related efforts revealed a 100-year dataset of shark fin exports and outlined trends in shark abundance and occurrence from the 1700s onwards. 

To better understand the toll of shark fishing in this area, this study is utilizing a range of historical data sets to establish baseline population data for sharks.  Results from a preliminary analysis (which were presented at a meeting in the Seychelles in December 2007) have revealed the shark fishery catches from the 1930s, shark occurrence and fishing in the outer islands in the 1880s and 1930s, and the international value of shark commodities in the 1930s and 1960s.

In addition, from this dataset, trade statistics from 1840 – 2006 have been thoroughly studied and the complete data set available on the shark fin trade from 1903 -2006 has been elucidated.  For the remainder of this project, the investigator will use this information on the economic drivers and the legislative frameworks from different time periods to help generate a more accurate baseline for the Seychelles shark fishery to enhance the implementation of the Seychelles National Plan of Action for sharks.


  1. Compile historical information on shark abundance in the Seychelles;
  2. Assess historical impacts of fishing on sharks in this area; and
  3. Use this information to refine shark population management models for the Seychelles.


Seychelles National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks
PBS Voyage of the Odyssey – Seychelles

California Wetlands

Coastal wetlands of the northern Gulf of California.
Photo: A. Castillo

Historical ecology of coastal wetlands of the northern Gulf of California

Researcher: Hem Nalini Morzaria Luna, Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos, Mexico

Location: Northern Gulf of California

Baseline: Historical distribution and ecology and negative estuaries in the northern Gulf of California


In the northern Gulf of California, non-mangrove salt marshes known as esteros (negative estuaries) are the predominant wetland type.  Esteros provide a unique type of habitat, often serving as breeding and nesting sites for non-migratory birds and providing important nursery habitat for fish and invertebrate species.  These habitats, however, are being altered and permanently lost due to increased urbanization in the area. 

To help guide conservation efforts of esteros, this project is documenting the historical ecology of wetlands in the northern Gulf of California. These sites, although still relatively pristine, are subject to intense development pressures and offer a unique opportunity to document human effects as occupation of the area began in the 1930's. 

Some of the major accomplishments of this effort include the completion of interviews with fishermen and oyster producers from local areas, the completion of maps by these participants that indicate important nursery and fishery areas, and the compilation of satellite and aerial images from this area dating back to the 1960s.


  1. Digitize maps documenting the discoveries and changing cartography of the Peninsula of Baja California, the Gulf of California, and Sonora;
  2. Inventory aerial and remote sensing images of the area, dating from 1965-2008;
  3. Generate a historical time line of events between 300 and 2008 CE that have influenced coastal wetlands of the Northern Gulf of California; and
  4. Create a bibliographic database of the relevant literature related to the esteros of this region.


Hem Nalini Morzaria Luna, Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos, Mexico.  2008.  Year-end report on progress and expenditures for project “Historical Ecology of Coastal Wetlands of the Northern Gulf of California.” 2007 Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grant in Marine Environmental History and Historical Marine Ecology

H. Morzaria-Luna, M. Urquidi-Gaume.  Bibliografía de Humedales Costeros en el Golfo Norte de California: Bibliography of Coastal Wetlands in the Northern Gulf of California. September 1, 2009. Centro Intercultural de Estudios de Desiertos y Océanos, A.C. http://www.cedointercultural.org Online Bibliography


Bibliography of Coastal wetlands in the Northern Gulf of California


Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia.
Photo: M. Barber

Indigenous environmental memories and past ecological conditions in coastal Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia

Researcher: Marcus Barber, James Cook University

Location:Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia

Baseline: Establishing the historical relationship between aboriginals of coastal Arnhem Land and their use of marine ecosystems


The Arnhem Land Region of Australia is one of five regions in the Northern Territory of Australia and is unique as it is considered the Aboriginal homeland.  The Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land have been least affected by colonization or industrialization processes allowing them to maintain strong traditional knowledge systems that are now being integrated with contemporary conservation management. 

This project examines the relationship over the past 200 years between these indigenous people and coastal environment in Arnhem Land, through a review of relevant archives and extended consultations with senior Aboriginal elders from the area.  Archival research has been conducted at the National Library and at the National Museum and State Library in Melbourne.  This research has yielded photographs of missions and other settlements as well as images of significant terrestrial and coastal areas and will be used in consultations with indigenous stakeholders.  Additional archival work is underway in Darwin and in Nhulunbuy (Gove).  The synthesis of this material will form the basis for a review publication relevant to indigenous and non-indigenous conservation managers in the region.


  1. Integrate anthropological, historical, and marine scientific information to evaluate changes in the Aboriginal Land over the last 200 years; and
  2. Use indigenous knowledge and memories in assisting managers in developing conservation plans for the region


Marcus Barber
Arnhem land, Wikipedia


Arnhem Land. Photo: Rusty Stewart CC

Integrating cultural and spiritual values in marine biodiversity monitoring and management in the coastal zone of northern Australia

Researcher: Bas Vershuuren, Foundation for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands

Location: Northern Australia

Baseline: Historical abundance of marine species and condition of important marine sites, as ascertained through indigenous knowledge of the Yolngus.


In northern Australia, the management of the cultural and spiritual value of marine ecosystems presents an often overlooked component of comprehensive ecosystem management efforts.  This is particularly true in northern Australia, an area which houses numerous culturally sacred sites that play a pivotal role in indigenous management systems.  Because of the high biodiversity and cultural value of these areas, information about these places can serve as a traditional blueprint for guiding effective restoration efforts and for safeguarding important marine ecosystem functions. 

This collaborative project is working on relating the cultural importance of coastal resources to indigenous peoples to management efforts aimed at sustainable develop and conservation, by exploring the last 20,000 years of traditional ecological knowledge that has evolved in this region.  This is being accomplished by interviewing Yolngus (who are indigenous Australians inhabiting Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia) and documenting the things that these people find important in tending to their “sea country.”

This information will be used to develop a set of preliminary guidelines based on culturally important sites and species which could be used for the management of species critical to the Yolngu’s perception of the quality of the marine environment.


  1. Interview Yolngus in order to collect information about the importance of ocean species and sites to their cultural heritage;
  2. Use this indigenous knowledge to improve management practices in Arnhem Land.


Bas Verschuuren
The Yolngu


A river herring . Photo: A. Castillo

Is the recovery of cod (Gadus morhua) along the Maine coast limited by reduced anadromous river herring populations?

Researchers: Adrian Jordaan, Carolyn Hall, and Michael Frisk, Stony Brook University

Location: Coastal and Interior Maine

Baseline: Population abundance of river herring and changes in Maine watersheds.


Once abundant in Maine’s coastal waters, Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, have declined nearly 90% since 1990 and the diminished cod population in the Gulf of Maine is currently only 58% the size believed necessary to sustain a renewable yearly fishery. While overfishing is generally agreed upon as the chief cause for the lower numbers of cod seen today, other factors, such as reduced prey populations, are now being considered as potential hurdles to the cod’s comeback.

Two key cod prey species, the shad-like alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and the blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis), known collectively as ‘river herring,’ have experienced dramatic declines of up to 90% over the past 40 years. River herring population size correlates significantly with cod recruitment in the Gulf of Maine. Like Atlantic salmon, river herring are anadromous, and must return to fresh water to spawn. Dependence on open rivers and streams makes fish of this sort extremely susceptible to past and present development pressures along coastal Maine.

This project is examining the relationship between declining populations of river herring and cod in Maine’s coastal waters. Through extensive interviews with community members, coupled with careful analysis of fish catch and geographical records detailing changes to river systems, a historic baseline of river herring population, distribution and abundance is being established. This will allow for an evaluation of whether a significant relationship between river herring and cod holds over longer time periods.


  1. Create a timeline and database of human alterations of the physical environment in river/estuary systems in Maine;
  2. Establish coast-wide estimates of population size for river herring over time;
  3. Develop a timeline for cod distributions and relate to changes in river/estuary systems along the Maine coast.


Jordaan et al. 2008.  Is the recovery of cod (Gadus morhua) along the Maine coast limited by reduced anadromous river herring populations?  Final Report to Marine Conservation Biology Institute’s Mia J. Tegner Memorial Research Grants Program.


Adrian Jordaan
Gulf of Maine Historical Ecology Research
History of alewife ladder
Alewife biology and conservation


  • David Bailey, (UK) from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom for his work documenting long term changes in Pacific and Atlantic deep sea fish communities.
  • David Jacobs and Ryan Ellington, (USA) from the University of California - Los Angeles, in the USA for their research establishing a baseline for estuarine community diversity in the Northern Gulf of California. These estuarine systems have been significantly altered in recent years, and are in further threat from shrimp farming and development.
  • Deborah Thiele, (Australia) from Deakin University in Australia for her work conserving endangered dolphin species on the Kimberley Coast, Australia. This remote region is largely unexplored, but is facing rapid expansion of human activities.


  • Jo Marie Acebes, (Philippines) Oxford University, "Historical whaling in the Philippines: origins of 'indigenous subsistence whaling', mapping whaling grounds and comparison with current known distribution".
  • Darrin Drumm, (New Zealand) University of Otago, "Tracking a millennium of reef exploitation and ecological impacts of human interactions with the reefs of the southern Cook Islands: a study of archaeological, anthropological and contemporary evidence".
  • Heather Lazrus, (USA) University of Washington, "Global climate change in the South Pacific: traditional environmental knowledge and community responses on Polynesian Atolls".
  • Joelle Prange, (Australia) Marine Studies Program, University of the South Pacific, "Integrating scientific and local indigenous knowledge of coral reef communities of the Great Astrolabe Reef, Fiji".
  • John Reed, (USA) Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, "Effects of bottom trawling on a deep-water coral reef".


  • Mark Baine and Linus digim'Rina, (Papua New Guinea), University of Papua New Guinea, "An examination of the changing face of Papua New Guinea coastal fisheries over time and with coastal development, evidenced through a social and ecological study of traditional fishing practices in the Port Moresby area and the Bwemapou Lagoon, Trobriand Islands."
  • Todd Braje and Jon Erlandson, (USA) University of Oregon, "10,000 years of ecological interactions between humans, otters, shellfish and kelp forests: the archaeology and historical ecology of San Miguel Island, California."
  • Stefan Claesson and Karen Alexander, (USA) University of New Hampshire, "Historical Fishing Grounds Mapping - Gulf of Maine."
  • Joshua Drew, (USA) Boston University, "Reflections of the Past: Evaluating current Marine Protected Areas in a Historical Context."
  • Daniel Gomez-Uchida, (Chile) Oregon State University, "Are we overfishing genomes? Testing the genetic effects of historical harvesting in exploited rockfish populations."
  • Benjamin Kahn, (Australia) APEX Environmental, Indonesia Oceanic Cetacean Program, "Historical changes of large migratory marine life diversity and abundance in the Solor-Alor Straits, Indonesia's major Indo-Pacific marine corridor: Perspectives from Lamalera, the last traditional community of sea hunters in SE Asia."
  • Geoff Moore, (UK) University of Glasgow, "The benthos of the Clyde Sea area (Scotland) prior to commercial fishing."
  • Seth Newsome and Daniel Monson, (USA) UC Santa Cruz, "Historical Perspective of Killer Whale (Orca orcinus) Trophic Interactions in the North Pacific: d13C & d15N Analysis of Killer Whale Teeth."
  • M.L. Deng Palomares, (Philippines) U. British Columbia, "Shifting the baseline: a knowledge-base of fish abundance anecdotes from early European explorations." Publication: Palomares, Maria Lourdes D., Elizabeth Mohammed, and Daniel Pauly, sources: Maria Lourdes D. Palomares, Elizabeth Mohammed, and Daniel Pauly On European Expeditions as a Source of Historic Abundance Data on Marine Organisms: A Case Study of the Falkland Islands. Environmental History 11.4 (2006): 23 pars. 2 Mar. 2010
  • Janna M. Shackeroff and Larry Crowder, (USA) Duke University, "Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Oral Histories, and Historical Information: Reef Fisheries in Milolii, Hawaii."
  • Colette Wabnitz, (UK) University of British Columbia, "Ecological functions, seagrass distribution and the conservation biology of green turtles in the Caribbean (Chelonia mydas)."


  • Brian Wysor and Suzanne Fredericq of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will use their Tegner grant to apply DNA sequencing techniques to determine whether seaweed species off Panama are natives or recent invaders. "I am absolutely delighted and honored to be one of the recipients of a Mia Tegner grant," Mr. Wysor said. "This award will... contribute to an improved understanding of the threat of algal bioinvasions in the vicinity of the Panama Canal," he continued.
    Publications: Resulted in Dr. Wynsor's PhD dissertation, entitled "Biodiversity and Biogeography of Marine Green Algae of the Republic of Panama." Additional publications of the manuscript have been submitted.
  • Susanna Fuller and Susan Gass of Dalhousie University in Halifax NS will study the status and distribution of deepsea corals and sponges off Newfoundland, Canada. They will be interviewing fishermen about the abundance of these crucial deepsea structure-forming species before they were largely eliminated by bottom trawling, a fishing technology that drags heavy nets across the seabed.
    Presentations: "An assessment of the distribution and status of deep sea corals in Atlantic Canada by using both scientific and local forms of knowledge," at the International Symposium on Deep Sea Corals in Erlangen, Germany, in September 2003.
    Publications: Gass, S.E.. and J.H.M. Willison (2005). An assessment of the distribution of deep-sea corals in Atlantic Canada by using both scientific and local forms of knowledge. In: Freiwald A., R.J. Murray, editors. "Cold-Water Corals and Ecosystems". Proceedings of the Second Deep-Sea Coral Symposium, Erlangen, Germany, September 2003. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, pp 223-245.
    A separate publication on sponges is also planned. This Tegner Award also resulted in Ms. Gass's Masters Thesis.
  • Peter Auster and Ivar Babb of University of Connecticut-Avery Point and Les Watling of the University of Maine will study the historic distributions of deepsea corals off New England. They will examine historic records for evidence of reefs or thickets of corals before fishing using destructive bottom trawling gear became widespread.
    Presentations: "Distribution of Deepwater Alcyonacea off the Northeast Coast of the United States," at the Second International Symposium on Deep Sea Corals in Erlangen Germany, in September 2003.
    Publications: Watling, L., P. Auster (2005). Distribution of deep-water Alcyonacea off the Northeast Coast of the United States. In: Freiwald, A., R.J. Murray, editors. "Cold-Water Corals and Ecosystems". Proceedings of the Second Deep-Sea Coral Symposium, Erlangen, Germany, September 2003. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, pp 279-296.
  • Joseph Roman of Harvard University in Cambridge MA will use DNA sequencing to estimate populations of great whales before they were killed off by commercial whaling. These methods can provide estimates that are very different from numbers estimated from whalers' logbooks, and can therefore provide independent estimates of whale populations and their role in marine ecosystems.
    Publication: Roman, J. & S.R. Palumbi. (2003, July 25). Whales before whaling in the North Atlantic. Science, 301: 508-510.
  • Catherine R. Samson and Graham J. Edgar of the University of Tasmania in Hobart will study the changes in marine habitats in SE Tasmania since European settlement. By taking cores of the sediments, Drs. Samson and Edgar aim to document the disappearance of species and changes in marine ecosystems in this part of Australia since Europeans settled Tasmania in the 1800s.
    Publications: Edgar, G.J. & C.R. Samson (2004). Catastrophic decline in mollusc diversity in eastern Tasmania and its concurrence with scallop dredging. "Conservation Biology" 18:1579-1588.
    Other publications are also planned.
  • Angela M. Arnold of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore MD will study the history of Chesapeake Bay food webs before overfishing for oysters and overnourishment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed caused drastic ecosystem changes. From sediment cores, Ms. Arnold will analyze microorganisms that indicate past conditions and use carbon 14 analysis to date sediment layers.