Big Blue Gets Its Due


Marine Conservation Biology: The Science of Maintaining the Sea's Biodiversity . E. A.Norse and L. B.Crowder , editors . 2005 . Island Press , Washington , D.C. 496 pp . (xxvi + 470). $49.95 (paperback) . ISBN 1-55963-662-9

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught” (Baba Dioum 1968 speech in New Delhi, India). This quotation from the Senegalese environmentalist is a fitting description of the goal of Norse and Crowder's new volume—that is, to educate both scientists and the general public to advance our awareness and understanding of marine conservation biology. Marine conservation usually is discussed in one or more chapters in various marine biology, oceanography, and conservation biology texts, but this volume is the first, to our knowledge, to suitably address marine conservation as a field of study. The editors begin with two introductory chapters, and the subsequent 23 chapters are divided into five sections, with each chapter written by one or more leading experts in the field.

The first section is composed of four chapters on marine population biology and ecology, including life-history strategies, Allee effects, extinction, and the often overlooked topic of behavior in marine systems. A comparison of marine and terrestrial systems is included in many chapters, highlighting why conservation of marine ecosystems is different, and, some would say, more challenging than that of terrestrial ecosystems. There is noticeable overlap of material in the chapters on life history and Allee effects, and some material covered in the extinction chapter is later repeated in the section on threats.

The next two sections include four chapters on threats (nutrient overenrichment, invasive species, disease, and multiple stressors) and five chapters specifically on fisheries, the most pervasive threat to marine ecosystems. Most of the substance of these chapters describes the threats themselves, with minor emphasis on conservation actions such as threat reduction, restoration, and management. The chapter on multiple stressors provides innovative suggestions on how the management approach of solving a single stressor could be improved by a more complex, multifaceted approach to coastal management. A discussion of the effects of global climate change on marine systems was conspicuously absent from this section, and subjects such as pollution (other than nutrients) and sedimentation received little mention.

The fisheries section includes an excellent contribution by Preikshot and Pauly, which discusses the difficulty of uniting conservation and sustainable fisheries because of historical management practices and the evolution of fisheries science. Watling (chapter 12) provides a clever comparison of fishing disturbance to both forest clearcutting practices and oil drilling, emphasizing impacts on the generally understudied benthic soft-sediment habitats that comprise the majority of ocean habitats and contain the majority of biodiversity. Chapter 13 on long-lived species is somewhat repetitive of earlier chapters, but includes useful management suggestions for fishing regulations and gear modification. Chapter 14 on evolutionary effects of fishing, although significant, seems overly specific compared with that of other chapters in this section. Surprisingly little emphasis is given to bycatch in this section, considering the prior successes of conservationists in reducing bycatch impacts.

The fourth section includes four chapters on place-based management (aka marine protected areas), the most popular tool in the marine conservation toolkit. The authors not only sing the virtues of marine reserves but also discuss their limitations, particularly with respect to fisheries management. The underlying consensus is that marine reserves will be most effective when they are part of a comprehensive coastal management plan. Chapter 18 offers a timely argument for marine protected areas in the high seas, noting challenges due to the highly migratory nature of open-ocean megafauna, the difficulty of establishing and enforcing marine reserves in the open ocean (including the need to protect “ecosystems that move” such as upwellings at divergence zones), and the need to protect ecological linkages between the benthic and pelagic zones. Chapter 19 discusses marine metapopulations, a central paradigm of conservation biology and clearly shows that one size does not fit all with respect to dispersal processes and marine reserve design. We disagree with the authors' broad application of the metapopulation concept, calling any spatially structured, interconnected population a metapopulation. Regardless of our disagreement with terminology, this chapter's emphasis on larval dispersal complements other chapters describing juvenile and adult dispersal processes to provide a complete discussion of the ecology governing marine reserve design.

The final section sets this volume aside as one of the first marine volumes to adequately discuss the human dimension of marine conservation. Usually cast aside as a final chapter, or even a section within a discussion of marine conservation, the editors dedicate six chapters to concepts that are as important as understanding biology for conservation— how to manage human interactions with the marine environment. Chapter 20 gives an informative socioeconomic review of the conditions under which fishers will develop effective conservation rules, providing a rare instance of communication between the social and biological sciences. Other chapters in the section detail legal regimes, public policy, and how uncertainty and the misallocation of the burden of proof have resulted in fragmented, risk-prone decision making by marine resource managers. Chapter 23 takes a novel look at the human dimension, asking if being able to restore ecosystems will cause society to be less concerned about ecosystem degradation. The chapter on environmental ethics creatively demonstrates the need for a “doe-eyed invertebrate” to change the public views of the ocean toward development of a “sea ethic” in the same vein as Leopold's land ethic. The final chapter serves as a synthesis, showcasing the frontier mentality commonly exhibited in the open ocean, to recommend a comprehensive, integrated, placed-based management framework of open-ocean zoning.

One general issue with the volume is that many of the chapters concentrate primarily on megafauna and commercial species with wide-ranging distributions and dispersal capabilities. Because dispersal and connectivity processes are rarely known when designing marine protected-area networks (and in fisheries management), the focus on long-ranging species and the “open population” concept that has dominated marine ecology for recent decades goes against the current trend in empirical studies that demonstrate significant larval retention and ignores the large proportion of species with no planktonic dispersal stage. Also, most chapters (with the exception of Watling's chapter on fishing disturbance) focus on charismatic species and/or habitats, reflecting the overall bias toward these types of species and habitats in fisheries management and conservation research. Finally, the examples are biased toward U.S. marine ecosystems, although the editors apologize in advance for this bias.

Marine Conservation Biology is suitable for upper-division undergraduates or graduate students with basic knowledge of marine populations, ecology, and oceanography. Some of the chapters (e.g., Botsford & Parma and Lipcius et al.) involve more complex concepts and theoretical models that may be beyond the reach of a general audience. Nevertheless, even these more-challenging concepts are presented in an easy-to-follow style, and the chapter on metapopulations is adequately presented as a series of illustrations without the underlying mathematical equations that might distract from understanding the basic concepts. This is an important book because it comes at a time when marine conservation is trying to find its voice and gain legitimacy (and notice) in the terrestrial-dominated field of conservation biology. Marine Conservation Biology: The Science of Maintaining the Sea's Biodiversity should go a long way in achieving these goals.