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71 Research Questions


At the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress in 2011, the SCB Marine Section developed a list of 71 research questions critical to the advancement of marine conservation. We encourage IMCC4 proposals and abstracts that address one or more of these questions.


Table 1. Full list of 71 questions

Question category





How much marine biomass is lost to "ghost fishing," and what is the most effective way to reduce this source of mortality?



What are the impacts of recreational fishing on marine ecosystems?



How can fishing gear and techniques be improved to minimize habitat damage?



To what degree must the foraging needs of top predators and other animal species be considered in our exploitation of fish stocks to ensure healthy ecosystems?



How can the impacts of bycatch from legal and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fisheries be reduced to a level that will allow for reversal of declining trends of affected species?



In what circumstances do no-take zones produce benefits to surrounding fisheries?



How prevalent are the negative evolutionary effects of “sustainable fishing” and how can they be minimized (e.g. Reznick & Ghalambor 2005)?



How can partial fishing closures be used to maximize the benefits of Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks?



Under what circumstances can aquaculture produce a net benefit for marine conservation?



What characteristics of eco-labeling programs make them true indicators of a sustainable fishery, and to what degree can such programs contribute to the sustainability of global fisheries?



What is the most cost-effective way to prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated harvesting in marine ecosystems?

Climate change


What are the implications of climate change for small island nations, in terms of both sea level rise, and to their ability to meet international conservation commitments while maintaining local food security?



To what degree can no-take or highly-protected MPAs provide resilience and/or a buffer against ecosystem disruption caused by climate change and ocean acidification?



How will marine ecosystems and species adapt and respond to the individual and interactive effects of ocean acidification, anoxia, and warming, and to what extent is mitigation possible?



What attributes of species (e.g., tropical or temperate, sessile or motile, etc.) make them particularly sensitive to stressors attributable to climate change?



What measures can best prevent the extinction/extirpation of geographically constrained species and populations in the face of climate change?



How will global climate change and ocean acidification affect ocean productivity and, ultimately, biodiversity?



How can marine climate refugia be identified and protected to the maximum extent possible?



To what extent will stressors (such as noise, exotic species, and contaminants) increase as polar marine environments warm and become increasingly accessible to human activities, and how will these disturbances affect polar biodiversity?



How will climate change influence the distribution, richness, relative abundance, and prevalence of diseases and invasive species in the marine environment?



What are the possible ecological impacts of technological mitigation strategies (e.g., coastal defenses) developed to allow human communities adapt to climate change?



How will human pressures on the seascape shift and change as climate change impacts affect additional areas of the ocean?



How will climate change impact the three-dimensional distribution, abundance, and dispersal of marine species, and what are the implications?



What capacity do marine organisms, particularly sessile species, have to adapt to changing oceanographic conditions?



How will the capacity to sequester carbon in biotic and abiotic components of marine ecosystems change over time?

Other anthropogenic threats


Which strategies can be used to mitigate and/or manage the effects of the spread of existing and emergence of new marine pathogens?



Which anthropogenic stressors have the largest influence on host-pathogen interactions?



How can the formation of anoxic “dead zones” be forecasted and prevented, and how can conditions leading to dead zone formation be reversed if they form?



How can the cumulative effects of the use of new technologies (such as energy infrastructure) be rapidly and effectively assessed, and translated into precautionary policy recommendations?



How should damage from anthropogenic oil release be quantified and what is the ecologically relevant scale for assessment?



What are the technological and biological limitations that prevent effective cleanup of chronic and acute spills of oil and other chemicals, and how should these limitations inform social and economic decisions about exploration, extraction, transport and use?



How can the benefits of tourism to marine ecosystems be maximized while minimizing negative impacts?



What effects do urbanization and changing patterns of land use have on coastal, estuarine, and marine biodiversity, and how can policy and practice be integrated to ensure that these effects are mitigated?



To what extent and in which ways does anthropogenic noise affect marine fauna, particularly species that depend heavily upon sound, and how do these impacts accrue over time and space?



What are the relative conservation implications of acute versus chronic anthropogenic stressors?



What are the cumulative and population-level effects of marine environmental contaminants, such as plastics and other refuse?



How can the negative impacts of shipping on marine species and ecosystems (e.g., disturbance to sensitive habitat areas, output of CO2 and black carbon, underwater noise, and the release of other pollutants during construction and operations) be reduced and public awareness of such impacts be elevated?



How can key large-scale ecological processes be identified, protected, and restored?



How can recovery rates of species that vary between ecosystems be incorporated into the development of conservation targets and metrics of conservation success?



What restoration methods (e.g., in situ habitat restoration, translocation, etc.) are most likely to enhance natural marine ecosystem form, function, and services?



Given the variation in characteristics of individual species, how can conservation strategies be implemented to maintain connectivity across taxa, habitats, and scales to ensure resilient marine communities?



To what extent are the changing frequency, intensity, and magnitude of disturbances (including both natural and anthropogenic) altering the distribution and abundance of individual species and communities in marine ecosystems?



How can the provision of ecosystem services (known and unknown, quantitative and qualitative) be incorporated into marine conservation planning and management, and how do we determine how much of each ecosystem service we need to protect?



How do we better identify species at risk of extinction in marine ecosystems, and when should the "triage" approach to conservation of critically endangered species be applied to marine systems (Bottrill et al. 2008)?



How much emphasis should be placed on identifying and maintaining intraspecific genetic diversity in marine systems?



How can tipping points for marine ecosystems and/or individual species be identified, what are the consequences of reaching or passing these thresholds, and can these consequences be reversed?

Marine citizenship


What are the best methods to encourage context-specific behavioral changes to increase conservation of the marine environment, and what behaviors are most important to change?



What are the best methods and tools available to engage citizens in marine conservation?



What are the most critical messages, concepts, and skills that should be communicated to, and developed with, citizens to improve societal understanding of marine conservation problems?



What are the best ways to frame marine conservation messages in light of different values and perceptions of the marine environment held by different audiences?



How can the effectiveness of – and compliance with – international treaties that influence marine conservation be increased, including at a local level?



What are the unique challenges of high seas management and what are the best methods for ensuring effective and credible high seas governance and conservation?



How can effective policy-making and evaluation of marine systems be proactively advanced in light of recognized shifting of historical baselines?



What are the best ways to estimate, evaluate, and manage cumulative impacts and multiple anthropogenic stressors in the marine environment?



What are the best methods to resolve conflicting policies in the marine environment (e.g., terrestrial vs. marine policies, dual mandates of organizations, etc.) to achieve marine conservation goals?



How can the success of marine conservation initiatives and policies be best measured, and what elements of success may be most readily transferable to other marine areas or conservation activities?



What are the most effective ways of establishing, adaptively managing, and assessing the ecological, social, and economic benefits of MPA networks?



How can marine spatial planning best support marine conservation goals?



How should evidence from multiple disciplines be used most effectively to underpin marine conservation policy making, and how should contradictions within the evidence base be resolved?



How should uncertainty, risk, and precaution be incorporated into effective marine conservation policy-making?



What scale-specific governance models have supported the achievement of marine conservation goals?



How can the trade of marine species be better regulated, managed, and monitored?



How should novel and emerging marine contaminants be regulated even if their impacts and conservation implications are not fully understood?

Social and cultural considerations


How have humankind's various worldviews shaped perceptions, relationships, and narratives related to the marine environment, and how do these influence marine conservation?



How can marine conservation support food security, cultural security, and human well-being whilst acknowledging local governance and sovereignty?



How can marine cultural heritage, maritime historical heritage, and biological conservation be best integrated to maximize benefits for all stakeholders?



How are socially just and equitable marine conservation processes and outcomes (incorporating gender, inter-generational, and socioeconomic equity) best developed and delivered?



What lessons derived from conflict management, resolution, and avoidance in other disciplines could be beneficially applied to marine conservation?

Scientific enterprise


How can taxonomic expertise be increased in order to reduce uncertainty in the conservation and management of marine ecosystems?



How can scientific and management cultures be changed to promote open sharing of data in formats that are accessible (and standardized)?



What strategies can be used to promote long-term integrated multi-disciplinary collaborations?


*These “71 important questions for the conservation of marine biodiversity” are part of a paper accepted for publication in SCB’s journal Conservation Biology (authored by Parsons, E.C.M., Favaro, B., Draheim, M., McCarthy, J.B., Aguirre, A.A., Bauer, A.L., Blight, L.K., Cigliano, J.A., Coleman, M.A., Côté, I.M., Fletcher, S., Foley, M.M., Jefferson, R., Jones, M.C., Kelaher, B.P., Lundquist, C.J., Nelson, A., Patterson, K., Walsh, L., Wright, A.J. and Sutherland, W.J.) The open-access paper can be viewed at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12303/abstract