Science & Innovation

Dynamic Ocean Management Tools are Helping Protect Sea Turtles and Whales

Almost everything in the ocean is dynamic. Ocean currents, tides, temperature and animals are constantly moving and changing.

A perfect example of dynamic ocean animals are sea turtles and whales. On average, whales travel about 75 miles per day while loggerhead sea turtles travel over 10,000 miles a year. Traveling great distances is a natural habit of these animals. They travel to finding a rich supply of food and for mating purposes.

In an effort to protect dynamic marine animals from the various threats they face, scientists and conservationists are looking to dynamic ocean management tools.

According to a study, dynamic ocean management is management that changes rapidly in space and time in response to the shifting nature of the ocean and its users based on the integration of new biological, oceanographic, social and/or economic data in near real-time.

A dynamic ocean management tool allows scientists, conservations, fishermen or any interested party to stay on top of ocean-relate data which can be used to protect marine animals. For example, data on current migratory patterns of turtles and whales can help avoid whale strikes and turtle bycatch.

Heather Welch, a research associate at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA SWFSC) and the University of California Santa Cruz, presented a webinar on four of the latest dynamic ocean tools.

Two of which provide focuses on conservation and protection of turtles and whales.

1. Temperature Observations To Avoid Loggerheads (TOTAL) Tool
Screenshot of Temperature Observations To Avoid Loggerheads (TOTAL) Tool

TOTAL was designed to reduce loggerhead turtle bycatch off the coast of California. It uses a temperature indicator to guide the timing of fishery closures in the area. The goal of the tool is to minimize loggerhead turtle bycatch by maximizing loggerhead turtle avoidance by fishing boats. The data is updated monthly.

2. WhaleWatch Tool
Infographic courtesy of NOAA depicting how and what kind of data is gathered by the satellites.

WhaleWatch was designed to minimize ship strike risks to blue whales off the coast of California. It uses satellites to collect movement data of whales and oceanographic data (sea surface temperature, winds etc.) to predict the current habitats and density for blue whales in the area. Fishermen use this information to avoid certain areas where whales may be present. The data on WhaleWatch is updated daily.

In the Caribbean

In the Caribbean, turtles and whales face the same threats as they do off the west coast of the United States. According to the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP), sea turtle populations in the caribbean have drastically decreased over the years due to ‘unmanaged harvesting that has spanned centuries’, bycatch and pollution.

CEP also states that the main threats for marine mammals in the Caribbean are fisheries interactions (i.e. whale ship strike), habitat degradation and pollutions.

Implementing dynamic ocean management tools like TOTAL and WhaleWatch in the Caribbean, could prove beneficial to the conservation of endangered turtle species and whales in the caribbean.

“It’s just getting a sense of what sort of species data you have,” Welch said. For example,”records of where turtles or whales have been seen, would be the critical ingredient [to implementing similar tools in the caribbean].”

As these tools continue to gain traction across the world, they give us the opportunity to better manage our marine environment and ultimately, protect marine animals for future generations.

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