"Not all those who wander are lost" ~ J. R. R. Tolkien
Life in all its forms is both wondrous an mysterious. For me, I am hooked on those animals that travel through the ocean - those mobile species, the migratory species, that on one day may be found in one location, but on another in a completely different area. There are many species like this in our ocean. Humpback whales move between Costa Rica and Antarctica – a 5,160 mile journey, whilst leatherback turtles move some 12,744 miles between the west coast of the United States of America and Indonesia. Meanwhile Arctic terns have been tracked flying from the Farne Islands all the way down to Antarctica – a whopping 59,600 mile trip. In addition, many species undergo what is known as ontogenetic migration – basically moving between different habitats at different times in an animal’s life. Salmon begin their life in rivers and streams before heading out to the ocean – and returning again to breed. Juvenile John’s snapper travel from coastal water to large mangrove estuaries and then travel offshore. Similarly, when young Atlantic cod can take advantage of the shelter found in coastal seagrass meadows before moving out into deeper waters.
My specialist interest crosses several disciplines (and sub-disciplines) - spatial ecology, movement ecology, migratory ecology, oceanography, climate change science to name a few. These help answer fundamental questions like why a particular species, population, or even individual is where it is at any give time. Where will it be tomorrow, in a month, in six months, in a year - and why? What will happen as the ocean continues to warm, as oxygen levels in parts of the seas decline, as ocean acidification increases? Who will adapt and cope with the changing conditions, who will find new homes and new migration routes, who will find nowhere to go? What will these changes mean for other animals these mobile populations interact with - including people who fish the ocean for food and livelihoods?
Moving beyond the what, why, and how comes the 'what can we do'. Using this information we can look to take better care of our ocean, lightening our impact on those species - and those livelihoods - at risk from activities that may harm them. This moves into management. What kinds of spatial management - like sanctuaries or targeted management zones - will work best to achieve our goals? Do we need networks of sanctuaries? What tools like those designed to reduce accidental catch are also useful in a given situation? And my personal favourite - how can we implement a dynamic ocean management approach - spatial management that reacts rapidly to the changing dynamics of the ocean and its inhabitants to reduce negative interactions with mobile species that don't like to stay in the same place, or that are shifting in response to the changing ocean climate.