Our Paper on Benthic Ecosystem Health and Local Marine Economies in Florida and the Gulf

Iain and I wrote a brief paper on benthic ecosystem health and the marine economy in Florida and the Gulf, and we won the $2000 EPA NARS Data prize. We used econometric methods for our analysis. The full paper will be entered in January for the main prize.


From the Press release:

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced seven undergraduate and graduate student winners for phase 1 of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) Campus Challenge, recognizing exemplary research in the area of water quality and ecosystems. Announced in February, the NARS Campus Challenge encourages students to develop proposals for research projects that find innovative ways to use NARS data about the condition of the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas.

“The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are helping our states and tribes effectively and accurately monitor the ecological condition of our surface waters, which in turn helps EPA better target program efforts to meet our Clean Water Act goals,” said Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Water Office. “These students are working to protect America’s surface water resources and bring to this challenge energy, innovative perspectives, and cutting-edge knowledge.”

The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are a series of statistically representative surveys conducted by state, tribal and federal partners about the condition of the nation’s waters using core indicators and standardized lab and field methods. In addition to providing national assessments of key water body types such as coastal areas, rivers and streams, lakes, and wetlands, NARS also helps to improve the states’ capacity for water quality monitoring and assessment.

The Phase 1 winners each received an award of $2000 for their proposals. After completing their proposed work, these students may apply for Phase 2 of the NARS Campus Research Challenge. The Phase 2 winners will be awarded $5000 each.


Goliath Grouper, and stakeholder perceptions: my response to the Outdoor Hub Piece on reopening the Florida Goliath stock

There are many problems with the recent article entitled “Florida Anglers Call for Goliath Grouper Harvest” on Outdoorhub.com. I want to address some of them as a graduate student of ecosystems science, politics, and policy primarily of the marine and coastal environment.

  1. Stakeholders and agreement around the reopening of the stock:

The article starts out by asserting the following: “Florida Anglers are now calling for officials to open up the goliath grouper population to fishing.” This has the misleading effect of presenting the issue as though everyone in Florida who recreates on the ocean would like to see this stock open for fishing. Though Florida leads the nation in recreational angler spending per person ($3 billion dollars annually in state) these voices are not the only voices, and they are not the only contributors to the marine economy, not by a long shot.

Take the dive economy in South Florida for example. Scuba diving accounts for a quarter of all recreational activity on reefs, yet there are no voices in this article (and other articles like it) from dive industry stakeholders on reopening the grouper stocks. Individual expenditures per dive trip have been estimated by the following studies, put in a table in the National Ocean Economics Program Florida-specific report. When you consider there are millions of divers in Florida, and multiple trips per person per year add up to millions of person days of diving, you are looking at substantial economic earnings:

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 10.22.26 AM

  1. Asking spear fishermen for population data

One of the critical elements to my own research on nearshore fisheries and coral reefs in Indonesia and Malaysia is soliciting the perceptions of local fishermen in assessing environmental health. I believe in the power of the local resource user in any fisheries assessment. There are many examples in the literature of the usefulness and wisdom that the voice of the angler may provide in a stock assessment.

That said, one of the most glaring problems with this article is that the two voices who give evidence for the stock’s recovery are spear fishermen. The problem with anecdotal evidence is just that, it is anecdotal. It is also biased by the fact that grouper are a large (read: highly visible) species that tends to aggregate (read: be in predictable places at predictable times) and because of this, it may give spear fishermen the misleading impression of total stock health, in terms of recruitment rates, biomass and so on. The reality is, this is a social, economic, political and scientific problem. When we only hear from the people who have major interests in and recreational hobbies that center on harvesting grouper, we are hearing one piece of problem with many pieces. It is an echo chamber.

  1. Stories like these build mistrust between scientists, ecosystem managers, and recreational anglers

The problem with stories like these is that points 1 and 2 that I make above create a false impression that the stock has definitely recovered (though considerable uncertainty remains) and that all stakeholders want the stock reopened (though this is definitely not the case).

Thus, when recreational anglers hear that the stock remains closed, despite what journalists like this are saying, trust and goodwill are lost in what can and should be a worthwhile collaboration between state and national level fisheries management agencies, scientists, and resources users like anglers and divers. It veers a scientific, socio-economic, and political issue into the realm of the conspiracy theory (i.e. scientists/ NOAA/ Obama/ whomever are trying to keep the stock closed because of bureaucratic rigidness/anti-angler mentalities/ insert conspiracy here.)

Angler or ocean sportsman publications like this would do better to make a reasoned, economic, ecological, political case for the type of harvest they would like to see, instead of spreading misleading information to get clicks. They should also do better to inform their readers of the many dimensions to the conversation, so that they aren’t limited to the echo chamber.

Conserve.io collaboration: Using GIS and mobile technology to plot whales by species and behavior

Recently I was invited by Jake Levenson and the folks over at Conserve.io to help analyze spatial and quantitative data for a project by entitled “Conservation in the Cloud: Leveraging mobile technology connecting tourism & resource managers.” The plots that I contributed use data from their application to reflect real time whale sightings in two embayments in Iceland, as well as recorded behaviors of these marine mammals. The Conserve.io technology and application is not my baby, so I won’t go into it other than to say it is an amazing high-tech solution and opportunity for citizen scientists to monitor local marine mammal populations, and that you can read more about their work here.

Instead, I wanted to showcase a few of the plots I made using Spotter App’s data, as it was also featured in Jake’s talk at the IMCC3 Conference in summer of 2014 (of which I am a co-author). The slides can be viewed on this website under the Conferences Header on the Homepage. Thanks to Jake and Conserve.io for inviting me onto the project. Now onto the whale plots.

This first plot was made in an effort to decide if we should create plots normalized by unit effort, but since effort (which I decided to quantify by hours at sea that their application recorded) was so tightly clustered, this didn’t really tell us much in the end.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.25.17 PM

This is the same normalized data reflecting unit effort, but made in R and with a Lowess line to further demonstrate that this normalization would make more sense if trip lengths varied more. Thanks to Iain Dunning for helping me re-format some messy real time data.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.27.00 PM

The following image is all of the whale sightings broken down by species in this one particular embayment in Northern Iceland.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.30.45 PM

The next image is sightings broken down by species off the coast of Reykjavik:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.32.08 PM

The next plot shows species, but with data points adjusted by percentage that species gets sighted across all trips.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.33.19 PM

This plot shows the number of different whales sighted in a single trip:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.35.13 PM

The following plots show all sightings, with the sightings that included calves in red (off the coast of iceland)

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.36.31 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.37.48 PM

These next few plots focus on sightings of particular behaviors, coded by color, but with data points sized according to frequency of that particular observed behavior:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.38.30 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.39.41 PM

Again, if you liked what you saw here, go and check out Conserve.io!