South Pacific Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems Project
This project aimed to produce predictive models for Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) in the South Pacific, and evaluate the model's effectiveness for potential management and conservation scenarios to protect VMEs.
More information about the project and survey is below.
Funded by Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
Funding Years: 2012-2015
Research organisations involved in the project
National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), Marine Conservation Institute (USA)
What are the vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) adjacent to New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and can habitat prediction models be used effectively to determine their characteristics and spatial extent?
Project background and summary
Vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) are those ecosystems highly vulnerable to one or more kinds of human activity such as fishing. VMEs are identified by the vulnerability of their species, communities, and or habitats to disturbance.
There are concerns that VMEs are threatened by fishing in areas of the ocean beyond national jurisdiction (‘high seas’). The United Nations, international conservation organisations, and fisheries management agencies all wish to implement management strategies to project VMEs, and thereby preserve ecosystem function in the deep oceans.
Without such protection the calls for fishing to cease on the high seas will increase. New Zealand fishing fleets operate in the high seas region of the South Pacific, and New Zealand is currently leading initiatives to improve fisheries management in the region.
There is little information about the distribution or characteristics of VMEs in the South Pacific, which is hampering the design of management measures. Recent studies have demonstrated that habitat suitability models can predict the occurrence of seabed animals that indicate the presence of VMEs.
Various international bodies have called for the development of such models and their use in designing effective management of fishing on the high seas. This project aimed to produce predictive models for VMEs in the South Pacific, and evaluate their effectiveness for potential management and conservation scenarios to protect VMEs.
Predictive relative habitat suitability index (HSI, 0-1) for the SPRFMO convention area and the New Zealand EEZ from the habitat suitability models for the four reef-forming scleractinian coral species.
The project collated all available biological and environmental data for building habitat suitability models at two large spatial scales. The largest South Pacific-scale model was ground-truthed by a survey from RV Tangaroa, and the New Zealand-regional model subsequently refined. Using information from seafloor images collected on the ground-truth survey, a small-scale model using abundance data was used to predict the occurrence and characteristics of VMEs on seamounts of the Louisville Seamount Chain.
Predictive relative habitat suitability index (0-100%) for the New Zealand region from the habitat suitability models for the scleractinian coral Solenosmilia variabilis.
Predictive occurrence of coral reef habitat (VME) based on an abundance threshold from the habitat suitability models for the scleractinian coral Solenosmilia variabilis.
Archived data and new analyses were also used to reveal the genetic connectivity of populations for a range of VME indicator animals in the New Zealand region. The regional-scale habitat suitability models were used, together with other relevant data, to demonstrate the utility of the decision-support tools for designing spatial management measures that protect high priority conservation areas for VMEs, while still allowing for fishing in areas valuable to the fishing industry.
Project data and research products
- A description of the research that produced South Pacific-scale habitat suitability models for VME indicator taxa can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0964569115300740
- A description of the research that produced New Zealand region-scale habitat suitability models for VME indicator tax can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096706371630163
- Data that were used to construct the large-scale habitat suitability models for VME indicator taxa can be found here http://nzobisipt.com/resource?r=vme_inverts
- A description of the research that produced the seamount-scale habitat suitability models for VME indicator taxa can be found here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2017.00335/full
- Image (still image and video) data that were used to construct the seamount-scale habitat suitability models for VME indicator taxa can be found here: https://atlas.niwa.co.nz/public.jsp - Once there search "TAN1402 Louisville", Please be aware there are 28,000 images and may take some time to load.
- A description of the voyage that was used to ground-truth the South Pacific-scale habitat suitability models, and generate image data for the seamount-scale habitat suitability models can be found here: http://fs.fish.govt.nz/Page.aspx?pk=113&dk=23779
- A description of the research that produced information on the genetic connectivity of VME indicator taxa in the New Zealand region can be found here (including links to underlying data): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/eva.12509/abstract