New Tools to Accelerate Ocean Conservation
The world’s oceans are in great peril. To help conservation and to reverse the trends of oceanic degradation, we must innovate and employ every available tool. More help is on the way. Today, Revive & Restore, a California-based non-profit conservation organization, announced the release of an “Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan.” This report provides a first-of-its-kind assessment of genomic and biotech innovations to complement, enhance, and accelerate today’s marine conservation strategies.
Revive & Restore is raising $15 million to fund ten “Big Ideas” that demonstrate the power of these technologies and address a significant conservation challenge. Each of these Big Ideas is led by a team of passionate scientists and identifies a clear technology development path with achievable milestones on a two- to three-year timeline.
Oceans face a myriad of threats, including overharvesting, pollution, habitat degradation, and climate change (e.g. increasing temperatures, acidification, storm events), which compounds many other marine threats. Conventional marine conservation measures are critically important, but the pace of change in the oceans requires the consideration of transformative innovations.
Biotechnology has great potential to help solve pressing conservation challenges by identifying potential vulnerability or resilience to climate change and by driving innovation (e.g., synthetic replacement of wildlife products) to directly remove threats to both wildlife and ecosystems.
“Our report is solution-focused and provides a framework of genomic-based innovations for marine conservation,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore.
Some important innovations identified in the report include:
- Saving vulnerable marine biodiversity before it disappears: The pace and scale of banking and sequencing of marine life must rapidly accelerate. A targeted but comprehensive approach to sequencing and banking initiatives will expand the opportunities for genetic rescue in marine ecosystems.
- Protecting high seas habitats: The growing threat posed by seabed mining demands innovation in how biodiversity is assessed and protected. State-of-the-art environmental DNA (the DNA that remains in seawater from marine plants and animals) technology holds tremendous potential to unlock our understanding of deep-water marine habitats.
- Guiding marine protected areas and fisheries management: Next generation high- throughput sequencing is increasingly affordable and can provide powerful insights to better manage fisheries and quantify the ecosystem benefits of marine protected areas.
- Advancing coral conservation: Understanding the genetic coding of particular traits (e.g. resilience to heat stress) provides a means to select and propagate species that can withstand changing ocean conditions.
- Restoring coral reefs: Responding to the global coral bleaching crisis may require genetic interventions. Research teams are working to create a new coral toolkit to preserve and breed corals with enhanced resilience to climate change.
- Controlling invasive species: Crown-of-thorns starfish is an irruptive species with a huge negative impact on coral reefs. Lab-testing genetic interventions that could one day be safely deployed in the ocean would bring innovation to the difficult problem of marine invasives.
- Restoring super island ecosystems: Documenting the causal linkages between near-shore reef health and the presence of healthy island seabird populations (without invasive rodents) will help decision-makers prioritize where to remove terrestrial invasive species from islands to maximize the health of corals and marine protected areas.
Drawing upon over a year of research and in-depth consultations with more than 100 world experts (e.g. marine biologists, conservationists, and technologists), the report assesses current threats to marine biodiversity for which new genomic tools could be transformative; highlights pioneering conservation applications of genomic technologies; and identifies innovations that could provide novel solutions for marine conservation.
The report is available to support the conservation community and foundations and to increase public awareness, encourage discussion, and further the adoption of an innovative new toolkit for conservation. The full 168-page, web-enabled Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan can be accessed at www.reviverestore.org/ocean.
“The goal of developing new genomic tools is to ‘turn the tide’ on species loss and extinction, not just to better document the loss and decline,” said Phelan. “This is a call to action to all ocean conservationists, genomics innovators, funders, and supporters to find new partnerships and initiatives to make this new toolbox a reality.”