Fish and other marine species swim freely throughout the world’s oceans with no regard for national or international borders, and conservation projects aimed at protecting them should be equally fluid, Stanford scientists say.

Two symposia this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Jose, Calif. will address new, more dynamic approaches to marine conservation on the high seas, or waters that fall outside of national jurisdictions.                     

The first symposium, “Can our ocean commons be sustainably managed? Innovative strategies for the high seas,” will take place on Friday, Feb. 13, 10 to 11:30 a.m., at the San Jose Convention Center.

The second symposium, “Dynamic Ocean Management: Supporting Ecological and Economic Sustainability,” will take place the same day, 1:30 pm to 4:30 p.m., also at the San Jose Convention Center.

Dynamic ocean management – instead of traditional, static approaches with fixed boundaries – can be a key tool to ecological and economic sustainability. Among the ideas that Stanford researchers will discuss: dynamic marine protected areas, or MPAs, which move in time and space to protect migratory species.

“We have sophisticated tracking data for these migratory species that show us where they are during their most vulnerable life-cycle phases,” said Woods Senior Fellow Larry Crowder (Biology), Science Director for the Center for Ocean Solutions (COS), a collaboration among Stanford (through the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Hopkins Marine Station), The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “Why wouldn’t we work to employ equally sophisticated management?”

During the first symposium, Stanford Ph.D. candidate Cassandra Brooks will discuss the success of MPAs in Antarctica and how the frozen continent could serve as a model for high seas conservation in other parts of the world. “We have much to learn from looking south,” Brooks said. “The Antarctic has a rich history of scientific collaboration, international diplomacy and grand-scale conservation efforts. But it ultimately comes down to political will.”

In the second symposium, Crowder and COS-affiliated researchers Sara Maxwell, Elliot Hazen and Rebecca Lewison will further discuss the concept of near real-time, dynamic management of marine areas.

Maxwell, a former postdoctoral scholar at Stanford, now assistant professor at Old Dominion University, organized the symposium. She will discuss the feasibility of dynamic or mobile MPAs. "Mobile MPAs may be one of the most efficient and effective ways to protect highly migratory species such as sea turtles, whales and other species that travel across the oceans," she said.

The COS researchers and others will explain how advances in remote sensing and shipboard technology can be used to regulate marine areas and communicate with users. They will explore tools such as eCatch, a tool that allows fishermen to collect, map and share their information in real-time while at sea.

“Innovative approaches to managing resources in the open seas require interdisciplinary thinking, intensive engagement with managers and decision-makers, and bold vision,” Crowder said.