15 Aug 2019 - When developing a marine protection area, Anna Metaxas believes that the genetics of species living within that area need to be taken into consideration. Tiny organisms can help make those decisions.
Metaxas, a professor at Dalhousie University in Canada with a doctorate in marine science, was Friday Harbor Labs’ 2019 Illg Distinguished Lecturer and presented her talk “Evidence-based conservation: designing well-connected Marine Protection Areas” at the San Juan Community Theatre on Aug. 7. She studies benthic invertebrate larvae ecology and has participated in the writing of approximately 200 scientific studies.
Most of Metaxas’ research is based on virtual larvae modeling. With this modeling, scientists can predict, based on currents, where the juvenile organisms will land.
“They’re teeny. … It’s really hard to find [larvae] to track them,” Metaxas said. “This is all virtual and it’s all modeling, because you can’t actually track larvae.”
Knowing from where larvae launch and land can help scientists decide whether a location is a source or a sink, and whether that area should be protected. A source is where organisms both originate and where they land, and a sink is where an organism travels to but does not produce emigrating animals.
When considering areas of marine environment protection, Metaxas said that managers tend to pick locations based primarily on landscape and partially on demographics. She added that scientists, however, believe that protection zones should be chosen based on the genetics of the organisms within them and less on demographics.
So, why are marine protected areas needed anyway? A study by James E. M. Watson and his colleagues published in 2018 indicated 87 percent of the ocean has been modified by human activity.