The Marine Policy Center (MPC) conducts social scientific research that integrates economics, policy
analysis, and law with the Institution’s basic research in ocean sciences. Areas of recent research include
nutrient pollution of coastal waters, the economics of ocean observing systems, offshore wind power, biological
conservation, and international fisheries management.
Nutrient pollution is one of the chief causes of environmental
problems in coastal ecosystems. Reducing inputs from the sources of excess nutrients—fertilizers, sewage disposal, and fossil fuel burning—generally requires
costly and difficult technological and behavioral change. In some cases, it may be equally effective and less costly to mitigate the effects of nutrients after they have entered the water. Researchers at MPC are investigating one simple and inexpensive approach: the use of shellfish aquaculture to reduce nutrients and improve water quality in coastal areas.
Several lines of evidence suggest this approach could work. First, shellfish sequester nutrients such as nitrogen in body tissues, so harvesting them can remove a substantial
amount from coastal waters. Second, their tendency to eat large amounts of phytoplankton may reduce the likelihood of algal blooms under conditions of increased nutrient enrichment. Third, the presence of shellfish biodeposits (feces and undigested organic matter) in sediments
may increase the rate at which nitrogen is converted
to a form that diffuses to the atmosphere. This process, known as denitrification, may be an even more potent tool for nitrogen removal
than shellfish harvesting.
Using data from previous studies,
MPC Research Specialist Hauke Kite-Powell and colleagues are developing a biogeochemical model of nitrogen flows and nitrogen
removal via shellfish cultivation.
The model will be verified using data collected at an experimental site in Waquoit Bay, MA. In addition to monitoring
sediments for rates of denitrification and monitoring shellfish for rates of survival,
growth, and nitrogen uptake, the research team is conducting experiments to assess the effectiveness of on-bottom and off-bottom
shellfish cultivation techniques. Their goal is to produce a practical, bio-economic model that can be used to evaluate alternative
management scenarios for a range of coastal water bodies.
Kite-Powell also led a project that analyzed
the potential economic benefits of improved coastal ocean observing systems around the United States, for which he received
the Award for Excellence in Partnering from the National Ocean Partnership Program.
In another recently completed project, MPC and Switzer Foundation
Fellow Elena McCarthy addressed the growing controversy over
the suspected links between human-generated ocean noise and
marine mammal strandings and deaths. Her book, International
Regulation of Underwater Sound, considers how the problem
can be addressed in spite of the lack of a regulatory structure
and the considerable scientific uncertainty that surrounds
MPC researchers are also addressing the much-publicized
problems of deep-sea fisheries,
where catches have increased steeply over the last two decades. Deep-sea species are especially vulnerable
to rapid depletion from over-fishing because of their long lifespans, slow growth rates, and low fecundity. The ecosystems they inhabit suffer collateral damage as well from the bottom-trawling that destroys complex seafloor communities.
Although the status of most deep-sea areas remains unknown, many are calling for the conservation of deep-sea biological communities and a moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters.
MPC is contributing legal, regulatory, and economic analysis
to the ongoing international debate on deep-sea fisheries.
Research Specialist Porter Hoagland and Research Assistant
Mary Schumacher prepared a synopsis of the unprotected and
largely unregulated status of deep-sea fisheries under relevant
international law; it appears in the recently published book
Defying Ocean’s End. Hoagland has also developed
an economic analysis that highlights how the biological characteristics
of deep-sea species, the “open access” nature of high seas
resources, the threat of impending regulation, and the promise
of increased scientific exploration, among other factors,
combine to favor more fishing in the near term over more fish
in the future. In light of the structural obstacles and weak
management record of international fisheries organizations,
this analysis suggests that consumer awareness and action
may be especially important for deep-sea conservation.
Andy Solow (firstname.lastname@example.org)