Ocean Life Institute Initiatives
Scientists working in the Ocean Institutes develop initiatives in order to galvanize interest, expertise and action around the ocean’s most pressing needs. These initiatives bring together researchers from several disciplines, working in a specific timeframe. Sometimes launched by Institute funding, these projects often leverage greater federal and private support.
Phoenix Islands Initiative
Conservation Science at El Niño's "Ground Zero" in the tropical Pacific
Coral reefs harbor remarkably diverse and productive animal and plant communities that provide critical ecosystem services to over 500 million people throughout the world’s tropical oceans. Yet despite their economic and cultural significance, coral reefs are in serious trouble. Human activities and global climate change are combining to endanger over 50 percent of coral reefs globally.
There are, however, a few places on Earth where it is still possible to see reefs as they were 1,000 years ago. One such location is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a remote group of eight atolls and two submerged reefs just south of the equator in the central Pacific. The resilience of coral reefs in the Phoenix Islands to the potentially devastating effects of ocean warming, and the preservation of a remarkable food web that includes large numbers of top predators, allows PIPA to serve as a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the ability of coral reef ecosystems to weather the 21st-century burdens we will place on the ocean.
(Photo by Lauren Anderson)
Tropical Research Initiative
The WHOI Tropical Research Initiative (TRI) was established by a challenge gift from Honorary Trustees Lisina and Frank Hoch in March 2005.
The Initiative’s purpose is to support multi-disciplinary research and technological advances in tropical regions around the world. Funding from this initiative will support WHOI scientists and engineers who are either already working in tropical regions or who seek to develop new research programs there.
(Photo by Amalia Aruda under federal permit
#1058-1733 issued to Mark Baumgartner)
North Atlantic Right Whale Initiative
The plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale is a challenge not only to scientists, conservationists and policy makers, but also to the fishing and shipping industries. The coastal habitat and surface oriented behavior of the whales bring them into direct conflict with important economic forces that are concentrated off the Northeast Coast of the United States.
In addition to strong ethical concerns, there are very real economic risks at stake in the interaction of whales, ships and fishermen. Because of their protection under the Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to kill or take a North Atlantic Right Whale, and activities that cause deaths even unintentionally, such as fishing gear entanglement or ship strikes, risk being severely curtailed or shut down entirely by court orders or other legal action. In a very real sense, these industries are threatened as much as the whales themselves, and have a huge stake in a solution to the problem. We believe that such a solution, one that conserves Right Whales, coastal fishing and commercial shipping, must be based on better scientific information and more innovative technological approaches.
The WHOI Ocean Life Institute undertook a multi-year initiative in collaboration with the New England Aquarium to support scientific research that has direct application to right whale conservation issues. Multi-year support from a number of individuals and foundation has supported a WHOI researchers focusing on right whale research problems.