The Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO) system seeks to fill a major knowledge gap regarding global migratory routes and connected areas for marine mammal, seabird, sea turtle and fish species. Due to their wide-ranging behaviors, migratory species experience a variety of anthropogenic pressures over the course of their life histories. Combined with conservation strategies that largely fail to consider spatial connectivity over their life cycle, these threats are resulting in declining populations worldwide. For instance, all 22 species of albatross and 19 of 21 oceanic elasmobranchs are listed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered by the IUCN. Similarly, straddling and highly migratory fish stocks experience twice the rate of overfishing (64% of stocks) as those within a single national jurisdiction. Knowledge provided by MiCO will be critical in informing conservation efforts of migratory species in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), particularly via the large number of emerging area-based planning efforts.
Conservation of migratory species in ABNJ, and the area-based planning that underpins such conservation, is at a critical phase. Currently, there are ongoing negotiations at the United Nations to develop a new, international, legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of ABNJ, including area-based management tools. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), UNESCO, and global fisheries and deep-sea mining authorities all have ongoing or are initiating efforts to bring frameworks for spatial management on the high seas to fruition. Through our involvement in many of these processes, it has become clear that such efforts are being undertaken with limited knowledge of movement and virtually no knowledge of population connectivity for migratory species using the open ocean. MiCO seeks to fill this major knowledge gap by focusing on aggregating or generating actionable knowledge for marine mammal, seabird, sea turtle and fish species. Rather than housing and disseminating raw data, MiCO will convey information on connectivity among “nodes” (aggregations of areas used for a particular activity such as feeding or nesting) and more explicitly information on “corridors” (aggregations of routes animals use between nodes). Together with our partners, we are gathering data from a wide array of sources including telemetry, mark/recapture, stable isotope, genetic, and acoustic sampling via a systematic literature review and from direct data contributions. Knowledge provided by MiCO will be directly fed into ongoing processes including:
- the CBD Ecologically or Biologically Significant Area process,
- the family of multi-lateral agreements under CMS,
- to conceptualize World Heritage Sites in ABNJ,
- to minimize impacts from potential future deep sea mining through the development of strategic environmental plans under the International Seabed Authority, and
- to decrease bycatch in high seas fisheries via engagement with regional fisheries management organizations.
MiCO is an enormous undertaking and its success is fundamentally tied to community involvement. Toward that end, the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab (MGEL) of Duke University is leading a growing consortium of partners. We are very excited about the potential this system has to connect global processes to knowledge generated by you and the broader research community, leading to concrete conservation outcomes.