SECURING SHALLOW SEAS

Creating a conservation laboratory for the world

Twice a year, marine biologists from Project Seahorse lead an international team of volunteer divers on an exhaustive, and exhausting, underwater survey of Danajon Bank, Philippines. Equipped with cameras, quadrants, and transects, the divers undertake the challenge of measuring fish populations, coral cover, and other indicators of habitat health across this rare and threatened double-barrier reef system. 

 
 
A fisher surveys Handumon MPA in Bohol, Philippines. Project Seahorse 

A fisher surveys Handumon MPA in Bohol, Philippines. Project Seahorse 

Their goal? To build on one of the most comprehensive data-portraits of any ecosystem in the world — a portrait of decline, thanks to overfishing and other harmful fishing practices, and of recovery, thanks in part to the 35 marine reserves Project Seahorse has helped local communities to establish on the reef.

“For nearly two decades, we’ve been faithfully recording changes in the reef. The result is an incredibly rich dataset that tells us, among other things, how coastal marine conservation often succeeds and sometimes fails,” says Dr. Heather Koldewey, Project Seahorse’s co-founder and Manager of Field Conservation. 

 
 

 

"The result is an incredibly rich dataset
that tells us how coastal marine conservation
often succeeds and sometimes fails.”

 

The reef, which is thought to be an evolutionary point of origin for many fish species now found across the Pacific Ocean, is home to over half a million people. The diversity of marine life, coupled with incredible fishing pressures, make Danajon Bank an excellent laboratory for Project Seahorse’s conservation work.

The findings have been collected year over year for the past 15 years. Our team of researchers uses this constantly evolving dataset to develop important marine resource management tools that are used by governments, conservation groups, and other scientists all over the world. Indeed the database is so rich that we plan to make it open-access, sharing it freely with colleagues around the world.

 

 
Jandayan Island is part of Danajon Bank, a rare and important double-barrier reef in the Philippines. Project Seahorse

Jandayan Island is part of Danajon Bank, a rare and important double-barrier reef in the Philippines. Project Seahorse

 

Our analyses, management briefings and other tools based on this data and other research have in recent years covered everything from the impact of seaweed farming to ‘frugal conservation’ (i.e. finding more efficient ways to measure fish populations) to the integrated management of marine reserves at the local and national levels.

“These analytical tools represent one of our team’s most important and longest-standing contributions to conservation. The lessons we’re learning from Danajon Bank can be applied to coral conservation around the world,” says Dr. Koldewey. “We are very proud of this work.” 


Further reading

Project Seahorse’s entire global archive of research papers, management briefings, and analytical tools is available here.