Making conservation more efficient

“When I tell people I do coral reef conservation, they usually
tease me about the tough life I must lead, spending all that time
in the sea, sun, and sand,” says Dr. Philip Molloy, a postdoctoral
researcher at Project Seahorse. “If only that were true. The widely
unrecognized reality about conservation is that it’s time-consuming,
physically demanding and, critically, expensive.”


Dr. Molloy has been investigating new ways to make field conservation — specifically, the work of tracking changes in fish populations inside marine protected areas (MPAs) — more time-efficient and cost-effective.

Achieving the right balance between scientific rigour and action is one of the great challenges in marine conservation. Our oceans, especially the first 10 metres of depth, face huge and urgent pressures, yet the work of marine conservation must be done carefully and accurately. Without accurate studies about the impact of external pressures such as overfishing and pollution on marine ecosystems, or about the effectiveness of MPAs, we won’t be able to create better conservation tools.



Achieving the right balance between scientific rigour and action is one of the great challenges in marine conservation.


By analyzing our long-running datasets, Dr. Molloy and the Project Seahorse team discovered they could obtain accurate and meaningful results for study sites on Danajon Bank in the central Philippines even if they only used data collected every other month instead of monthly.

Even more importantly, their study confirmed that it is possible to detect changes in fish populations on the reefs by counting only locally fished species or those that are particularly easy to identify (such as the blackfin barracuda — a barracuda with, you guessed it, black fins), instead of all species on the reef. 


Claudio Contreras

Claudio Contreras


“By using commonly fished species, we’ll be able to reduce the amount of time and money needed to train research volunteers — and involve local fishers in our fieldwork,” says Dr. Molloy. 

One of the benefits of involving local communities in conservation research is that it allows them to take a systematic look at how overfishing, physical damage and other human activities impact their fishing grounds. They also get to track how local MPAs can make fishing more sustainable in the long run by providing havens for fish populations and habitats to recover and even thrive.

“This is good news all around,” says Dr. Molloy. “Our results mean that marine conservationists will be able to work more closely with local communities to do fieldwork more efficiently — leaving more money to do more conservation, and maybe, just maybe, a little more time for that fabled sun, sea and sand.”

Further reading

Molloy, P.P., J.A. Anticamara, J.L. Rist and A.C.J. Vincent. (2010). "Frugal conservation: what does it take to detect changes in fish populations?" Biological Conservation 143 (11): 2532-2542.