New computer models are challenging the conventional wisdom in marine science.
These models have revealed for example that: large populations of jellyfish and squid indicate a marine ecosystem in trouble; not all fish populations increase when fishing is reduced—some species actually decline; and, sharks and tuna can use jellyfish as junk food to see them through lean periods.
The models were developed by the 2007 Science Minister’s Life Scientist of the Year, Dr Beth Fulton, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research in Hobart.
Beth’s models are now used in Australian fisheries management, and by governments around the world, to predict and manage human interaction with the marine environment. In particular, Beth works regularly with researchers from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and universities. Together they have developed management models for marine life along much of the west and east coasts of continental US and now are studying the Gulf of Mexico and Hawaii.
Beth’s original model, based on her PhD work, is called Atlantis. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has rated Atlantis as the best model in the world for the strategic evaluation of marine management issues and it was one of the first marine ecosystem models to give equal attention to the biophysical and human components of the marine system.
It’s complemented by another program, InVitro, which is used for the evaluation of marine plans as part of sustainable coastal development. This model allows simultaneous consideration of multiple uses of the marine environment—including oil and gas exploitation, transport, tourism, and commercial and recreational fishing.