Protecting marine bio-diversity

March 20, 2008

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Turtles and dolphins ensnared in tuna nets are a grim reminder of the impact of fisheries on ocean biodiversity. Known in fisheries science as "bycatch," this killing of non-target species is a complex problem that has resisted easy answers.

One possible solution, pioneered by SFU associate professor of geography, Suzana Dragicevic (above), uses geographic information systems (GIS) and multi-criteria evaluation to both identify priority locations for protecting endangered species and accommodate satisfactory outcomes for diverse stakeholders.

Dragicevic, whose research is in the area of geographic information science, recently presented her approach in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the year’s largest general science conference.

"Many environmental problems, including bycatch, are spatial in nature," explains Dragicevic, who heads the Spatial Analysis and Modelling Laboratory at SFU. What makes the challenge daunting, she says, is the conflict between commercial fisheries driven by profit maximization and an increasingly determined conservation community intent on protecting as much as 30 per cent of the world’s marine habitats.

"We must certainly be mindful of the need to protect marine biodiversity," says Dragicevic, whose research program is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Geomatics for Informed Decisions. "But we can’t forget those who are dependent on the fishery for their livelihoods."

Dragicevic has developed a number of sophisticated approaches and tools that use spatial digital data and mathematical methods to visualize, analyze and predict natural resource distribution across geographic time and space.

Her work on the bycatch issue uses these geo-spatial tools to factor in the competing preferences of stakeholders so that authorities can arrive at management decisions acceptable to all parties.

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