Ecological Discovery

The discovery of biological hot spots in the North Pacific Ocean may provide new directions for marine conservation and resource management.

Through the use of satellite tracking, scientists have identified four areas of the Northeast Pacific Ocean that are considered to be biological hotspots. That is, they are areas in the open ocean that exhibit unusually high biological activity. High productivity attracts higher order organisms, and upper level predators are known to concentrate in these "oases" of the open sea. Biological hot spots are an important topic in marine resource management due to the fact that they are often targeted by fishing operations and may have profound influence in the reproductive ecology of many key species, including upper level predators. Because they are a target for commercial harvesters, management of these hot spots may become a critical issue in marine conservation. Thus, a more complete understanding of the key characteristics of these hot spots, including the oceanographic conditions that support them and the mechanisms by which they function, is necessary.

By analyzing several data sets providing oceanographic and biological data, researchers from NOAA and the University of Hawaii, including Census of Marine Life Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) scientists, have characterized the biological hot spots found in four areas of the Northeast Pacific: the Central North Pacific, the California Current system, the Northeastern Tropical Pacific, and the Galapagos Islands. By cross-referencing this information with tracking information for specific predator species, it is possible to draw conclusions about the factors driving the emergence of such hotspots. This would allow researchers to begin forecasting where hot spots might exist. This could prove to be a powerful tool it the management of certain commercially important species.

Another issue arises from the potential to forecast and predict where hot spots might exist: the potential for overexploitation of commercial species by harvesters who can now predict where large aggregations of targeted fish species might be found. The potential for certain hot spots to be utilized by threatened or endangered species compounds the problem. Researchers are now suggesting that remote sensing analysis could be used to predict where key hot spots exist in the Northeastern Pacific and that this information could be used to propose marine protected areas (MPAs) in the open ocean.

This is a unique idea considering that these MPAs would be based on oceanographic boundaries as opposed to the geographic boundaries employed by traditional MPAs. Another suggested possibility is to utilize real time census data to allow the boundaries of such MPAs to drift as the hot spot's location drifts with changing ocean conditions. This would be conveyed to user groups via a dynamic on-line database and mapping function.

While the development of this analysis and its potential application is still early, the future continued work in this field is very promising. It is likely that as our understanding of biological hot spots increases, they will become ever more important to marine conservation and resource management efforts.



What: Discovery of biological hotspots in the Northeast Pacific Ocean
Who: TOPP Scientists --> D.M. Palacios, S. J. Bograd, D.G. Foley, F. B. Schwing
When: April 2006
Where: Multiple locations in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Specific locations include: California Current system, the Northeastern Tropical Pacific, and the Galapagos Islands.
How: Analysis of various data sets and use of satellite tracking technology
Reference: Palacios, D.M., S.J. Bograd, D.G. Foley, and F.B. Schwing. 2006. Oceanographic characteristics of biological hotspots in the North Pacific: A remote sensing perspective. Deep-Sea Research II 53(3-4): 250-269.

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