This award recognises the individual or research team that has made an original scientific contribution about the ocean this year.
Criteria: Nominees for this award must have significantly contributed towards a peer-reviewed publication of a game-changing scientific study that is directly useful for the benefit of global marine conservation or ocean health.
The finalists are:
- Dr Rainer Froese - FishBase
- Dr Rashid Sumaila - Benefits of the Paris Agreement to ocean life, economies, and people & Updated estimates and analysis of global fisheries subsidies
- Dr Steve Simpson - South West Aquatic Group
- Dr Malin Pinksy - _Greater vulnerability to warming of marine versus terrestrial ectotherm_s
- Dr Sasha Tetu - Plastic leachates impair growth and oxygen production in Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria
Dr Rainer Froese - FishBase
Dr Rainer Froese is a German fisheries scientist who, alongside Daniel Pauly and Nicolas Bailly, created FishBase, the wildly successful online encyclopaedia on fish. He is a Senior Scientist for the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany, and has dedicated decades to fisheries research (see bio here). From 2015 to 2019, Froese led the development of a set of three computer-intensive methods and software for assessing the status of data-poor fisheries. These fisheries are common on a global scale, notably in the developing countries of the Southern Hemisphere.
Dr Froese’s new methods are already being widely applied in southern Europe, West Africa, India and China. As these new methods allow fisheries to be assessed in a straightforward yet rigorous way, they represent a revolution in fisheries science. Depending on data availability, the three methods can also be combined, creating a very powerful analysis tool.
Dr Rashid Sumaila - 1. Benefits of the Paris Agreement to ocean life, economies, and people 2. Updated estimates and analysis of global fisheries subsidies
The Paris Agreement aims to mitigate potential impacts of climate change on ecological and social systems. However, climate sceptics have questioned how implementing the Agreement would benefit people. To provide a comprehensive response to such critics, Sumaila and his co-authors developed an ensemble of climate-marine ecosystem and economic models and explored the effects of implementing the Agreement on fish, fishers and seafood consumers worldwide. The authors found that implementing the Agreement could protect millions of tonnes in annual worldwide catch of top revenue generating fish species, as well as billions of dollars of fishers’ revenues, seafood workers’ income and household seafood expenditure. Overall, seventy-five per cent of maritime countries would benefit from this protection and about 90 per cent of this protected catch would occur within territorial waters of developing countries. Therefore, the paper suggests that implementing the Agreement could prove to be crucial for the future of ocean ecosystems and economies, making a very powerful contribution to the debate..
The period from 2019 to 2020 will determine whether the World Trade Organisation (WTO), tasked with eliminating capacity-enhancing fisheries subsidies, will be able to deliver to the world an agreement that disciplines these subsidies that lead to overfishing. To support the ongoing WTO negotiations, Sumaila led a group of co-authors to provide the latest analysis of the current level of subsidisation provided to the fisheries sector worldwide by governments.
Global fisheries subsidies were estimated at USD 35 billion in 2018, of which the lion’s share of USD 22 billion was capacity-enhancing. The top five subsidising political entities (China, European Union, USA, Republic of Korea and Japan) contributed over 50 per cent of the total estimated subsidies. Furthermore, the bulk of harmful capacity-enhancing subsidies, particularly those for fossil fuels have increased as a proportion of total subsidies. This paper has become the key resource for countries and civil society organisations working relentlessly to ensure that the WTO reaches an agreement to discipline harmful subsidies. This highly comprehensive analysis has made a significant contribution to the science and policy aspects of fisheries subsidies.
Dr Steve Simpson - South West Aquatic Group
In response to the growing EcoGrief experienced by Dr Steve Simpson, Tim Gordon and their collaborators while working in degraded marine environments, their research focus has advanced from simply assessing and monitoring impacts of environmental damage (e.g. coral reef bleaching and anthropogenic noise) to innovating novel solutions for conservation and ecosystem restoration. Their 2018 research has demonstrated that the once bustling but now devastated Great Barrier Reef has turned quiet. The silence negatively affects the likelihood that future generations of fish and other reef creatures will ever return and make these compromised habitats their home, since they use the soundscape to decide where to live. By replaying historic recordings of healthy coral reefs, the research team are enriching soundscapes around degraded habitats to rebuild fish communities, thus accelerating and ensuring successful recovery. This study was published in November 2019 and has been widely featured across the global media.
Dr Malin Pinksy - Greater vulnerability to warming of marine versus terrestrial ectotherms
In May 2019, Dr Malin Pinksy and his research team published ‘Greater vulnerability to warming of marine versus terrestrial ectotherms’ in the journal Nature. This is the first comparison of differences in vulnerability to climate change between marine and terrestrial animals. The central conclusion was that global warming hits sea creatures hardest. Among cold-blooded species around the world, Dr Pinksy found that marine animals are more likely to live on the edge of their upper temperature limits than terrestrial animals. Dr Pinksy also found that marine animal populations were disappearing at double the rate of terrestrial populations. These results were momentous because the impacts of climate change on marine life were virtually ignored just a decade ago. The results are helping to focus attention on the vulnerability of marine life to climate change and the need for active conservation efforts.
Dr Sasha Tetu - Plastic leachates impair growth and oxygen production in Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria
Dr Sasha Tetu has been pioneering in considering how plastic pollution can affect ecologically important marine bacteria. In May 2019, Dr Tetu and others published work demonstrating that Prochlorococcus, the most globally abundant photosynthetic marine bacteria, is adversely affected by plastic leachates. This adverse effect was seen both in terms of Prochlorococcus’ growth and its capacity to photosynthesise and produce oxygen. The results of this research also indicate that different strains of this bacteria vary in their sensitivity. This suggests some Prochlorococcus groups may tolerate the threat of plastic pollution better than others and there may be “winners and losers” in ocean regions which experience high levels of plastics.
In publicising the sensitivity of key beneficial microbes to human pollutants, Dr Tetu hopes to encourage greater consideration of microorganisms in monitoring and assessment of environmental stressors. Determining the sensitivity and adaptability of these organisms to common pollutants will ensure we have better knowledge to predict, and potentially mitigate, the impact of increasing marine plastic pollution.