Monday, October 18, 2010

Ocean of benefits from open-access publishing

Aquanautix is reveling in happiness from a series of marine protected area designations. New MPAs were established last month in the North Atlantic, at Sala y Gomez Island in Chile, and on Saba Bank in the Netherlands Antilles.

Aquanautix has been working for Saba Bank's protection since 2006 under a partnership led by Department of Environment and Nature of the Netherlands Antilles (MINA) and Conservation International to assess marine biodiversity relative to anchor damage from foreign oil tankers. The project culminated in an online collection of open-access scientific articles at PLoS One called Biodiversity of Saba Bank.

One question raised in the mutually congratulatory conversations about Saba Bank's new MPA status was "how important was the publication of the Biodiversity of Saba Bank collection at PLoS One to the declaration of Saba Bank as a marine protected area?"

Saba Bank researchers saw the benefits of PLoS One from the start. The journal is open-access, so anyone can read results for themselves. Readers have access to all the maps and figures online. Everything is freely downloadable at high resolution. The review process is relatively speedy, so timely publications can result, and novel results are not prerequisite to publication.

What we were curious about was the importance of the Collection to the success of the marine protected area effort. So, we put the question to project leader Paul Hoetjes from MINA. His response confirmed the positive:
"The PLoS One collection certainly helped the process along... without it chances are that we might not have been able to get the decree passed in time for the constitutional changes in the Netherlands Antilles, which could have set back the process with a year or more ... so, I think you can say that the collection has been instrumental in getting the decree passed."

There you have it, the PloS One Collection was "instrumental" in the passage of new legislation. Open-access publishing helped save Saba Bank!

Let me add, "where else will you find 200 full-color Caribbean fish pictures freely available online for your downloading pleasure?"

Here's a few images by Jeff Williams at Smithsonian NMNH from the article Biodiversity Assessment of the fishes of Saba Bank Atoll, Netherlands Antilles. The article is a gold mine of fish pictures! I love this part, especially:
"... based on results presented herein, the number of species known on Saba Bank is increased from 42 previously known species to 270 species."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Saba Bank now a Marine Protected Area

There is cause for celebration in the Caribbean - a new MPA is born!
Saba Bank is larger than many of the islands in the region.
Press Release: As of October 2 the Netherlands Antilles passed and published a National Decree (2010, no. 94) designating the Saba Bank as "a protected area in the sense of art. 4 of the SPAW Protocol". The decree prohibits anchoring (by tankers and other large ships) on the entire Bank, both in territorial waters and in the EEZ, with a few exceptions such as hydrographic survey vessels, salvage vessels, search and rescue vessels, and fishing boats from Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Maarten with a permit to fish on the Bank. The Coastguard of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba will be enforcing this prohibition.
With an ocean area of ~2,500 km2 this makes the Saba Bank the fifth largest marine protected area in the Wider Caribbean after the Seaflower Marine Protected Area (Colombia) with 65,000 km2; the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic with 25,000 km2; the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (USA) with 9,840 km2; and the Alacranes Reef National Park (Mexico) with 3,338 km2. Average depth of the Bank is about 80 ft, and there are extensive coral reefs on the eastern and south-eastern edges. New species of fish, gorgonians and seaweeds have been discovered on the Bank which has been found to be among the richest areas of the Caribbean in seaweed diversity. Much of the area and its biodiversity still remains to be explored. The Bank is suspected to be an important foraging area for sea turtles and may be important to marine mammals such as humpback whales.

An application for Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) status has been sent to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) by the Netherlands to be discussed at the next meeting of the environmental committee of the IMO in the spring of next year. PSSA status will allow further regulation of international shipping to protect the Bank.

The designation follows on a scientific volume called "Biodiversity of Saba Bank" at PLoS One, an online scientific journal from Public Library of Science. The collection characterized submerged habitats on Saba, and identified many new species. The PLoS One collection undoubtedly contributed to the success of this marine protected area effort.

Aquanautix was involved in the MPA designation for Saba Bank since January 2006 with Conservation International, under Drs. Mike Smith and Sheila McKenna of CI's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. For more information see these links below:

Online collection at PLoS One
"Biodiversity of Saba Bank"

Underwater video of anchor damage by Shelly Lundvall

Saba Bank in Google Earth

3D fly-through of unexplored (!) topography in the Northeast quadrant