2021 World Ocean Day – Dr. Sarah Foster

Dr. Sarah Foster has spent her career using science to help craft policy that protects marine life.

Currently the program manager for the marine conservation organization Project Seahorse, Foster was instrumental in getting seahorses listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II, a list of species threatened by international trade. Seahorses were the first marine fish added to Appendix II.

Foster’s most recent projects have focused on finding ways to ensure countries can meet the standards set by CITES to protect seahorses.

One way to help seahorses thrive is to secure seahorse habitat using MPAs – a suggestion CITES has made to its member countries to keep seahorse trade sustainable. However, MPAs aren’t always as protected as the name implies.

“The problem is that protection means a lot of different things to different people,” Foster said.

Some MPAs limit only tourist activity while others allow bottom trawling, the most destructive fishing practice.

“Until governments can reach a consensus on what a protected area is, then I think we’ll have differing opinions on whether we can reach 30 per cent by 2030,” Foster said. “The end goal must be at least 30 per cent of the oceans protected from all extractive and habitat damaging activities, but it might be necessary to agree some benchmarks to start and then evolve from there to full protection. That benchmark must include getting rid of the most egregious human pressures – those that alter habitats and ecosystems. Bottom trawling and mining are two such activities – they cannot be allowed.”

If MPAs initially forbid destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling but allow more sustainable fishing practices, such as hook and line fishing, Foster thinks that these areas can help fish stocks and continue to support communities that depend on fish for food or livelihoods.

When Foster envisions a more sustainable future for seahorses and other marine animals, she sees targeted fishing practices that focus on selecting only fish that are not threatened and, crucially, protective policies that governments are determined to enforce.

“Eliminating nonselective fishing practices from large swaths of the ocean would have a huge benefit for seahorses,” she said. “And if we did manage to set aside 30 per cent of seahorse-relevant habitat, that would obviously go a long way to reducing pressure on them and the many other species that live alongside them. It would only mean good things.”

By Riley Tjosvold

[Originally posted at Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries ]