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Generating spatial data for marine conservation and management

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Do fishers know best when it comes to identifying areas with rare and depleted fish species? The global conservation crisis demands that managers marshal all available datasets to inform conservation management plans for depleted species, yet the level of trust placed in local knowledge remains uncertain. This study compares four methods for inferring species distributions of an internationally traded, rare and depleted genus of marine fishes (Hippocampus spp.): the use of (i) fisher interviews; (ii) government research trawls, (iii) scientific diving surveys, and (iv) citizen science contributions. We analyzed these four datasets at the genus and individual species levels to evaluate our conclusions about seahorse spatial occurrence, diversity of species present and the cost effectiveness of sampling effort. We found that fisher knowledge provided more information on our data-poor fish genus at larger spatial scales, with less effort, and for a cheaper price than all other datasets. One drawback was that fishers were unable to provide data down to the species level. People embarking on conservation endeavors for data-poor species may wish to begin with fisher interviews and use these to inform the application of government research, scientific diving, or citizen science programs.

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This is a contribution from Project Seahorse. The authors would like to thank the National Research Council of Thailand (Permit No. 0002/1306), Thailand Department of Fisheries, Phang-nga Provincial Marine Fisheries Station, Praulai Nootmorn, Tse-Lynn Loh, Sarah Foster, Sarah Harper, and Jennifer Selgrath. We are grateful for the support from numerous dive operators, fishers, and community groups who facilitated our search for seahorses.


This work was funded by the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation of Hong Kong, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Conservation Fund, the Explorer’s Club Exploration Fund, SciFund Challenge, Bottom Billion Fieldwork Fund, FBR Capital Investments, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Guylian Chocolates and an anonymous donor.

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Correspondence to Lindsay Aylesworth.

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The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

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This research was conducted in accordance with UBC Animal (Permit No. A12-0288) and Human (Permit No. H12-02731) Ethics protocols. All participants interviewed gave an informed consent to participate in this research as per UBC Human Ethics protocols.

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Communicated by Clinton Jenkins.

This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Coastal and marine biodiversity.

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Aylesworth, L., Phoonsawat, R., Suvanachai, P. et al. Generating spatial data for marine conservation and management. Biodivers Conserv 26, 383–399 (2017).

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