Conservation, Nature, Science

Oceanic Fronts and the Future of Marine Conservation

Gannets diving. Photo: Shutterstoci
Gannets diving. Photo: Shutterstock

Gannets are seabirds that nest in the United Kingdom and are on that nation’s Amber List for conservation. They fly high into the air and then dive into the water to catch fish, and the pattern of that dive can tells us how deep their going, which in turn tells us something about the ecosystem of the areas in which they fish.

When the birds dive in a V shape, they are getting their prey from very close to the surface, and when they make a U-shaped dive, they are going deeper and staying underwater for longer. When they fish along oceanic fronts, where two bodies of water meet, they overwhelmingly (94 percent of the time) use V-shaped dives.

Oceanic fronts have strong gradients in both salinity and temperature, and are important parts of the ocean ecosystem as a whole. They are home to a greater concentration of plankton than normal and therefore can maintain larger fish populations near the surface. This is especially good for seabirds like the gannet, which has a limit to how deep it can dive in search of food.

These aspects of oceanic fronts can make them important focal points for conservation efforts, though to date there are few such fronts that are considered protected areas. A better understanding of how these areas work and affect neighboring ecosystems can give us further knowledge on how best to conserve those ecosystems, which requires that we protect and study oceanic fronts in the first place.

Many seabirds have wide ranges, which means that they are members of a variety of ecosystems, so preserving their food sources in one ecosystem can have a beneficial effect on others. We can identify oceanic fronts using satellites, and we know that they play important ecological roles, so the next step is finding ways to protect them from human activity.

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