DURHAM, N.C. – Scientists at Duke University’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab and other leading marine research institutions worldwide have created an open-access online database that maps the movements of migratory species through the open ocean.

By plotting the paths these species take, the Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO) system will help conservationists, policymakers and scientists identify critical corridors between the species’ habitats and devise better ways to monitor and protect the animals, many of whom are endangered, on their sometimes perilous journeys.

“Migratory species – including sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and fish – travel thousands of kilometres across the world each year, often through ocean habitats which are at severe risk from human threats like overfishing, pollution, marine debris and climate change,” said Daniel Dunn, a marine conservation scientist at the University of Queensland, Australia, and Duke’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab

“The cumulative impact of these threats can threaten populations of marine species and these impacts are often spread across a number of jurisdictions globally,” Dunn said.

“This new tool provides actionable insights on the migration patterns and movements of marine wildlife, acting like a force multiplier for researchers’ data to inform conservation efforts and sustainable use of oceans worldwide,” he said.

Dunn developed the new prototype platform with Autumn-Lynn Harrison of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and a team of 71 other international researchers.  

They reported on the development and capabilities of the database in a peer-reviewed paper Sept. 25 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

MiCO collects and analyzes huge amounts of data on migratory species from researchers worldwide and organizes it into a searchable database that environmental managers, policymakers, conservation NGOs, industry groups and other scientists can easily access and use.

“We developed MiCO to analyse and interpret global data and provide a single, unified access to these treasure troves of knowledge,” said Harrison.

“Some migratory species spend 75% of their time in international waters. The knowledge from MiCO has already played a vital role in the evolution of international marine policies,” she said.

“Migratory species connect economies and ecosystems in a way that requires a shared approach to governance,” Dunn noted. “By illuminating these connections, MiCO is informing industry actions, regional governance and the negotiations of a new UN treaty for the high seas.”

MiCO is a consortium of more than 50 international organisations including data repositories, national observing systems, taxa conservation groups, museums, environmental non-governmental organizations, universities, intergovernmental organizations and UN bodies.

The new database is funded through a grant to the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative from the International Climate Initiative of The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

CITATION: “The Importance of Migratory Connectivity for Global Ocean Policy,” D. Dunn, A.L. Harrison, C. Curtice, S. DeLand, B. Donnelly, E. Fujioka, E. Heywood, C. Kot, S. Poulin, M. Whitten, S. Åkesson, A. Alberini, W. Appeltans, J. Arcos, H. Bailey, L. Ballance, B. Block, H. Blondin, A. Boustany, J. Brenner, P. Catry, D. Cejudo, J. Cleary, P. Corkeron, D. Costa, M. Coyne, G. Crespo, T. Davies, M. Dias, F. Douvere, F. Ferretti, A. Formia, D. Freestone, A. Friedlaender, H. Frisch-Nwakanma, C. Froján, K. Gjerde, L. Glowka, B. Godley, J. González-Solís, J. Granadeiro, V. Gunn, Y. Hashimoto, L. Hawkes, G. Hays, C. Hazin, J. Jimenez, D. Johnson, P. Luschi, S. Maxwell, C. McClellan, M. Modest, G. Di Sciara, A. Palacio, D. Palacios, A. Pauly, M. Rayner, A. Rees, E. Salazar, D. Secor, A. Sequeira, M. Spalding, F. Spina, S. Van Parijs, B. Wallace, N. Varo-Cruz, M. Virtue, H. Weimerskirch, L. Wilson, B. Woodward and P. Halpin; Sept. 25, 2019, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1472