MiCO: Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean

What is migratory connectivity and why is it important?

Understanding how the oceans are used and connected by migratory species is crucial for their conservation and sustainable use.

Migratory species depend on critical habitats throughout their seasonal movements, including breeding and foraging sites as well as the pathways between them. Loggerhead sea turtles, for example, can be found nesting on a beach in Japan, but forage along the Pacific coast of Mexico. With improvements in animal tracking technology, researchers have been able to gain greater insight into these movement patterns, revealing ocean basin-scale migrations of sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and fish. During these migrations, individuals traveling through national waters (i.e., within Exclusive Economic Zones) and areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) may encounter a variety of stressors, from predation and adverse weather to human impacts including habitat destruction, direct and incidental fishing mortality, ship strikes, noise, hazardous substances and other pollutants. The potential cumulative impact of regional-scale stressors may impact populations and are a function of migratory connectivity: how individuals and populations are geographically linked throughout their migratory cycles. Awareness of how a population is connected, how connectivity influences demographic rates, and designing conservation and management measures appropriate for the level of risk associated with various degrees of connectivity, are all critical to the conservation and sustainable use of migratory species. MiCO seeks to provide usable knowledge on migratory connectivity in the ocean to support the development of effective management measures and policies, and appropriate governance frameworks. See the Case Studies for examples of migratory connectivity, or dive into the MiCO system to see how migratory species use and connect our oceans!

Migratory connectivity is also critical for sustaining human livelihoods and cultural connections. Migratory species provide a diverse array of cultural, regulating and provisioning ecosystem services, including contributions to aesthetic and recreational experiences, spiritual or religious enrichment, reduction of pest infestations and disease transmission, and provision of food. A further regulatory service comes from the disproportionately strong influence highly migratory species, many of which are apex predators, play in structuring of ecological communities. As fisheries, shipping and pollution increase in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the potential for negative effects on migrating species of socioeconomic or cultural significance has been amplified. Groups of culturally significant species, like salmon to the inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, and sharks to Micronesian cultures in the western South Pacific, have been impacted by activities on the high seas resulting in harm to ecosystems, cultures and economies.