Pew’s 2024 Marine Fellows Undertake Projects to Protect and Restore Ocean Ecosystems

Conservation scientists plan research on illegal fishing, sustainable aquaculture feeds, oyster reef restoration, and more

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Pew’s 2024 Marine Fellows Undertake Projects to Protect and Restore Ocean Ecosystems
The water level rises above a group of mangroves during high tide, with submerged trees sharply visible in the clear water. Taller trees rise above the water surface in the background.
Healthy ocean ecosystems are vital to life—both in the water and on land. The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation supports researchers who study the marine environment in hopes of advancing knowledge and informing sound ocean conservation policies.
Piero Malaer Getty Images

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the global ocean: more than 320 million cubic miles of water that supports—directly or indirectly—all life on earth. The work of ocean researchers is likewise vital, helping humankind understand the value and vulnerability of marine species and ascertaining what the global community should do to maintain and restore ocean habitats.

For more than 25 years, The Pew Charitable Trusts has supported an ambitious community of scientists and experts from around the globe as they work to address some of the most pressing concerns facing the world’s marine environment.

The six individuals—from Canada, China, Denmark, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States—awarded Pew fellowships in marine conservation bring a broad range of experience to the table as each conducts a three-year research project designed to deepen humanity’s knowledge of the ocean and effective ways to conserve it.

Innovating for ocean conservation

Several members of this year’s cohort will leverage innovative technology and approaches to protect marine life. For example, Dr. Marine Cusa, a policy advisor at Oceana, will test and optimize DNA-based tools that will allow aquaculture producers, regulators, and other stakeholders to rapidly and cost-effectively identify the wild-caught fish used in fish meal products. She will use these tools to examine the composition, sourcing, and sustainability of diets used by major European aquaculture companies.

Dr. Christina Hicks, a professor in environmental social science at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, will investigate links between complex flows of international finance and incentives for overfishing in four countries in East and West Africa: Kenya, Seychelles, Ghana, and Mauritania. Her work will identify key corporate actors along the fisheries supply chain with an outsized influence on exploitation of marine ecosystems. Hicks intends for her findings to inform the development of transnational policies that could help countries increase financial transparency and reduce inequities in fisheries decision-making.

In Hong Kong, Dr. James Kar-Hei Fang, an associate professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, will rebuild pearl oyster reefs at selected sites using oysters cultured in captivity. Pearl oysters were once an important component of the city’s local marine ecosystems but were eventually eliminated by overexploitation and declining water quality. Fang will monitor changes in local biodiversity created by the rebuilt reefs using advanced 3D technologies and use the oysters as a biomonitoring tool to assess marine pollution. He also plans to collaborate with local fishers on sustainable aquaculture techniques to support the revival of a sustainable pearl oyster fishery in Hong Kong.

Engaging communities to improve management

Some of the 2024 marine fellows will pair innovative tools with community-based conservation practices. For example, Dr. Dyhia Belhabib, a principal investigator at Ecotrust Canada, will combine community engagement, vessel tracking data, and artificial intelligence tools to trace the supply chain for illegally caught seafood in Senegal and identify areas where illegal commercial fishing is most prevalent. She will also work with enforcement agencies to prioritize areas for additional monitoring and intervention, in hopes of cutting off market access for illegally caught fish and reducing illegal fishing within the country’s marine protected areas and artisanal zones.

Dr. Emi Uchida, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, will also use community-based approaches—in this case to test the effectiveness of various interventions for conserving mangrove and seagrass ecosystems in the Coral Triangle, a global epicenter of marine biodiversity in the western Pacific Ocean. She will use remote sensing and machine learning tools to identify areas where these critical habitats are most at risk of degradation and will work with 90 communities in Indonesia to test the effectiveness of various conservation interventions, including community monitoring of coastal habitats.

And Dr. Rene Abesamis, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, will work with local and national stakeholders to identify and strengthen protections for climate-resilient coral reefs in two marine protected area networks in the Philippines. He will collaborate with local researchers and train citizen scientists to conduct reef surveys and collect data needed to identify reefs that are likely to do better than others in the face of climate change. That research will inform the Philippines’ National Coral Reef Strategy and the country’s plans to protect 30% of its marine territory by 2030. Abesamis will also identify effective local reef conservation practices that can be applied throughout the Philippines and will streamline processes for sharing that information with environmental managers.

Through each of these projects, the 2024 Pew marine fellows aim to generate new insights that will benefit marine conservation efforts around the world.

About the program

The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation awards midcareer scientists and other experts $150,000 grants over three years to pursue conservation-oriented research projects. Fellows are selected by an international committee of marine science experts following a rigorous nomination and review process. Pew has recognized 208 marine fellows from more than 40 countries since the start of the program.

Learn more about the 2024 fellows and their projects.

Rebecca Goldburg is director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ environmental science work and Nate Fedrizzi is a principal associate with the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation.

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