An Interview with marine ecologist Professor Alex Rogers

By |2019-04-08T07:19:28+00:00September 21st, 2018|Biodiversity, Coastal Ecosystems, Coral Reefs, Fisheries, Interviews, Ocean, Oceans|Comments Off on An Interview with marine ecologist Professor Alex Rogers

Professor Alex Rogers is a marine ecologist. He is specifically interested in where life is distributed in the ocean and what drives that distribution. His work has a specific focus on biodiversity hotspots, mainly in the deep ocean, but also in tropical coral reefs, particularly deep tropical coral reefs. He does a lot of work related to policy and has recently been concentrating on policy around deep-sea mining and deep-sea fisheries, as well as the new implementation stage of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, for which negotiations began in September, 2018.

Q: How did your interest in oceans first come about? Was there a moment or experience that led to you wanting to pursue a career in marine science?

AR: Yes, my mother was Irish and her family were fishermen on the West coast of Ireland. I used to go over to Ireland every year during the summer on holidays and we would go out on the boats fishing for lobster mainly, but also occasionally for crayfish. I spent countless hours on the beach and on nearby rocky shores, rock-pooling, so that’s where my interest came from initially. As a result, at the age of 12, I decided that I wanted to become a marine biologist.

Q: What do you consider, broadly, to be the most urgent current challenges for marine conservation?

AR: Well, probably the most urgent issues for the ocean, currently, are climate change impacts, from temperature rise, acidification and de-oxygenation (which is the one that people often forget). Those are closely followed by overfishing and destructive fishing impacts and then there’s a host of other things, including marine debris, plastics, pollution, invasive species, development, habitat destruction… the list goes on.

Q: Many of these challenges seem to apply to the ocean in its entirety, yet, understandably, the focus for conservation is often on discreet types of ecosystem or threat – coral reefs, bycatch, overfishing etc. Do you think we need to think more of the ocean as one whole living system whose various regions, habitats and species are all interconnected?

AR: What connects those systems and threats, and what makes us talk about one ocean, rather than lots of oceans, is simply the biology. Many organisms use the entire ocean over the course of a year just in their normal lifecycle. Tuna, turtles, whales and so on migrate across vast areas of the ocean, moving into Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and back out into the High Seas, moving between spawning and feeding grounds.

Different habitats will be important to them during different parts of the year. For example, animals might spawn over seamounts during certain parts of the year, but at other times be more widely dispersed along continental slopes. It’s only humans that draw lines on maps of the ocean – marine life certainly does not do that! In fact, the same thing applies to global fishing fleets now, which operate both in the High Seas and in EEZs.

Climate change is a global issue which affects shallow and deep water ecosystems alike. The only difference is that we know much less about the potential impacts on deep water ecosystems. So, when I talk about ocean, I do tend to talk about ocean (singular) rather than oceans, because they are completely connected.

Q: How helpful do you think the current focus on plastics has been in getting the message across about it all being one ocean? Do you think the fact that plastic bottles are turning up – along with microplastics – in the deepest and most inaccessible regions of the ocean helps to highlight the extent to which it is all connected?

AR: Absolutely. We discovered plastics in the deep ocean. In the Southwest Indian Ocean, which is one of the most remote parts of the ocean – between Madagascar and the Antarctic – down to depths of 1500 metres we found microplastic fibres in all the sediment samples and even all over and inside the animals. That’s a clear indicator that human contamination is pretty much ubiquitous in the ocean. In fact, I think Greenpeace have recently released a report where they’ve found microplastics in the Southern Ocean in Antarctica!