The Gulf of Mexico hosts an extraordinary wealth of migratory marine life—70 percent of highly migratory fish, several sea turtle species, one-third of North American bird species and many marine mammals in the North Atlantic inhabit this ecosystem. Until recently, little was known about the migration patterns of species once they entered the Gulf.
In 2016, The Nature Conservancy combined research from over 100 scientists and institutions, using data from more than 600 animals fitted with satellite tags. The study revealed a number of previously undiscovered migratory highways, or “blueways,” confirming that the Gulf is one of the most important migration pathways—yet it remains vastly unprotected.
The Migratory Species Conservation Project aims to enhance migratory biodiversity by conserving important pathways within the Gulf of Mexico and improving ecological connectivity. Data is available online through the interactive Migratory Species Conservation Project website, which offers a conservation framework, species case studies and infographics; live, tagged animal tracking tools and a collaborative data-sharing portal for marine planners and others working in the Gulf. The website encourages users to share and collectively apply this information to make informed decisions, effectively closing the knowledge gap between migratory pathways and opportunities for conservation in the Gulf of Mexico.
The website also introduces the Blueways Conservation Decision Support Tool (DST), a spatial tool designed to highlight information about migration corridors, movement density, occurrence hotspots, and stopovers, along with human and climate-related threats. The tool contains several interactive applications that can be used to visualize regulations in different areas of the Gulf so that decision-makers may plan more conscientiously as they move forward.
This project was supported by Shell as part of its broader collaboration with the Conservancy, focused on identifying innovative ways to protect the environment and bring conservation knowledge to industry and public-sector partners. Migratory pathway development and the publication of our first report was made possible by support from the Lyda Hill Foundation.
Jorge Brenner, Ph.D., Associate Director of Marine Science, The Nature Conservancy, (281) 407-3252, email@example.com