The impacts of the Institute’s research on aquatic issues extend far beyond our academic home at UBC. Our research has influenced public policy concerning the management of fisheries, the establishment of marine protected areas, industrial fishing practices, and the economic structure of fisheries. We also undertake a wide variety of educational and public outreach initiatives within Canada and beyond.

UBC Blue Whale Project

Researchers from UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit and partners led the university’s Blue Whale Project, a national effort to locate and articulate a 25-metre blue whale skeleton for display in the glass atrium of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. It is the largest skeleton ever suspended without external reinforcement and is a centrepiece of UBC’s biodiversity collection.

Thailand suspends seahorse exports

Thailand is by far the world’s largest exporter of wild seahorses, representing 90% of the trade. In September 2016 Thailand announced at the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting is that they are suspending all of its international trade in these fishes until it can sort out an effective, sustainable way to sell them abroad without damaging their wild populations. Project Seahorse played a major role in assisting Thailand as they decided to tackle this important conservation issue head on, and are eager to help Thailand obtain what it needs in terms of tools, resources, and support to manage seahorse exports sustainably.

Ecopath with Ecosim

Ecopath with Ecosim (EwE), a free ecological modeling software suite, has been used and improved for over 30 years. It is the first ecosystem-level simulation software to be widely and freely accessible, and its applications are widespread throughout the world. Ecopath was devised by Jeff Polovina for NOAA, while Ecosim and Ecospace were developed by Carl Walters and Villy Christensen at the UBC Fisheries Centre (the antecedent of IOF). Important and innovative applications of EwE have also been pioneered by the Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries group and the Sea Around Us Project. NOAA recently included EwE in its list of the top ten scientific breakthroughs of the last 200 years.

Marine Protection and Reserves

Since 1993, Project Seahorse has generated 34 locally managed marine protected areas in the Philippines to protect marine life. The team has also fostered an alliance of 1,000 families of small-scale fishers that is leading the establishment of marine reserves and enforcement against illegal fishing in Asia. The Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries group successfully used Ecospace to analyze the optimal placing, size and shape of marine protected areas in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia and Indonesia.

Toward Sustainable Chinese Medicine

Project Seahorse has reconciled disparate interest groups to make traditional Chinese medicine more ecologically sustainable. The group also helped catalyzed the first global export controls for any marine fish of commercial importance, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Major Contributions to Intergovernmental Assessments of Ocean Systems, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Institute scientists—including William Cheung, Villy Christensen and Rashid Sumaila—and research outputs have played a major role in intergovernmental assessments of ocean systems, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Work from the Changing Ocean Research Unit and NF-UBC Nereus Program are highlighted in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports on ocean systems. IOF researchers served as coordinating lead authors of Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assessments. Rashid Sumaila serves as the member of the High-level Panel for the Convention of Biological Diversity.


In 2014, Project Seahorse launched iSeahorse, a citizen science website and smartphone app that allows anyone to contribute to seahorse science and conservation from anywhere in the world.

Hong Kong Bottom Trawling Ban

This landmark conservation decision was adopted based on analysis led by Tony Pitcher of the Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries group.

Sea Ahead Initiative

The IOF’s Policy and Ecosystem Restoration in Fisheries research unit pioneered the Sea Ahead Initiative, which evaluates policy goals that reconcile biodiversity and ecosystem services with sustainable and responsible fisheries.

Roberts Bank Environmental Impact Assessment

The Global Ocean Modelling group contributed ecosystem modeling expertise to a federal Environmental Impact Assessment for the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project in Delta, B.C. Ecosystem models were used to construct scenarios that predicted potential changes in ecosystem productivity, with and without the terminal. The research helped to advance the scientific understanding of southern resident killer whales, the Fraser River estuary, migratory shorebirds, and ecosystem interactions at Robert’s Bank.