Quantitative Framework to Model Risk of Collisions between Marine Wildlife and Boats

Science Center Objects

Collisons between wildlife and vehicles threaten many species, and can lead to human loss of life, injuries, and loss of property. USGS is developing models to help evaluate the effectiveness of wildlife protection zones and optimize the design of these protected areas. 

North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whale (Public domain.)

The Science Issue and Relevance: Collisions between wildlife and vehicles constitute a major threat for many threatened species. They can also result in human death, injuries or loss of property. Natural resource managers have used speed regulations as a way to reduce the occurrence of deadly collisions. These regulations can be controversial because of their potential socio-economic impact. Therefore, managers are interested in finding cost-effective solutions to reduce collision events between wildlife and vehicles.


Methodology for Addressing the Issue: This project intends to model the risk of deadly collisions between boats and wildlife. Our models can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of wildlife protection zones and to optimize the design of these protection areas. We have expanded and applied encounter rate theory to model wildlife-boat encounter rates to predict the expected number of deaths associated with differing management scenarios. The project focuses on two endangered species: the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) and the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). We developed a Bayesian belief network approach to account for uncertainty when estimating wildlife mortality. This project involves the collaboration between conservation biologists and managers (e.g., Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), theoretical ecologists (University of Maryland), and applied mathematicians (Ecole Polytechnique and University of Paris Sud, France).

Manatee and calf

Manatee and calf (Public domain.)


Future Steps: The results from this study will help gain new insights about encounter processes between wildlife and watercraft. The findings should be relevant to other taxonomic groups (e.g., sea turtles), systems, and ecological processes involving the encounter between moving agents (e.g., predator-prey interactions, mating systems). We have developed optimization algorithms to help managers improve the design of speed zones.


Related Publications:

Udell, B., Martin, J., Gowan, T.A., Edwards, H.H., Gurarie, E, Calleson, C.S., Deutsch, C.J., Hardy S.K. (2019) Combining encounter theory and reserve design methods for conservation: optimal design of speed zones for manatees. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Bauduin, S., Martin, J., Edwards, H.H., Gimenez, O., Koslovsky, S.M., Fagan, D.E. (2013). An index of co-occurrence between marine mammals and watercrafts: Example of the Florida manatee. Biological Conservation, 159, 127-136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2012.10.031