Major shortfalls identified in marine conservation
This analysis provides a baseline for measuring how well our marine species are represented in protected areas
Currently, most marine species are not well represented within marine protected areas
It is imperative that new reserves are located in places that help better represent the full range of biodiversity
One of the great recent success stories in nature conservation has been the rapid growth in marine protected areas (MPAs) around the planet. Since 2006, there has been a staggering increase of 10 million km2 of new MPAs. That’s nearly a four-fold increase over the previous decade.
In 2010, in Aichi Japan, the global community established targets through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to set aside a full 10% of the Earth’s oceans with an emphasis on ‘areas of particular importance for biodiversity’. This is known as Aichi target 11, and the aim was to meet it by 2020.
While the increase in size of the global MPA estate is welcome, how well is it doing at protecting marine biodiversity? Unfortunately, there has been no baseline for measuring how well our marine species are represented in protected areas. Until now.
In a new paper in Nature’s Scientific Reports, we assessed how well our global MPA network overlaps the ranges of 17,348 marine species of fishes, mammals and invertebrates (Klein et al, 2015). And what we discovered made us question what our system of marine reserves are protecting, because when you compare the ranges of marine species with our marine reserves it is clear that most marine species are not well represented within MPAs (Figure 1) and several hundred species are not covered at all.
Marine protected areas are a key management tool for biodiversity conservation. Some are no-take zones, while others allow limited fishing and other industry. They help support marine biodiversity by providing safe places for breeding, migration and recovery.
There is also increasing evidence that, when well managed and well placed, they can enhance fisheries outside their boundaries through accumulated benefits inside the MPAs ‘spilling out’ to areas open to fisheries.
A guiding principle in conserving global biodiversity is that all species should have some part of their range in protected areas. Yet 97% of the marine species that we considered have less than 10% of their ranges represented in the stricter forms of MPAs.
Then there are those species whose ranges lie entirely outside of protected areas. These are sometimes referred to as ‘gap species’. Countries with the largest number of ‘gap species’ include developed nations like the US, Canada, and Brazil.
Given the growth in MPA extent in recent years this lack of coverage is disappointing. Yet our findings also contain a silver lining. The majority of species that are very poorly represented live in waters under national jurisdictions (approximately 200 nautical miles from shore). Thus, the challenge of designing reserves outside of national jurisdictions is not a problem. Nations have the ability and authority to set up MPAs to better protect biodiversity.
Countries have a tendency to think bigger is better when it comes to MPA establishment (see the blog by Jennifer McGowan and Hugh Possingham on MPA selection around Australia). Often this is simply not true. The quality of the MPA is just as important, and quality in part requires that a range of biodiversity is included (Barnes, 2015).
Our analysis makes it clear that it is imperative that new reserves are located in places that help better represent the full range of biodiversity. This should be front of mind as countries embark on the establishment of new MPAs.
Yet creating new MPAs depends as much upon smart governance and partnership as biological and ecological needs. Protected areas can affect economies by impacting mineral extraction and livelihoods by limiting fishing. These social and economic issues must be taken into account if we have any hope of establishing effective MPAs.
With the first global baseline now freely available, nations have the ability to measure their own conservation progress and effectively plan for future protected areas. Halfway through the period for achieving the CBD’s Aichi’s goals, we haven’t a moment to lose.
More info: Carissa Klein firstname.lastname@example.org
Barnes M (2015). Aichi targets: Protect biodiversity, not just area. Nature 526. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v526/n7572/full/526195e.html
Klein CJ, CJ Brown, BS Halpern, DB Segan, J McGowan, M Beger & JEM Watson (2015). Shortfalls in the global protected area network at representing marine biodiversity. Scientific Reports 5. http://www.nature.com/articles/srep17539