- Study found that over 97 percent of the marine species they examined have less than 10 percent of their ranges formally protected by marine protected areas.
- 245 of the marine species researchers studied are “gap species”, or species not protected by marine protected areas at all, the study found.
- U.S.A, Canada, and Brazil have the greatest number of gap species, researchers found.
Marine species are grossly under-protected, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. Moreover, existing marine protected areas (MPAs) are insufficient in protecting the world’s marine species, researchers found.
This could be because most of the recent increase in marine protected areas has come from a few very large marine protected areas, Benjamin S. Halpern of UC Santa Barbara in California said in a statement.
“Those very large MPAs provide important value, but they can be misleading in thinking that biodiversity is being well protected because of them,” he said. “Our results point out where the protection gaps exist.”
To find these protection gaps, Halpern, and his colleagues from Australia and the U.S.A, overlaid maps of the world’s marine protected areas onto distribution maps of 17,348 marine species, including tiny invertebrates, marine fish, and mammals like whales.
This is the “first comprehensive global gap analysis to determine the representation of marine species in MPAs,” the authors write.
The team found that over 97 percent of the marine species they examined have less than 10 percent of their ranges formally protected by marine protected areas.
Moreover, 245 species are “gap species”, or species not protected by marine protected areas at all, the study found. Most of these gap species — around 95 percent — are found inside national exclusive economic zones, areas in the sea where countries have special rights to explore and exploit marine resources, according to the study.
Four regions — U.S.A, Canada, Brazil and Antarctica — have the greatest number of such gap species. So “strategically placing protected areas in these places could halve the number of gap species,” the authors write.
The study acknowledges that marine protected areas are not a “panacea” for conserving marine biodiversity, and other strategies might work better in some cases.
However, new MPAs that are planned in the future should be “systematically identified” and should take into consideration the “socioeconomic costs of implementation, feasibility of success, and other aspects of biodiversity”, the authors add.
“As most marine biodiversity remains extremely poorly represented, the task of implementing an effective network of MPAs is urgent,” co-author James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Queensland in Australia, said in the statement. “Achieving this goal is imperative for not just for nature but for humanity, as millions of people depend on marine biodiversity for important and valuable services.”
|CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that marine protected areas are “ineffective.” That word was changed to “inadequate” to better reflect the findings of the present study. A reference to the vaquita porpoise not being protected in a marine protected area was also removed. Vaquita habitat is actually protected.
- Klein C.J., Brown C.J., Halpern B.S., Segan, D.B., McGowen J, Beger M and Watson J.E.M (2015) Shortfalls in the global protected area network at representing marine biodiversity. Scientific Reports doi:10.1038/srep17539