But it would be an overreaction to despair over this report.
One of the few bright spots in the struggle to protect the world’s fragile oceans has been the rapidly increasing number of “marine-protected areas,” places where fishing is limited or banned and where, presumably, depleted species can recover by simply being left to themselves. The benefits of hands-off environmental protection may seem self-evident. But creating a preserve and rebuilding a healthy ecosystem are not necessarily the same thing. A recent study published in Nature found that, more often than not, marine-protected areas don’t work as well as they could.
Researchers with the University of Tasmania studied 87 marine-protected areas in 40 countries worldwide, and found that 59 percent of the areas were no better off than areas where fishing was allowed. The reasons for failure varied, but they boiled down to this: Not all marine-protected areas are alike. Some allow fishing; others forbid it. Some are managed well; others are managed badly. Some are relatively intact; others have been left barren by generations of overfishing.
The researchers identified five essential characteristics of the most successful marine-protected areas: These areas were designated “no take” (allowing no fishing whatsoever), their rules were well enforced, they were more than 10 years old, they were bigger than 100 square kilometers, and they were isolated by deep water or sand. Compared with regular fished areas, the areas that had four or five of those attributes had a far richer variety of species, five times the biomass of large fish and 14 times the biomass of sharks, which are indicators of ecological health.
Most underachieving marine sanctuaries had only one or two of these magic factors, and thus “were not ecologically distinguishable from fished sites.” The four sanctuaries lucky enough to have all five characteristics were isolated areas in the oceans off Costa Rica, Colombia, New Zealand and Australia. The “coral triangle” of Southeast Asia also got high marks, but it did not have as great an array of large species as its more isolated counterparts.
You could say the scientists were simply discovering the obvious — that a “protected” area hardly deserves the name if it’s so small that fish swim out of it, or if poachers are allowed to plunder it. But it would be an overreaction to despair over this report.
The Latest on: Marine protected areas
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The Latest on: Marine protected areas
- Study to be done on establishment of a protected marine area in Atlantic Canadaon September 13, 2019 at 10:01 pm
A coastal area adjacent to the Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador in Atlantic Canada is under consideration to become an Indigenous marine protected area. Canada’s environment ...
- UK's first marine park in Plymouth 'to lead way in ocean innovation'on September 13, 2019 at 6:08 pm
Similar to a regular national park, the site at Plymouth Sound will be a protected area of the ocean where the government has placed limits on human activity. City leaders, experts in the marine ...
- Seychelles, Blazing a Trail in Marine Conservationon September 13, 2019 at 6:38 am
The Marine Protected Area with high biodiversity protection covers 177,000 sq km around the Aldabra Atoll, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This zone is known as the Aldabra Group Marine ...
- EU failing 2020 commitments for marine biodiversity protectionon September 11, 2019 at 2:39 pm
Marine Protected Areas are tools designed to protect specific species or habitats in marine ecosystems, but in order to provide effective protection for biodiversity, they must be properly managed.
- A rising tide: California's ongoing commitment to monitoring, managing and enforcing its marine protected areason September 11, 2019 at 12:31 pm
In 2012, California completed its marine protected area (MPA) planning and designation process, yielding a network of 124 MPAs from the Mexican border to Oregon. The management effort that has ...
- Research Shows California’s Marine Sea Life Reserves Are Working And More Local Newson September 11, 2019 at 8:09 am
Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that California’s system of Marine Protected Areas is doing exactly what it was designed to do — allowing marine species to reproduce in safe places. Plus ...
- Sea life at risk if EU doesn't achieve marine protection goalson September 11, 2019 at 5:26 am
International targets for protecting biodiversity appear to be out of reach. By 2020, countries with a coastline must establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to ensure the conservation of wildlife and ...
- Europe's marine sanctuaries are no more than 'paper parks'on September 11, 2019 at 3:37 am
Under EU law, coastal states are obliged to create marine protected areas to protect specific species or habitats. The report found that only 1.8% of Europe’s seas are covered by marine protected ...
- Research Shows California’s Marine Sea Life Reserves Are Workingon September 10, 2019 at 5:51 pm
Scripps researcher Samantha Murray said there are 11 marine protected areas in San Diego County. Some of them are in the open ocean. Others are in coastal lagoons. Murray said the protected areas are ...
- Ottawa and Inuit in Atlantic Canada to launch study on protected marine areaon September 10, 2019 at 5:41 am
Part of the region in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador under study to become an an Indigenous protected marine area under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act. (Parks Canada) A ...
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