Marine Protected Areas ignore most biodiversity hotspots


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Current marine protected areas (MPAs) leave almost three quarters of important ecologically and functionally unprotected species, concluding a new assessment of the performance of the Finnish MPA network. Published on Border in Marine Sciences, The study found that MPAs were established with little knowledge of local marine biodiversity – and that the existing network increase of only 1% in the most ecologically relevant areas could double the conservation of the most important species. In addition to identifying areas with high conservation value, the methodology – which uses a unique new dataset of 140,000 samples – can also be used in ecosystem-based spatial planning and impact avoidance, including the determination of the location of wind energy infrastructure, aquaculture and other human activities. .

Marine ecosystems face unprecedented loss of biodiversity from habitat destruction, changes in the marine environment and increased extraction of marine resources.

"This means now, more than ever, protected areas are very important for maintaining marine ecosystems," said Elina Virtanen, lead author of the study from the Finnish Environmental Institute (SYKE), Finland.

Marine Protected Areas – which can include estuaries, seas and oceans – protect these natural resources from human activities. In Europe, EU member countries use the EU Habitats Directive to designate protected areas based on a list of habitats and species considered important for conservation.

In Finland, which has one of the most complex marine environments in the world, around 10% of the sea is currently protected. But an assessment of the efficiency of the Finnish MPA reveals this still leaves an important part of a fully unprotected ecosystem – with an average of only 27% of the marine biodiversity currently protected.

So how did this happen?

"The formation of protected sites depends on certain important habitats, such as lagoons, shallow bays and coral reefs, or the presence of important seals or bird areas, rather than knowledge of existing underwater species or ecological values ​​of these areas, "explained Virtanen. .

While Marine Protected Areas currently function to protect many important habitats, they give too little consideration to the underwater world, especially species that function functionally. But because extensive coverage of safeguards has been implemented in the Finnish sea, clear evidence is needed for any changes that will be made to existing MPAs.

"It is therefore important to show areas that are the most important hotspots for marine biodiversity," Virtanen said.

The researchers have access to nearly 140,000 samples of data recently collected on species and habitat distribution, as well as data on human pressure and the marine environment. These data are included in the ecological distribution model to get a comprehensive view of the current marine environment.

This distribution model is then applied to spatial spatial determination techniques called zoning, which assess regions based on their ecological interests. This can be used to identify areas with high conservation value.

"We find that increasing protected areas from only 10% to 11% in the most diverse regions will double the conservation of the most important species ecologically," Virtanen said. "This means increased protection of rare and threatened species, important functional species and fish reproduction areas."

However, the researchers stressed that increasing protected areas is not the only way to maintain the integrity of the marine ecosystem. Human activities that threaten biodiversity can also be reallocated to areas with low biodiversity and conservation values ​​using ecosystem-based marine spatial planning.

"We feel it is also important to highlight where sea use can be permitted, such as extraction of seabed material, aquaculture, or wind energy," Virtanen said.

This means big wins for marine protection, as well as cost-effective MPA determination methods that can make policy makers happy.

With sufficient data available, this approach can be used globally to show that small but directed changes can have a major effect on the efficiency of protected areas – and a big push for sustainable use of the sea.

"There is a need to reassess current MPA boundaries to ensure they focus conservation efforts on the most valuable areas, and the increased emphasis on ecological efficiency is very important when pointing or expanding MPAs," Virtanen said. "In this way we can ensure that Marine Protected Areas achieve the goals of global conservation in a meaningful and efficient manner."

Explore more:
Add a third dimension to marine conservation

Further information:
Border in Marine Sciences, DOI: 10.3389 / fmars.2018.00402,


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