Well, it’s Friday, which means today Andrew and I get to discuss the four most interesting articles we came across regarding ocean research and conservation. We hope you enjoy the discussion and the following summary.
An article posted on CNN this past week written by Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation Institute, calls for a greater, globalized effort to establish marine protected areas (MPAs). His argument is scientifically sound; the ocean is responsible for the majority of oxygen in our atmosphere, it represents about 99% of the habitable space on our planet, and helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. In short, life on earth would not exist without a healthy ocean. The best thing we can do to protect our marine habitats, says Morgan, is to establish MPAs that provide suitable and safe areas for marine organisms to live and reproduce. These underwater oases will help mitigate harmful effects of climate change while potentially preventing the problem from worsening.
Southern Fried Science, a fellow blog dedicated to communicating ocean science, has been posting field notes from the year 2041 over the past week. These sci-fi snippets give a brief glimpse into what the future of our oceans may look like, while allowing the authors at SFS to flex their creative muscles and put the rest of us bloggers to shame. I highly recommend you check out some of their stories, they’re great examples of how to bring humor and excitement into science communication.
A recent study published in Scientific Reports, entitled “Shortfalls in the global protected area network at representing marine biodiversity,” presents some unfortunate conclusions: despite all the progress we have made over the last decade establishing MPAs and shifting towards managing our marine ecosystems, we’re still not doing enough to protect marine biodiversity. The authors, led by Dr. Carissa Klein from the University of Queensland, Australia, claim that in order to effectively “protect” a given species, approximately 10% of its geographic range should be protected. The researchers then assessed the ranges of 17,348 species that have been in observed in MPAs already established and found that only 2.6% of these species (451 species) have that 10% protection threshold. What this means is that if we’re establishing MPAs to protect marine biodiversity, we’re not doing a very good job. The researchers also noticed that over 99% of the poorly protected species are found in exclusive economic zones (EEZs), which represents the area from a nation’s coastline 200 nautical miles offshore. Individual countries have exclusive rights over their EEZs when it comes to exploration and exploitation of these waters for mineral or resource extraction. Therefore, it can be difficult to establish MPAs in EEZs because these countries don’t want to give up these rights. However, the authors make a case for these zones being crucial targets if we want to conserve marine biodiversity.
Ascension Island, a small island about the size of the U.K. off the Atlantic coast of Africa, is next in line to become an MPA. Though further research is still being done in the region to inform future management of its marine ecosystems, the island could be formally designated as early as 2017. Ascension Island was one of the stops Charles Darwin made during his second Beagle voyage, the first of which led him to the Galapagos and ultimately to his theory of natural selection. In addition to its historic and cultural significance, the island is also a hotspot for fishermen. The waters surrounding Ascension Island are home to some of the largest marlin in the world. Unfortunately the area also experiences a significant amount of illegal fishing, something with the designation of the Island as an MPA is hoping to combat. With half of the area closed off to fishing, hopefully we’ll start to see some positive changes in the Island’s marine biodiversity and species richness.
Enjoy the Podcast!