Protecting the Ocean by Protecting Biodiversity

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Biodiversity is the key to stable habitats and is often used as a goal for designing Marine Protected Areas; however, not many people in the public understand why.

 

Biodiversity is stability in the ocean. When there is an ocean habitat that hosts a lot of diversity; in number of species, in number of habitats; you are are going to have a stable environment. Why is this important? You may not think this is directly important to you, and your life. BUT…it is. Indirectly, and directly. Biodiversity is extremely important in protecting your coastline, protecting the food that you eat, in protecting the recreational activities that you may partake in surrounding the ocean. The stability of the environment is directly related to the biodiversity.

The reason I say the biodiversity is directly linked to the stability of the environment is because it makes it resilient. When you have a system that has a lot of habitats; say on a scale of the west coast of the United States, from Washington state, down to the bottom of California, you will have a diverse set of habitats. Those set of habitats can equal a large ecosystem; specifically the Western Pacific Ecosystem. Within that ecosystem, you will have habitats that repeat themselves. So when you look at the west coast of the United States, you will see a lot of Kelp forests, Oyster habitats, lots of Mussels, some sandy areas, lots of intertidal areas that are rocky and complex, and these will be peppered throughout the west coast. If one of those kelp habitats disappears, for whatever reason (be it pollution, tide alteration, a large storm) it won’t be the last kelp forest. There will be other kelp forests along the west coast and will likely help to repopulate or regenerate the one lost kelp forest. But when and if ALL of the kelp forests disappear you’re changing the landscape of the entire west coast. Because within just those kelp forests there is a lot of diversity. If all of the kelp forests were lost, that changes the security of the coastline in terms of dissipating wave energy, it can affect fisheries, and recreational users, it could change the economy of the west coast.

Now, when you looks at it on a smaller scale, we’re looking at functional diversity. Which is essentially a set of species that have the same function. For example: coral reef habitats will have a functional species that are herbivores. Their function is to eat algae; by eating that algae, the corals are cleaned; by ensuring the coral is clean, you are ensuring the coral will not be overcome and killed by an overgrowth of algae. When you have a high functioning population of herbivores, in a reef habitat, if one of those species go away, the other species are still around to perform that function. However, if you have one or two species within that functional role, and both of those species disappear, now you’re vulnerable. Now you’re at risk for damage to the coral reef. That is the importance of functional diversity. That is why we talk about ocean planning, and marine protected areas, and we talk about the goal of protecting biodiversity. Biodiversity protection ensures the habitat remains stable. When we talk about coral reef habitats, when they’re healthy, as well as other tropical habitats (ex. mangrove habitats) dissipate wave energy. So when you have a healthy, stable, and biodiverse coral reef complex and a tsunami occurs, like the 2004 Tsunami, you will dissipate some of the energy. The damage along the coast will be lessened. In fact, UNEP put out a report after the 2004 Tsunami, and they observed areas that had in tact coral reefs, seagrass habitats, and healthy habitats, were less damaged, and there were less casualties.

Biodiversity is extremely important to the security of our coasts, our food, our recreation. We live by the ocean, we depend on the ocean. So the next time someone says their goal is to protect biodiversity, it’s actually worthwhile.

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