Marine protected areas failing to conserve biodiversity

Copyright: James Morgan / Panos

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  • A minimum of 10 per cent of a species must be protected to ensure survival
  • Only 2.6 per cent of species reach this level of protection on a global scale
  • Protected areas need to be expanded since only 1 per cent of the ocean is protected.

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[MEXICO CITY] Despite a rapid increase in the number of marine protected areas (MPAs) globally in the last ten years, majority have not succeeded in conserving marine biodiversity.

Blame it on states for not taking appropriate measures to carry proper conservation, says a study led by Australian scientists that was published in the online journal Scientific Reports (3 December).

The scientists used different databases to analyse how a total of 17,348 species, including fish, mammals and invertebrates, are represented in MPAs which now number around 7,000 globally.

According to the study, a minimum of 10 per cent of a species needs to be protected to ensure their survival. But the study showed that 97.4 per cent of the 17,348 species are at less than 10 per cent.

“The fact that only 2.6 per cent of the species is represented at this level in MPAs shows that there is a profound conservation shortfall,” the study said.

Almost all of the species that are most poorly represented in the MPAs are located within patrimonial seas — areas that nations have an obligation to conserve and where they are also obligated to preserve living resources. The United States, Canada, Brazil and the Antarctic were found to have the highest number of these missing species.

While the study does not cite the Asia-Pacific as another hotspot, key MPAs in the region like the Coral Triangle — spanning Indonesia, Philippines and the far southwestern Pacific — are also under threat from poor marine management, including overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

Chris Brown, co-author of the article and researcher at Griffith University, Australia, tells SciDev.Net that “MPAs can be very effective when applied correctly. What we have discovered is that coverage is not wide enough.”

“Nations [and continents] need to expand their protected areas so that we can create a global system that protects all species,” Brown urges.

According to Barbara Saavedra, researcher and director of the Chilean branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the shortfall in species in MPAs is due to the fact that marine conservation is very underdeveloped compared to terrestrial conservation.

“Humans have [only] recently started to appreciate the value of the ocean and the need to conserve it. We are only familiar with a tiny proportion of its species. So the problem is not only that the MPAs are not working well, but that they barely even exist. On a global scale, less than one percent of the ocean is protected,” she tells SciDev.Net.

Saavedra believes that a global system of MPAs needs to be created.

“All nations must move forward with their plans but they must also be connected and monitored on a transnational scale,” she says. “We already have the basic knowledge we need to progress with this. The only thing we are lacking is the funding required to effectively carry it out, especially in less well-off countries.”

This piece was originally produced by SciDev.Net’s Latin America & Caribbean desk, with additional inputs from the South-East Asia & Pacific desk.


Carissa J. Klein and others Shortfalls in the global protected area network at representing marine biodiversity (Scientific Reports, 3 December 2015)