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Marine Preserves: More Must Be Done to Protect Ocean, Say Researchers

Oct 19, 2015 07:06 PM EDT
Easter Island coral reef
Researchers at Oregon State University say that recent preserves of the ocean are good, but we need to step up preservation of marine areas if we are to catch up with the work that has been done so far to set aside protected terrestrial areas.
(Photo : Photo by Geografica, courtesy of Oregon State University)

Coming after recent news of marine preserves being declared in Chile, New Zealand and the United States, researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have published a report in the journal Science noting that while those are certainly welcome developments, more still needs to be done.

While they note that much progress has taken place in the past 10 years, bringing 1.6 percent of the ocean worldwide into an area of "strongly protected," ocean preservation lags far behind the work that has been done on land.
The team has set goals: They ask that by 2020, 10 percent of marine and coastal areas be protected. Some organizations and many scientists think that 20-50 percent of ocean protection is necessary, according to a release.

"We've seen an acceleration of progress in recent years, and that's good," Jane Lubchenco, the OSU University Distinguished Professor and Adviser in Marine Studies, former NOAA administrator, U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean and a marine biologist, said in a release. "But the politics of ocean protection are too often disconnected from the science and knowledge that supports it, and there are many things we can do to help bridge that gap."

The researchers acknowledge the recent success stories, such as those announced at the United Nations in October. The Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument (U.S.) and the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve (U.K.) are others.

"Even if we lump together all protection categories, however, only 3.5 percent of the ocean has any form of protection," Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an OSU professor, said in the release. 

In comparison, worldwide we'll likely meet the current target to preserve 17 percent of land by 2020; that figure already stands at 15 percent, as Grorud-Colverts noted in the release.

With the aim to speed progress, OSU mentioned key findings in their study, according to the release:
• They say that full protection benefits often conveniently spill onto areas adjacent to the reserve. They've been shown to do so in California, for instance.
• Preserving a range of areas will help protect biodiversity by connecting habitats.
• If reserves are networked, or connected by juveniles and adults moving between protected areas, fishing can still be allowed between them.
• Gathering others who are affected by the preserve-fishers, conversation groups, managers, scientists-often improves the outcome.
• Large reserves in strategic locations can help an area resist climatic changes.
• If we plan ahead, we save money that we'll otherwise have to spend later to try to make up for mistakes.
• Preserves will help ecosystems to endure, and allow us to use the ocean without using it up.

"An accelerated pace of protection will be needed for the ocean to provide the full range of benefits people want and need," the scientists wrote in their conclusion, in the release.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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