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Unprotected Marine Species – 17,000 – Remain Unprotected In Their Natural Habitats

Dec 03, 2015 05:59 PM EST
Marine Life
More than 17,000 marine species, including whales, sharks, rays and fish, remain largely unprotected in their natural habitats.
(Photo : Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED))

More than 17,000 marine species, including whales, sharks, rays and fish, remain largely unprotected in their natural habitats, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reports. This suggests there is a dire need for proper marine protected areas (MPAs) in order to safeguard the future of biodiversity.

"The process of establishing MPAs is not trivial as they impact livelihoods. It is essential that new MPAs protect biodiversity whilst minimizing negative social and economic impacts. The results of this study offer strategic guidance on where MPAs could be placed to better protect marine biodiversity." Dr. Carissa Klein, lead author of the study from the University of Queensland, said in a news release.

The team was comprised of researchers from the University of Queensland, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), University of California - Santa Barbara, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, Imperial College London and the WCS.

Based on their study, researchers discovered 97.4 percent of 17,348 threatened marine species have less than 10 percent of their natural habitat range represented in a MPA. Nations with the highest rate of "gap species" - those with a range completely unprotected - include the U.S., Canada and Brazil.

"The increase in the number MPAs in recent years is encouraging, but most of this increase has come from a few very large MPAs," added Dr. Ben Halpern of UC Santa Barbara and NCEAS. "Those very large MPAs provide important value, but they can be misleading in thinking that biodiversity is being well protected because of them. Species all around the planet need protection, not just those in some locations. Our results point out where the protection gaps exist."

For example, researchers found many of the "poorly represented" animals live in exclusive economic zones, so less than two percent of their natural range is actually found within a MPA. It follows then that an importance needs to be placed on those areas where protection has not already been put into effect.

"As most marine biodiversity remains extremely poorly represented, the task of implementing an effective network of MPAs is urgent. Achieving this goal is imperative for not just for nature but for humanity, as millions of people depend on marine biodiversity for important and valuable services," Dr. James Watson, one of the study researchers from the WCS and the University of Queensland, concluded.

Their comprehensive assessment can be found in the journal Scientific Reports

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