Improving MPA Management

UN: Overfishing and Climate Change are Main Threats to Marine Biodiversity

Human activities have significantly altered the marine environment by two-thirds, and climate change has made the situation worse.

A recent UN report paints a devastating picture of the world’s flora and fauna in terrestrial and marine environments. Indeed, the biodiversity of the world’s oceans is declining in a way unparalleled in human history. The Inter-State Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report has been written by about 150 expert authors from 50 different countries assessing global change to the health of our ecosystems over the past five decades. Only the opening summary of the report has been published so far. The full report is expected to exceed 1,500 pages and will be released later this year.

“The health of the ecosystems we and all other organisms depend on is deteriorating faster than ever before,” IPBES President Sir Robert Watson said in a statement. “We are eroding our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and the quality of life around the world.”

According to the report, climate change is an additional threat, and depending on humanity’s efforts to prevent warming, fish biomass may drop to 3-25% of current levels by the end of the century. 90% of the world’s fishers, more than 30 million people, are engaged in subsistence fishing which represents about 50% of the world’s total fishing effort.

“The ocean is facing many and various threats, and climate change and plastic pollution are getting a lot of media attention,” said Angelo O’Connor Villagomez, a senior officer at the Pew Bertarelli Marine Heritage Project. “The United Nations Report on Biodiversity reminds us,” I quote: “Direct exploitation of organisms, mainly fishing, has had the greatest negative relative impact on nature since the 1970s.”

Villagomez said he believes the fully protected marine sanctuaries are crucial to protection of marine biodiversity. About 15% of the world’s oceans are under some form of protection. In recent years, conservation efforts have resulted in the rapid spread of marine protected areas and other forms of spatial protection. Still, the International Union for Conservation of Nature recommends protecting 30% of every marine habitat to ensure the sustainability of our oceans.

These spatial prototypes have been shown to work for coastal and non-migratory species such as scallops, lobsters and reef fishes, but their impact on large migratory species such as tuna and billfishes is less evident, says Kristina Boerder, a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada

A new study by Boerder suggests that carefully designed and managed MPAs can benefit large migratory species. These ocean sanctuaries have helped rebuild the already heavily exploited fish stocks, according to Kristina, but the success of these MPAs depends on the context of each fisheries. MPAs are particularly useful when englobing known migratory routes or in “hot-spots” where various marine species aggregate to either breed, feed, or for other reasons. A better understanding of the behavior and motions of highly migratory species would enable fisheries to adjust spatial protection to species’ needs.

“We already have a lot of data and knowledge on areas such as those with significant spawning or where different species tend to congregate, but the political will to protect these areas is often absent” – Kristina Boerder

To ensure that protected areas are not just lines on a map where IUU and unsustainable fishing can operate unchecked, we need MPA managers to be equipped with the human capacity and necessary technology to carry out more efficient monitoring and management of the MPA. Well managed protected areas, fisheries and marine habitats will increase reefs resilience to climate change and may be beneficial to local fishermen, who rely on the oceans resources for economic and food security