Existing protected areas in the sea leave almost three quarters of species that are ecologically and functionally unprotected, bring to a conclusion of a new performance assessment of the Finnish MPA network. Published in Foreshore in Marine Science, the study finds that MPAs have indicated little knowledge of local marine biodiversity – and the potential to increase existing 1% networks in most ecological areas could double the conservation of the most important species. In addition to identifying areas of high conservation value, the methodology can be used – which uses a unique new dataset of 140,000 samples – in marine spatial planning and the avoidance of marine impact in an ecosystem, including the location of a wind energy infrastructure , aquaculture and other human activities.
Marine ecosystems face the loss of unprecedented biodiversity of habitat destruction, changing marine environments and increasing the extraction of marine resources.
"This means now, more than ever, that protected areas are essential for the maintenance of marine ecosystems," said Elina Virtanen, leading author of the study of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), Finland.
Marine Protected Areas – which can cover estuaries, seas and oceans – protect these natural resources from human activities. In Europe, EU member states use the EU Habitats Directive to identify protected areas based on a list of habitats and species considered important for conservation.
In Finland, which has one of the most complex marine environments around the world, around 10% of the seas are currently being protected. But the Finnish MPA efficiency assessment reveals that this has continued to leave important parts of the ecosystem totally unprotected – with an average of only 27% of marine biodiversity currently protected time.
So how has this happened?
"The establishment of these protected sites has relied on some important habitats, such as lagoons, bays and bays, or the presence of important seals or birds, rather than information about existing underwater species or the ecological value of those areas , "explains Virtanen.
Although the existing Marine Protected Areas protect many important habitats, they do not give too little consideration to the underwater nature, especially functionalities that are important in terms of function. But since extensive defensive coverage has already been implemented in the Finnish seas, there is a clear need for any changes to existing MPAs.
"It was therefore important to note the areas where places are most important to marine biodiversity," says Virtanen.
The researchers had access to almost 140,000 data samples collected recently on the distribution of species and habitats, as well as data on human pressure and marine environment. This data was input into ecological distribution models to have a comprehensive overview of the existing marine environment.
These distribution models were then applied to a spatial prioritization technique of the name Zonation, which ranking areas based on their ecological importance. This can be used to identify areas of high conservation value.
"We found that increasing the protected area of only 10% to 11% in the most biodiversity areas would double the conservation of the most ecological species," said Virtanen. "This means that there is more protection of rare threatened species, species that are important in terms of importance and fish reproductive areas."
However, researchers emphasize that increasing protected areas is the only way to protect the integrity of the marine ecosystem. Human activities that threaten biodiversity can also be reallocated to areas of low biodiversity and conservation value using ecosystem based marine spatial planning.
"We feel it is also important to highlight where sea use can be allowed, such as extracting offshore, aquaculture or wind energy," said Virtanen.
This means a great win for marine protection, as well as a cost-effective MPA designation that can keep politicians happy.
Provided that sufficient data exists, the method can be used globally to show that small but targeted changes can have huge effects on the efficiency of protected areas – and a great boost for sustainable use of & The sea.
"The current MPA boundaries need to be reassessed to ensure that they focus conservation efforts to the most valuable areas, and increasing emphasis on ecological efficiency is essential in designating or expanding MPA," says Virtanen. "In this way, we can ensure that Marine Protected Areas achieve global conservation objectives meaningfully and efficiently."
Add the third dimension to marine conservation
Foreshore in Marine Science, DOI: 10.3389 / fmars.2018.00402, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2018.00402/full