Protected marine areas miss the mark

Protected marine areas are often in the wrong areas, significantly reducing their effectiveness in combating losses to biodiversity, a new international study led by the University of Queensland has found.

UQ’s Dr Caitlin Kuempel said that while protecting large areas of ocean can be an effective tool in protecting biodiversity, findings in the report showed that many areas are placed too far from human populations to be truly effective.

“Stoppable threats included stressors like fishing, human-made structures and direct human impacts, while unstoppable threats included threats that require action on land or additional policies, like nutrient pollution and climate change,” Dr Kuempel said.

Dr Kuempel said the findings reinforced the view that many protected marine areas are placed far from human populations, and may simply be ‘paper parks’.

“We might be looking at some impressive quantities of protected places on the map, but they’re not in the right places to effectively protect marine biodiversity from threats currently driving biodiversity loss,” she said.

“By comparing protection regimes with actual threats around the world, we’ve found a strikingly apparent lean towards protecting these low threat areas.”

The team identified 31 ‘crisis’ regions with high threat levels but very low levels of protection, where they say marine protected areas could help stop biodiversity loss, such as the Indo-Malaysian region, a marine biodiversity hotspot.

The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Scientist Dr Hugh Possingham said the findings highlighted an immediate need for more effective conservation policies.

“There’s a lot of debate around whether we should either protect pristine wilderness areas or places with high levels of threat,” he said.

“The answer is both; however the tendency to protect low threat areas – which is often easier and cheaper – shows that countries need better marine spatial planning.

The full study, published in Conservation Biology, can be found here

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