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New study explores the fate of marine protected areas in a changing ocean

Centre news

People rely on ocean life for many benefits, including seafood, tourism, employment and climate regulation.

But those benefits are coming under increasing pressure due to climate change, which will only become more pronounced if little is done to stem greenhouse gas emissions.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a key tool for ensuring a sustainable ocean future, yet little is known about how well they account for climate impacts, or how climate adaptation can be improved in the global MPA network. An international group of researchers, led by Dalhousie University, set out to answer those critical questions.

A startling finding of the study, published today in the journal Science Advances, was that the proportion of marine protected areas that account for climate change cannot be accurately measured, since there is no repository that holds this information.

“While there is recognition that accounting for climate change in marine protected area design and management is important, without a baseline of where we stand it is impossible to know how well prepared we are for climate impacts on our oceans,” said lead author Derek Tittensor, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie.

Developing a database to track climate adaptation plans in MPAs is one of eight recommendations that the researchers have put forward. The researchers also recommended the development of new dynamic management tools to allow a more rapid response to climate impacts.

Co-author Maria Beger of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds said: “Introducing MPA networks that combine fixed and moving protection types will be key to dealing with the new dynamics resulting from the climate crisis—such an approach can better protect both marine creatures and people depending on the ocean’s productivity.”

Another crucial component of climate-smart conservation and management is that it is centred around building capacity in regions with limited resources, and around inclusiveness, bringing stakeholders fully into the discussion and the decision-making process.

“The climate crisis and the biodiversity loss crisis are integrally linked. These new tools provide a means of addressing them together as we develop the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” said co-author Daniel Dunn of the University of Queensland.

Naomi Kingston, who leads work on protected areas at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre said: “As the world negotiates targets for the new Post-2020 Strategic Plan for biodiversity, including highly ambitious proposals for marine area-based conservation, it is crucial that the impact of climate change on the future performance and resilience of MPAs is considered.”

Dr. Tittensor summarises: “Marine Protected Areas are a crucial part of a sustainable ocean. As the climate changes, we need to ensure that they remain effective and that they help to protect the marine ecosystems upon which we all rely. I hope that our recommendations help move the conversation forward about how we need to adapt our stewardship of the ocean for those who depend upon it –which is all of us.”


Further information

The paper Integrating climate adaptation and biodiversity conservation in the global ocean is published in Science Advances.

Main image credit: Maria Beger