BOSTON -- A new report highlighting six highly to fully protected ocean areas from around the world offers important examples of how protecting parts of the sea from destructive human activities can help restore and protect ocean wildlife. Entitled New Life for the Ocean: How Marine Protections Keep Our Waters Wild, the study from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order that sets protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030 as a national goal.
“The stories in this report all point to one crucial conclusion: When we act to preserve key ocean habitats, marine wildlife can get a foothold on survival,” said Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Sea turtles, coral reefs, endangered birds -- all of these increasingly scarce, wonderful creatures have a better chance of bouncing back if governments set aside critical ocean areas.”
In reviewing a series of recent studies, the report finds that highly to fully protected marine areas -- those that are free from all or most destructive human activities -- protect and increase biodiversity, boosting overall ecosystem health. Well-designed and long-lasting protections also increase the abundance of marine life, while helping mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Specifically, the report focuses on six long-standing successful Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) :
California’s Marine Protected Area network. Within a decade of the implementation of this network of fully protected zones within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, there was an 80 percent increase in marine life in the protected zones.
Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserve, Fla. Located at an “ecological crossroads” in the Gulf of Mexico, this area has seen an increase in certain species of fish gathering to spawn. This has helped replenish reef fish populations across the continental United States’ only barrier coral reef.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaii. America’s largest marine national monument has helped rescue the endangered green turtle and Laysan duck from the brink of extinction and nurtured other thriving populations that have experienced massive population die-offs elsewhere.
Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. In one of the world’s greatest marine protection success stories, safeguards to this area enabled a reef to recover from near-total destruction caused by aggressive over-fishing.
Great Barrier Reef no-take marine reserves, Australia. Protections have made reefs in areas where fishing is prohibited better able to rebound from coral bleaching, storms and coral disease than those in nearby areas with weaker protections. They also have led to greater diversity, density and abundance of fish species.
Edmonds Underwater Park, Wash. An artificial underwater habitat located in Puget Sound, this area has succeeded in restoring depleted local fish populations, such as the copper rockfish, which is 15 times more abundant in Edmonds than in unprotected areas of the Puget Sound.
The findings of the report also add to the mounting evidence that we need to take bolder action to protect ocean habitats. Alongside implementing sustainable fishery management practices and making efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, governments at all levels should commit to protecting 30 percent of ocean habitats by 2030.
“We’ve taken too much from the oceans, and put too much pollution back in,” said Kelsey Lamp, Protect Our Oceans campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center and co-author of the report. “It’s time to give our oceans a chance to recover. Restoring our broken ocean ecosystems starts with protection.”
Along with the report, the group created an “underwater hike” for those looking to virtually experience the marine protected areas highlighted in the report.
“For more than a century, our country has embraced the concept of wildlife refuges -- spaces set aside to ensure healthy and vibrant wildlife populations,” said Wendlandt. “This report makes it clear that setting aside critical ocean habitats is also a key component of this conservation legacy -- that being good stewards of our seas starts with protecting our most vulnerable and amazing life under the waves.”