international team of scientists has concluded that "highly
protected" marine reserves can help mitigate the effects of climate change
and suggests that these areas be expanded and better managed throughout the
coastal nations have committed to protecting 10 percent of their waters by
2020, but thus far only 3.5 percent of the ocean has been set aside for
protection - and less than half of that (1.6 percent) is strongly protected
from exploitation. Some scientists have argued that as much as 30 percent of
the ocean should be set aside as reserves to safeguard marine ecosystems in the
of the study, which evaluated 145 peer-reviewed studies on the impact of marine
reserves, is being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/05/31/1701262114.
reserves cannot halt or completely offset the growing impacts of climate
change," said Oregon State University's Jane Lubchenco, former National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator and co-author on
the study. "But they can make marine ecosystems more resilient to changes
and, in some cases, help slow down the rate of climate change.
a portion of our oceans and coastal wetlands will help sequester carbon, limit
the consequences of poor management, protect habitats and biodiversity that are
key to healthy oceans of the future, and buffer coastal populations from
extreme events," Lubchenco said. "Marine reserves are climate
scientists say marine reserves can help protect ecosystems - and people - from
five impacts of climate change that already are taking place: ocean
acidification, rising sea levels, an increase in the severity of storms, shifts
in the distribution of species, and decreased ocean productivity and availability
author Callum Roberts, from the University of York, said that many studies
already have shown that marine reserves can protect wildlife and support
productive fisheries. The goal of this peer-reviewed literature-study was to
see whether the benefits of marine reserves could ameliorate or slow the
impacts of climate change.
was soon quite clear that they can offer the ocean ecosystem and people
critical resilience benefits to rapid climate change," Roberts said.
benefits are greatest, the authors say, in large, long-established and
well-managed reserves that have full protection from fishing and mineral
extraction, and isolation from other damaging human activities.
study notes that ocean surface waters have become on average 26 percent more
acidic since pre-industrial times, and by the year 2100 under a
"business-as-usual" scenario they will be 150 percent more acidic.
The authors say coastal wetlands - including mangroves, seagrasses and salt
marshes - have demonstrated a capacity for reducing local carbon dioxide
concentrations because many contain plants with high rates of photosynthesis.
Lubchenco said, "these ecosystems are some of the most threatened coastal
areas and have experienced substantial reductions in the past several decades.
Wetland protection should be seen as a key element in achieving greater
resilience for coast communities."
wetlands, along with coral and oyster reefs, kelp forests and mud flats, can
help ameliorate impacts of rising sea levels and storm surge. The average
global sea level has risen about seven inches since 1900, and is expected to
increase nearly three feet by the year 2100, threatening many low-lying cities
and nations. The dense vegetation in coastal wetlands can also provide
protection against severe storms, which are increasing in intensity in many
parts of the world.
change already is having a major impact on the abundance and distribution of
marine species. Phytoplankton communities are changing in response to warming,
acidification and stratifying oceans, and upper trophic level species are being
affected, threatening global food security. Climate change interacts with and
exacerbates other stressors like overfishing and pollution, the researchers
some stressors can increase the resilience of species and ecosystems to impacts
of other stressors.
have seen how marine reserves can be a haven for some species that are under
duress from over-fishing or habitat loss, and as a 'stepping-stone' for other
species that are recolonizing or moving into new areas," Lubchenco said.
"Reserves also promote genetic diversity and provide protection for older
fish and other marine organisms. In short, reserves are one of the most powerful
tools in our adaptation toolbox. Reserves enhance the resilience of marine
ecosystems, and thus our resilience."
who recently completed a two-year term as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the
Ocean, has been involved in research at Oregon State on the interactions
between people and marine ecosystems. She has led pioneering studies on coastal
hypoxia (so-called "dead zones") and innovative ways to achieve
sustainable fishing and other uses of the ocean.
authors point out that effectiveness of marine reserves is often challenged by
lack of staff, equipment and funding; inconsistent management; lack of
communication with industry and local communities; and concerns about
displacing fishing activities. But, they point out, these challenges can be resolved.
Their findings that reserves enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems
suggest that reserves may offer the best hope to adapt to a changing climate.
reserves will not halt, change or stop many of the threats associated with
climate change affecting communities within their boundaries," they write.
"We contend, however, that existing and emerging evidence suggests that
(marine reserves) can serve as a powerful tool to help ameliorate some problems
resulting from climate change, slow the development of others, and improve the
outlook for continued ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem