New marine reserve opens off the coast of Chile, to be the largest in the Americas

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a comparably sized marine reserve around the isolated Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific will be marked for special protection, as reported by National Geographic. The reserve will be based off the coast of Chile and will become the largest in the Americas; the Chilean Government has pedged to protecr an aquatic area the size of Italy hundreds of miles from its coast.

Well Done guys! David Cameron and Barack Obama share a celebratory high five.

This new reserve will join two recent endeavours by the United States and the United Kingdom. Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed a memorandum designed to expand a vast marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Remote Islands Area – containing seven islands, atolls and reefs full of species unique to the region – will increase to cover an area three times the size of the state of California.

In what will be called the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, the Pac-Man-shaped area will protect the unique and diverse tropical and temperate species contained within the region. The new marine protected area (MPA) is a relatively intact ecosystem; the new protective measures will permit ecologists and marine biologists to observe how a marine community operates without any human interference.

Fishing will still be allowed in the unprotected wedge-shaped gap within the new protected area. Effectively, scientists will be able to compare the effect of fishing within this gap to the protected areas in the new MPA, directly assessing the effect human activity has on the marine life in the region.
Together with the aforementioned Pacific MPAs, over 2.3 million square kilometres (roughly 900,000 square miles) of the Pacific Ocean will be guarded from human interference.

A diagram briefly illustrating the dangers of overfishing

Marine reserves are extremely valuable and important areas as not only do they help to replenish and protect heavily fished species within themselves but they also repopulate the surrounding oceans creating a sustainable fishing area along the edges of the reserve for both humans and sea birds. Not only are the fish protected but the no fish/no touch policy allows sea floors to recover from the destruction caused by the large drag nets with weighted steel balls that smash across reefs and sea plants.

As fish species revive and the reserve becomes over populated they migrate outwards towards the ‘barriers’ in search of new territories essentially creating an untouchable breeding ground that slowly fills the surrounding habitats and reduces the ecological impact of over fishing.

A general summary of the potential benefits of marine reserves follows.

Benefits to marine biodiversity:
•marine biodiversity maintained
•rare, vulnerable and threatened species protected
•habitat protected.

Benefits to exploited species, such as fisheries species:
•abundance, size and biomass increased
•reproductive potential increased
•’spillover’, or movement, into adjacent areas.

Benefits to the local community:
•protects cultural and spiritually significant sites (such as sacred places, middens, fish traps, shipwrecks and historic marine structures)
•increased marine-based tourism potential (marine reserves often contain unique natural features which become popular for tourism and recreational activities)
•provides research and public education opportunities provided

Real life examples of success of marine reserves; Moreton Bay Marine Park

A four year study of marine reserves in Moreton Bay Marine Park showed that they do work. The study, which commenced in 2002, investigated the impacts on marine reserves at Tripcony Bight and Willes Island that had been protected since 1997. The results indicated that after five years of protection, the two marine reserves studied in Moreton Bay Marine Park provided benefits to marine biodiversity and fisheries species. In particular, the study revealed the following benefits of marine reserves.

Benefits to marine biodiversity

Nekton (invertebrates and fish)
•Marine biodiversity was maintained within the marine reserves but not increased (including over 100 species of nekton).
•Marine reserves provided refuge for rare and vulnerable species including turtles, dugong and a range of elasmobranchs (i.e. stingrays and sharks) 5.

Benefits to fisheries species

Mud crabs Scylla serrata
•Mud crab catch rates were three times higher in marine reserves compared to adjacent fished sites.
•There was a 10% increase in average size of mud crabs, indicating increased reproductive potential within marine reserves compared to outside areas (that is, larger female crabs can produce more eggs).
•Tag-recapture data revealed mud crabs moved outside of marine reserves into adjacent fished sites (‘spillover’ effect) 6.

Finfish—Yellowfin bream Acanthopagrus australis and dusky flathead Platycephalus fuscus
•Yellowfin bream and dusky flathead catch rates were between three to seven times higher in marine reserves compared to adjacent fished sites.
•Mean sizes of yellowfin bream and dusky flathead were between 10 to 20% greater inside the marine reserves compared to adjacent fished sites.
•Biomass of yellowfin bream and dusky flathead were between 15 to 90% greater inside the marine reserves compared to adjacent fished sites. This indicates increased reproductive potential for both species within the marine reserves.
•Tag-recapture data revealed yellowfin bream and dusky flathead moved outside marine reserves into adjacent fished sites (‘spillover’ effect) 7.

Unfortunately, even with the increased numbers of marine reserves there are still huge issues that remain undealt with: Between 2000 and 2012, the world’s forest cover decreased by 2.3 million square kilometres. So there’s a lot of work left to do in protecting the biodiversity of the planet, including both the oceans and the forests.

A daily occurrence

You don’t have to look far to see the effect humans are having on the biodiversity of our planet. Through a combination of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and catastrophic waste disposal, we are entering the planet’s sixth mass extinction. Volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts are well-known initiators of such extinction events, but for Earth’s sixth, humans are solely to blame. In fact, a study in Science Advances has revealed that the 20th century species extinction rate was roughly 100 times greater than it would have been without any human interference but with this new reserve the world is finally stepping in the right direction in terms of combating mans ‘locust’ like effect on our seas.

For more information on the importance of marine reserves: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/5eaad4f9-e8e0-45d1-b889-83648c7b2ceb/files/benefits-mpas.pdf

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Louise Cox

Currently studying Zoology at Derby University and working on my Newt & Bat licences. Aiming to become an Ecologist when I graduate

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