With Reef Ecosystems, It May Be All or Nothing

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With Reef Ecosystems, It May Be All or Nothing

Beitrag von mare-mundi Redaktion » 07 Mär 2012 14:44

With Reef Ecosystems, It May Be All or Nothing

There might just be something to the idea of marine reserves, a recent survey of the Mediterranean Sea suggests.

:arrow: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/ ... ore-134193

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Scientists led by Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence and a marine ecologist with the Center for Advanced Studies of Blanes in Spain, studied rocky reefs around Mediterranean shores, comparing places that ranged from strictly enforced “no-take” marine protected areas to open-access sites accorded no protection at all.

The results, they said, showed a “remarkable variation in the structure of rocky reef ecosystems,” with three distinct groups: reefs with large fish biomass and algae, the healthiest sites; sites with fewer fish, though with an abundance of algae; and reefs with both few fish and “extensive barrens.”

They concluded that the only significant variables correlating to the state of life on the reefs was the level of protection accorded to the area and the degree of primary production, mainly photosynthesis by marine plants.

The authors concluded that, perhaps not surprisingly, the most strictly enforced no-take areas had the highest fish biomass. But they also found “no significant differences between multiuse marine protected areas (which allow some fishing) and open access areas at the regional scale.” That conclusion suggests that it may be all or nothing, as far as marine protected areas go.

“We found a huge gradient, an enormous contrast,” Mr. Sala told The National Geographic. “In reserves off Spain and Italy, we found the largest fish biomass in the Mediterranean.”

“Unfortunately, around Turkey and Greece, the waters were bare,” he said.

The presence of apex predators — a litmus test for ecosystem health, since big fish must eat many small ones — was found at the Medes Islands Marine Reserve, set aside by the Catalonian government as a protected area almost three decades ago.

The Mediterranean Sea, probably more than any other marine ecosystem, has been shaped by the impact of human hands. Some 17,000 species have already been identified there, but even that number is certainly only a tentative first step because knowledge of microbes and of the depths is insufficient for gauging with any certainty.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity obligates countries to work toward setting aside 10 percent of the world’s oceans as reserves by 2020. The hope is that by protecting some of the most critical marine habitats, they can help stave off the relentless damage inflicted by overfishing, pollution and global warming.

But nations have left themselves substantial wiggle room on the degree of guardianship, agreeing that “marine and coastal protected areas should include a range of levels of protection, encompassing both areas that allow sustainable uses and those that prohibit extractive uses, i.e., “no-take” areas.”

As I noted last week, scientists and conservationists are calling for the creation of a massive system of reserves in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Perhaps studies like this one will help to guide the stakeholders when they sit down later this year to discuss the fate of that fragile ecosystem.

The study: The Structure of Mediterranean Rocky Reef Ecosystems across Environmental and Human Gradients, and Conservation Implications: :arrow: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Ad ... ne.0032742

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