|Marine protected areas are established to protect and restore marine biodiversity/ Photo By Jan Lorenz via 123RF|
One of the most valuable natural resources on our planet is the ocean. Not only does it serve as the home for millions of marine species but it also brings benefits to humans and our economy. It also plays a significant role in providing oxygen and removing carbon from the atmosphere, thus, regulating the Earth's climate. These are just a few critical roles of marine resources to our planet. It keeps the Earth balanced, which helps millions of species and humans for survival.
However, climate change caused mainly by human activities has negatively affected our oceans. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that there will be an increase in the world's temperature between 1.4°C and 5.8°C by the end of the century. Since the oceans absorb 80% of the Earth's heat, climate change has made oceans much warmer than ever, which affects millions of marine species. One of the significant changes currently happening is rising sea levels. This is inevitable since the Earth's heat melts down glaciers and polar ice.
According to Conservation International, the impacts of climate change on our oceans can affect the survival of mangroves, coral reefs, seagrasses, and other important habitat-forming species. Fortunately, there are tons of efforts aiming to mitigate the impacts it will have on marine life. These can potentially restore the balance in our ecosystem and other life forms. One of these efforts involves marine protected areas.
Purpose and Benefits of Marine Protected Areas
The growing negative impacts of climate change on our marine life are becoming more alarming. Thus, scientists and researchers decided to develop marine protected areas, which are defined by World Wildlife Fund as "an area designated and effectively managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats, and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment."
According to WWF, a marine protected area involves a lot of things that are mainly for protecting marine life. This includes having locally managed marine areas, marine parks, ocean sanctuaries, no-take zones, fully protected marine areas, and marine reserves. Each of these might have different levels of protection depending on the marine species that live in it. Marine protected areas are extremely important to protect marine life, especially those who are endangered.
An article by the Ocean Tracks stated three objectives of why marine protected areas are established. First is to conserve natural heritage, which aims to protect and restore marine biodiversity. Another is to conserve natural heritage, which provides protection to historical artifacts. Last is for sustainable production, which supports the extraction of living resources.
|Marine protected areas help in maintaining local economies, cultures, and livelihoods that are closely linked to the marine environment/ Photo By Zacarias Pereira Da Mata via 123RF|
There are several benefits that marine protected areas can bring. This includes allowing ecosystems to recover from the impacts of climate change mostly caused by human activities. At the same time, these areas take care of marine life that can increase seafood production, serve as coastal protection from extreme weather events, and provide good water quality. Aside from that, they also protect significant habitats and create opportunities for education and research.
Additionally, marine protected areas help in maintaining local economies, cultures, and livelihoods that are closely linked to the marine environment. Overall, they help in securing a well-balanced ecosystem that can be beneficial for future generations.
Restoring Ecological Functioning
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, a recent study showed that marine protected areas can also help in restoring ecological functions. A study conducted by the researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst observed the effectiveness of these marine protected areas around the world. According to an article by the Science Daily, ecological functioning involves rates of predation and herbivory that are critical to maintaining life.
Without ecological functioning, it will be difficult for ocean habitats and our economy to thrive. The researchers found out that marine reserves help in protecting predators that are mostly targeted by humans. This allows their numbers to survive and eventually increase. Brian Cheng, the author of the study and marine ecologist, stated that they are trying to rebuild many communities in the oceans through the marine protected areas.
In an interview, Cheng said, "We have historically removed many of the fish and other species that have important jobs as predators and herbivores, just like the teachers and firefighters. Imagine trying to rebuild these communities without paying attention to this." He added that in order to build effective and sustainable marine reserves, researchers should focus on the different kinds of jobs that each species does.
Additionally, the findings of the study highlight the importance of having a scientific knowledge of marine reserves since previous studies have focused on the diversity of fished species and quantifying their abundance. "Marine reserves can really work well to restore part of the ocean, but one of our conclusions is that they are not all equally effective," Cheng pointed out.