New research has shown that if we protected just 4% of the worlds oceans and seas we could protect as much as 84% of the marine mammals that grace our oceans. Just 9 locations have an essential role in the lives of 108 different marine mammals. With a quarter of the worlds 129 species of marine mammals endangered this small amount of protection could bring real dividends.
“It’s important to protect marine mammals if you want to keep the ocean’s ecosystems functional,” said study co-author Paul Ehrlich, professor of biology and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. “Many of them are top predators and have impacts all the way through the ecosystem. And they’re also beautiful and interesting.”
Composite species map highlighted 20 marine conservation areas.
The scientists produced a composite map of marine mammal habitats by overlaying species maps. The most important areas for marine conservation was determined by the areas with the greatest species richness- those areas with most species.
“This is the first time that the global distribution of marine mammal richness has been compiled and presented as a map,” said co-authors Sandra Pompa and Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “The most surprising and interesting result was that all of the species can be represented in only 20 critical conservation locations that cover at least 10 percent of the species’ geographic range.”
The 20 main areas that were first produced involved three main criteria –
- The species richness or the number of different species,
- how close to extinction those species were,
- whether any of the species were unique to the area.
Other considerations of the importance of the areas were the role the regions played as feeding grounds, migration routes and nursery grounds. [pullquote]At least 70 percent of the richness areas coincide with regions highly impacted by humans,[/pullquote]
Just 9 key areas important for 84% of marine mammals.
The scientists then took a closer look at these 20 important sites for marine mammals and discovered the just 9 were essential key areas for as many as 108 different species of marine mammals – or 84% of all species.
These nine sites which make up only 4% of the ocean are spread across the globe and are regions found at:
- Baja California, Mexico,
- Eastern Canada,
- North west Africa,
- South Africa,
- New Zealand.
While the key areas are essential for the majority of species the remaining 11 areas should not be thought of as being of less value the researchers point out. The other 11 areas contained species found nowhere else. An example of this is the critically endangered vaquita, or gulf porpoise, which only lives in the northern gulf of California.
9 key areas under threat from human development.
If the key 9 regions are to be protected to help conserve the majority of marine mammal species then the international community needs to move quickly. The most valuable areas are also the most heavily influenced by humans.
“At least 70 percent of the richness areas coincide with regions highly impacted by humans,” said Pompa and Ceballos. “This is powerful information that obliges us to enhance marine conservation.”
Factoring in other impacts, such as overfishing and global climate change, would likely reveal even more negative effects on the nine conservation sites, the authors said.
“The next 2 billion people we’re going to add to the planet are going to do much more damage to the ocean than the previous 2 billion did,” said Ehrlich, president of the Stanford Center for Conservation Biology. “Humans reach for the low-hanging fruit first, so to speak, but for the ocean that’s gone now.”