New York, January 19, 2024 – Scientists are providing in a new research paper an analysis of highly productive marine areas to help the world achieve the protection of at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030. The parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity agreed to this worldwide goal upon the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Biological Diversity Framework in 2022.

The multifaceted contribution of highly productive marine areas, which enable biodiversity, support human welfare and help mitigate climate change, are an essential, but currently overlooked, conservation priority for consideration in both global nature conservation and human wellbeing policy, write the authors of the new paper in ScienceDirect.

The paper, ‘Global marine conservation priorities for sustaining marine productivity, preserving biodiversity and addressing climate change’ can be found here. The authors are from the Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Queensland, and University of South Wales.

WCS’s Dr. Solange Fermepin, said: “Traditional marine conservation priority setting has focused on species-rich ecosystems such as coral reefs, and typically resulted in priority areas of core global importance mainly in and around low latitudes. This analysis adds to the current body of knowledge by exploring the notion of marine productivity as an enabling condition of marine ecosystems and thus an important feature to inform and complement future conservation efforts.”

Marine primary productivity—where the amount of chlorophyll in the water enables marine life to cascade up the food chain—is a critical driver of functioning marine ecosystems, providing a foundation for biological diversity and associated economic productivity, and a key component of the oceanic carbon sink. These attributes make productivity an important dimension for conservation approaches. However, it is largely under-represented within the global marine protected area estate.

Fermepin and colleagues looked at the global distribution and extent of marine areas of high-primary productivity and low impact as candidate areas for conservation efforts; at how representative these areas are of the global marine biomes; and about how they might change under different climate scenarios.

They found that there are more than 18.6 million km² of high productivity-low impact areas in the global ocean, an area larger than the size of Russia or a bit more than 5% of the global ocean. Moreover, only 11% of this vast area is currently safeguarded within designated marine protected areas or sustainable management initiatives. Importantly, about 80% of the high-productivity and low-impact areas, fall within national jurisdiction.

WCS’s Martin Mendez, said: “On the one hand, these results mean that the legal protection of the majority of these important marine areas would require straightforward national initiatives that are used for any other local protected areas. On the other hand, this work also provides additional foundation to identify candidate areas to be protected in waters beyond national jurisdiction under the High Seas Treaty (a.k.a. BBNJ) agreement.”

As the team explored the spatial requirements of marine megafauna (e.g. marine mammals, sharks, and marine turtles), which are typical in high latitudes where productivity is also high, they found that many of the identified candidate areas feature internal connectivity suitable to their ecological needs. Finally, climate change scenarios impact the size and location of highly productive areas and therefore require spatially dynamic protection frameworks. 

Finally, future climate projections of marine productivity show that climate change may impact the extent and location of highly productive waters, and therefore, spatially protection frameworks need to be dynamic in order to preserve these areas.

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