Protected areas in the ocean now exceed size of Europe

Nearly three percent of the world’s oceans – an area slightly larger than Europe – now lies within designated marine protected areas, according to new data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is a significant increase from 2010 when the area protected was just 1.2 per cent. However, many of the new protected zones may be of little value in terms of conservation.

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The Acid Truth About our Oceans: Experts Urge Action to Limit Ocean Acidification

World Oceans map image

Indian, Atlantic, Pacific, Artic, and Southern Ocean

IUCN Media Statement, 29 November 2011 – Ocean acidification can no longer remain on the periphery of the international debates on climate change and the environment and should be addressed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other global environmental conventions, urge IUCN and the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG) at the climate change summit in Durban.

In the run up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in June next year (Rio+20), world experts from RUG call for decision makers to urgently address the critical issue of ocean acidification.

“The increasing amounts of carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere every day are changing our oceans, steadily increasing their acidity, and dramatically affecting marine life,” says Professor Dan Laffoley Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Chair of RUG.

“This may also have severe impacts on human life in the future. Only by reducing our CO2 emissions and enhancing the protection of oceans to strengthen their ability to recover, can we effectively address this issue. Policy makers in Durban, and in Rio in June next year, need to recognize this and take appropriate actions.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, particularly CO2, which is the main driver of climate change and the main cause of ocean acidification, is one of the goals of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the latest RUG publication calls for a broader strategy to reduce ocean acidification, alongside those tackling other threats to the marine environment such as overfishing and pollution.

According to the experts, although both climate change and ocean acidification are caused by excessive amounts of CO2 emissions, and so should be tackled together, not all approaches used to address the former will be effective in the fight against the latter.

“For example, ‘geoengineering’ solutions, such as reflecting solar radiation, which are often suggested to deal with climate change, will not address the progressive acidification of the ocean,” says Dr John Baxter of the Scottish Natural Heritage and Deputy Chair of the RUG.

“Both climate change and acidification need to be taken into account when designing solutions to these challenges.”

Each year, the ocean absorbs approximately 25% of all the CO2 we emit. Its acidity has increased by 30% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and acidification will continue at an unprecedented rate in the coming decades. This can have a negative impact on marine organisms, especially the ‘calcifying’ ones such as shellfish, molluscs, coral reefs and various types of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Increasing ocean acidity requires them to use more energy to build their shells, which has potentially severe ecological consequences. If the current acidification rate continues, it could lead to extinctions of some species and impact others that feed on them.

“Through its ability to absorb large amounts of CO2, the ocean plays a crucial role in moderating the rate and severity of climate change”, says Dr Carol Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Knowledge Exchange Coordinator for the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, one of the partners of the Reference User Group.

“But in many ways our ocean is also a victim of its own success, as this capacity jeopardizes its future health, its biodiversity and its ability to continue to provide us with food and sustainable economic development. Ocean acidification requires urgent and effective action now, before it’s too late. The obvious action is to reduce CO2 emissions to the atmosphere.”

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Plenty more fish in the sea? Not for much longer – IUCN report

Published on: June, 19 April - IUCN – Press Releases.

Lawnmower Blenny Smile Mediterranean imageMore than 40 species of marine fish currently found in the Mediterranean could disappear in the next few years. According to a study for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ on the status of marine fish in the Mediterranean Sea, almost half of the species of sharks and rays (cartilaginous fish) and at least 12 species of bony fish are threatened with extinction due to overfishing, marine habitat degradation and pollution.

Commercial species like Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus), Dusky Grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), Sea Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) or Hake (Merluccius merluccius) are considered threatened or Near Threatened with extinction at the regional level mainly due to overfishing.

“The Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic population of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is of particular concern. There has been an estimated 50% decline in this species’ reproduction potential over the past 40 years due to intensive overfishing,” says Kent Carpenter, IUCN Global Marine Species Assessment Coordinator. “The lack of compliance with current quotas combined with widespread underreporting of the catch may have undermined conservation efforts for this species in the Mediterranean.”

The use of fishing gear, such as fishing lines, gill or trawling nets, and the illegal use of driftnets means that hundreds of marine animals with no commercial value are captured, threatening populations of many species of sharks, rays and other fish, as well as other marine animals including dolphins, whales, turtles and birds.

“The use of trawling nets is one of the main problems for conservation and sustainability of many marine species,” says Maria del Mar Otero, IUCN-Med Marine Programme Officer. “Because it is not a selective technique, it captures not only the target fish but also a high number of other species while also destroying the sea bottom, where many fish live, reproduce and feed.”

The study emphasizes the need to reinforce fishing regulations, create new marine reserves, reduce pollution and review fishing quotas, in particular the number of captures allowed for threatened species.

The Zvonimiri blenny image“Responsible consumption is one of the ways in which we can all contribute to the conservation of many marine species,” says Catherine Numa, IUCN-Med Species Programme Officer. “Based on the findings of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, we hope that politicians will make the appropriate decisions to secure this important food source for the future, whilst protecting and valuing the biological diversity of the planet at the same time.”

This is the first comprehensive regional IUCN Red List assessment of the native marine fish species for an entire sea. The report also highlights the substantial lack of information on the conservation status of nearly one third of these Mediterranean marine fish (which were assessed as Data Deficient), a significant proportion of which are considered endemic to the region. Further research may show that the Data Deficient group could in fact include a large proportion of threatened fish. Increased funding and research therefore need to be directed towards such Data Deficient species.

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