A new study of the global state of marine coral reef wilderness by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and university collaborators has found that remote ocean wilderness areas are sustaining fish populations much better than some of the world’s best marine reserves.
After examining coral reefs that are located over four hours away from people and nine hours away from urban areas, the involved team of marine biologists found that remote reefs protect three times as many stocks as marine reserves, and shelter many important and threatened species that require large spaces, like sharks, groupers, jacks, and snappers. Another important conclusion was that marine wilderness is disappearing at an alarming rate due to widespread fishing activities.
“This study confirmed that wilderness areas protect fish far better than even the most sustainable fisheries and reserves,” said lead author Dr. Tim McClanahan, Senior Scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “It scares us to think what is being lost when wilderness is reduced. The findings are a call to designate the last remaining marine wilderness as areas needing special status and protection – global ocean strongholds. To ensure that all coral reef fish species are protected from fishing and possible extinction, we need to focus on wilderness alongside 30 percent closures in nearshore areas.”
Alan Friedlander of Pristine Seas said: “Observing and surveying fishes for many years has made it clear to me that many, and particularly big fishes, require lots of space to survive and thrive. This collaboration and analyses with my colleagues have made it clear how this need for open marine wilderness is so pervasive. This robust and extensive dataset has allowed us to confirm what many of us have observed for year, that remote marine wilderness are like time machines that allow us to observe the ocean of the past in order to protect the future.”
As a recent initiative by the global community, called 30×30, seeks to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the land and sea by 2030, this study points out the urgent need to protect more of the oceans. Currently as little as two per cent of coral reefs are being fully protected in marine reserves. The study’s findings therefore suggest that what authors termed ‘best-practice seascape’ need to be deployed alongside ocean wilderness strongholds and expansion of marine protected areas to truly achieve global security for coral reef fish biodiversity.
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Photography courtesy of Unsplash.