Study Finds Current Marine Protected Area Networks Inadequate For Protecting Threatened Fish And Ocean Ecology

New York (August 28, 2014)—A new study reports that an expansion of marine protected areas is needed to protect fish species that perform key ecological functions. According to investigators from the Wildlife Conservation Society and other organizations, previous efforts at protecting fish have focused on saving the largest numbers of species, often at the expense of those species that provide key and difficult-to-replace ecological functions.

Many vital ecological functions of ocean ecology are performed by fish species that also are food for millions of people. This study uncovers a significant problem: the world’s most ecologically valuable fish communities are currently vulnerable and are being missed by the world’s current network of marine protected areas. If these tropical fish populations and the ecological services that they provide are to be ensured, say the authors, then the world’s existing marine protected area network must be expanded. The paper appears in the current online edition of Ecology Letters.

“The recognition that all species are not the same and that some play more important and different roles in ocean ecology prompted this new investigation. The study was expected to identify regions with vulnerable fish populations, something that has been sidetracked by the past species richness focus,” said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS Senior Conservationist and a co-author of the study. “If you lose species with key functions, then you undermine the ability of the ocean to provide food and other ecological services, which is a wake up call to protect these vulnerable species and locations. Our analysis identifies these gaps and should provide the basis to accelerate the protection of ocean functions.”

The authors of the study compiled a global database on tropical coastal fish populations from 169 locations around the world, focusing on species occurring in 50 meters of water or less. The team compared these data with distribution maps for 6,316 tropical reef fish species. Human threats such as fishing, pollution, and climate change were also included in the analyses.

What the authors found was that many areas with threatened but functionally important fish were found outside of existing marine protected areas. Also, the study examined other vulnerabilities such as taxonomic sensitivity (the number of threatened species in a fish assemblage or community) and functional sensitivity (the number of functions in danger of being lost because of external threats).

From a regional perspective, the analysis revealed that species richness “hotspots” are located in the Indo-Australian Archipelago and the Caribbean. Species-rich areas for short-ranged fish were located in peripheral zones in the Atlantic as well as the Indo-Pacific.

Areas of high vulnerability included the coastal waters of Chile, the eastern tropical Pacific, and the eastern Atlantic Ocean, areas where comparatively few fish species perform vital environmental functions with few or no redundancies or species that fill similar roles.

“Protecting the ecological services that fish populations provide for coastal habitats is as important as protecting wildlife species themselves,” said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of WCS’s Marine Program. “This decision theory framework can help marine managers make recommendations about where to place marine protected areas that expand and protect the ocean’s ability to provide key services.”

The authors of the study are: Valeriano Parravicini of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Domaine du Petit Arbois, and the University of Perpignan; Sébastian Villéger of the Laboratoire Ecologie des Systèmes Marins Côtiers; Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Jesus Ernesto Arias-González of the Laboratorio de Ecología de Ecosistemas de Arrecifes Carolinos; David R. Bellwood of James Cook University; Jonathan Belmaker of Tel Aviv University; Pascale Chabanet of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement; Sergio R. Floeter of the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina; Alan M. Friedlander of the University of Hawaii at Manoa; François Guilhaumon of the Laboratoire Ecologie des Systèmes Marins Côtiers; Laurent Vigliola of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement; Michel Kulbicki of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement; and David Mouillot of the Laboratoire Ecologie des Systèmes Marins Côtiers and James Cook University.

CONTACT:
OHN DELANEY: (1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org)
STEPHEN SAUTNER:(1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)


Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org ; http://www.facebook.com/TheWCS ; http://www.youtube.com/user/WCSMedia; Follow: @thewcs.

Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium is open every day of the year. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Fall/winter/spring hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily. Admission is $9.95 per person; children under 3 years of age are admitted free. Fridays after 4 p.m. in the summer and after 3 p.m. in the fall, admission is by pay-what-you-wish donation. The aquarium is located on Surf Avenue at West 8th Street in Coney Island. The New York Aquarium is located on property owned by the City of New York, and its operation is made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. For directions, information on public events and programs, and other aquarium information, call 718-265-FISH or visit our web site at www.nyaquarium.com . Now is the perfect time to visit and show support for the WCS New York Aquarium, a beloved part of Brooklyn and all of the City of New York. Due to Hurricane Sandy we are partially opened. Check our website for more information. www.nyaquarium.com .

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