How to identify ecologically highly important regions?

Humankind and their activities have changed the marine ecosystems throughout history and more recently in time, Marine Protected Areas (MPA) have become an increasingly popular and responsive tool for management and biodiversity conservation. Over almost 20 years, several international initiatives have called for the adoption of representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPA), and more recently, in 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 mentioned the critical need to protect the minimum than 10% of coastal and marine areas. Subsequently, despite the global protection of MPAs increasing from 2.9 to 7.5% from 2010 to 2019, it still falls short of the Aichi target of 10% (set for 2020) and indeed higher targets of ~30% may be required. Furthermore, Marine Protected Areas where only few human activities are permitted, which excludes fishing, high traffic, and others, cover only 2.7% of the oceans.

Defining these Areas is particularly complex, often including international waters, or waters in exclusive economic zones of different countries, or even important areas of marine resources. However, it is crucial that these areas encompass ecologically highly important zones for as many species as possible.

Thus, this study, conducted in the Southern Ocean that surrounds the entire Antarctic continent, sought to identify the most important areas using 17 species of birds and marine mammals that inhabit and/or use this region, from penguins, albatrosses, seals, whales, etc.

This identification was made using data obtained by GPS (placed in the different species), which gives us the location and movements of the animals, in response to more than 15 environmental variables (e.g.: ice concentration, depth, salinity etc.) Finally, with the use of computational models, it was possible to identify ecologically important areas for a large number of species, thus representing crucial areas for their success (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Map of the Southern Ocean and current Marine Protected Areas (orange), and Proposed Areas (pink).

Finally, this knowledge considerably increases our understanding of this region and helps to establish which zones and areas should potentially be protected in the future and included as Marine Protected Areas due to their important ecological function.



Reisinger, R. R., Brooks, C. M., Raymond, B., Freer, J. J., Cotté, C., Xavier, J. C.,.. & Hindell, M. (2022). Predator-derived bioregions in the Southern Ocean: Characteristics, drivers and representation in marine protected areas. Biological Conservation272, 109630.

Hindell, M.A., Reisinger, R.R., Ropert-Coudert, Y. et al. Tracking of marine predators to protect Southern Ocean ecosystems. Nature 580, 87–92 (2020).

Author: José Abreu


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