Enric Sala

World - Study: Remote Ocean Wilderness Areas are “Living Time Machines,” Teeming with Large Fish

Fish stocks in remote ocean wilderness areas are triple those of the best marine reserves and fisheries

Newswise — A new, widespread study of the global state of marine coral reef wilderness by WCS, NGS, and university collaborators found that remote ocean wilderness areas are sustaining fish populations much better than some of the world’s best marine reserves. Findings show 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.

Marine wilderness is rapidly disappearing in the face of widespread fishing. Scientists examined coral reefs located 4-plus hours from people and 9-plus hours travel distances from urban markets. They found that the mean biomass of fish stocks in those remote wilderness areas was about one third higher than the values found in even the best-managed, oldest, and largest marine reserves located nearer shore to people.

A recent initiative by the global community, “30x30” seeks to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the land and sea by 2030. Progress toward this goal is underway, but currently as little as 2 percent of coral reefs are being fully protected in marine reserves. These findings suggest that what authors termed “best-practice seascapes” need to be deployed alongside ocean wilderness strongholds to truly achieve global security for coral reef fish biodiversity.

“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.”

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