WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- Large areas of the Mediterranean that were once healthy ecosystems have been left barren by overexploitation of fish and other marine resources, scientists say.
Researchers measuring the impact of overfishing found the healthiest places were in well-enforced marine reserves where fish biomass had recovered from overfishing to levels five to 10 times greater than that of fished areas, a release from the National Geographic Society said Thursday.
"We found a huge gradient, an enormous contrast. In reserves off Spain and Italy, we found the largest fish biomass in the Mediterranean," National Geographic researcher Enric Sala said. "Unfortunately, around Turkey and Greece, the waters were bare."
The impact of fully protected marine reserves give reason for hope in waters well beyond the Mediterranean, Sala said.
"If marine reserves have worked so well in the Mediterranean, they can work anywhere," he said.
Marine organisms in the Mediterranean face more pressures than just overfishing, researchers said.
"It's death by a thousand cuts," study co-author Enric Ballesteros of Spain's National Research Council said, citing destruction of habitat, contamination, a rise in sea surface temperatures due to climate change and more than 600 invasive species.
"The protection of the marine ecosystems is a necessity as well as a 'business' in which everyone wins," Sala said. "The reserves act as savings accounts, with capital that is not yet spent and an interest yield we can live off of."