Most of the important marine areas identified by scientists aren't located inside marine protected areas. Photo by Stony Brook University
Oct. 28 (UPI) -- For marine biodiversity, some regions of the ocean are more important than others. In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists compiled the findings of multiple studies to identify all of the most important marine areas.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, showed several important marine areas remain unprotected.
Instead of spearheading a new effort to map globally important marine areas, the authors of the new study decided to analyze the findings of previous and ongoing efforts. Several mapping projects -- both United Nations and nongovernmental initiatives -- are currently underway.
When scientists overlaid the many surveys, they found 55 percent of the ocean has been identified as globally important by at least one of the mapping efforts. Approximately 14 percent of the ocean has been designated as an important marine area by two to four different mapping efforts.
Of the 14 percent of the ocean on which there is broad consensus about its importance, roughly 90 percent remains unprotected. The majority of the important but unprotected marine areas are located in the Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the waters surrounding Madagascar, the southern tip of Africa and the Coral Triangle region.
"An enormous area of the ocean has already been identified as important by scientists and conservationists but remains unprotected," Ellen Pikitch, a professor of ocean conservation sciences at Stony Brook University, said in a news release. "Opportunities for further ocean conservation are widespread and include areas within the national jurisdictions of most coastal states as well as the high seas."
Though scientists found several important marine areas in the high seas, the majority of important marine areas are located within the jurisdictions of nation states. According to the study, the United Nations' goal to protect 10 percent of the world's oceans could be achieved through the actions of coastal states.
The comprehensive mapping effort showed that many already established marine protected areas do a poor job of matching up with the size and shape of the important marine areas identified by sciences. Many MPAs provide protections for just a portion of a vital ecosystem or the range of vulnerable species.
According to the authors of the new study, their latest analysis can help guide regulators on where to expand marine protected areas, as well as where to establish new MPAs.
"This study can help guide placement of future MPAs to meet agreed objectives for the quantity, quality and representativeness of the global network of marine protected areas," Pikitch said. "Local studies and expertise will also be necessary to implement this process."