Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Reports

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Key Messages:

  • Evidence suggests that ocean biodiversity at all levels is being lost as a result of the direct and indirect impacts of human pressures. The main drivers of biodiversity loss are overexploitation and human pressures in coastal environments (development, habitat loss, pollution, disturbance). Increasingly, climate change and ocean acidification are and will be drivers of biodiversity loss especially in sensitive coastal ecosystems.

  • Despite advances in understanding the distribution of species and habitats in the ocean, many aspects of marine biodiversity remain poorly understood. As a result, changes in marine biodiversity are difficult to ascertain and there is a critical need to establish current baselines and trends through survey and monitoring activities.

  • There needs to be a concerted effort to increase funding and capacity for marine biodiversity research, especially in developing countries which are rich in biodiversity. There also needs to be an increase in collaboration across scientific disciplines and other data users and measures to make data collection and analysis interoperable and repeatable to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of ecosystem services which underpin the blue economy whilst ensuring that biodiversity is conserved. These efforts should be focused on the already established international networks for biodiversity monitoring that include the Biology and Ecosystems Panel of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS BioEco), the Group on Earth Observation Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON), and global data integrators such as the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) of the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) programme of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO-IOC) and the Ocean Data Viewer of the United Nations Environment Programmeʼs World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

  • There has been a significant apparent increase in the coverage of marine protected areas (MPAs). However, most MPAs are only lightly to minimally protected, with many lacking even management plans and very few classified as fully protected. Maximum environmental and societal benefits accrue only when 30–40 percent of key marine ecosystems are represented in fully or highly protected and implemented MPAs. We estimate that only 3 percent of the key habitats explored in this study lie in fully protected MPAs, and for some habitats, no countries have placed them in fully protected MPAs. Hence, opportunities abound to strengthen protection in existing MPAs and create new highly to fully protected MPAs, paying close attention to positive enabling conditions, good design principles and adequate enforcement and funding.

  • It is critical to establish a legal framework for the conservation of biodiversity in the whole ocean, including areas beyond national jurisdiction. For this reason, reaching a strong agreement for the new international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) is essential.

  • The ability of wealthier countries to implement conservation measures within their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) is higher and might need to compensate for less wealthy countries with higher biodiversity and higher pressures. Achieving the 30–40 percent target in fully or highly protected areas, especially in developing countries, will be greatly enhanced by capacity building, financial support and development of alternate economically viable options for employment.

  • Marine ecosystems often exhibit tipping points where pressures lead to a major regime shift that results in an alternative and less productive state. Recognising such tipping points and incorporating them as reference points in fisheries management can greatly improve marine species conservation as well as the functioning and resilience of marine ecosystems.

  • Accelerated and expanded reform of fisheries management practices are required if the food and nutritional needs of a growing human population are to be met without permanent and long-lasting biodiversity loss resulting in the erosion of ecosystem services. It is especially important that these reforms include greatly improved monitoring of catch and bycatch in fisheries; the elimination of illegal practices in industrial fisheries through improved enforcement; a reduction in the fishing capacity where it is contributing to overfishing and/or damage to biodiversity whilst ensuring that basic needs for food, nutrition and livelihoods are met in coastal communities; and better incorporation of biodiversity considerations into all levels of fisheries management and the fishing industry. There must be better collaboration with the environmental sector for government departments and also with intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.