Scientists discover the first evidence that marine conservation helps to reduce climate change. Marine protected areas act as a safeguard for oceans, seas, and estuaries. These regions help in the preservation of the plants and animals that are native to these waters, but the advantages of protected areas go well beyond their boundaries. A group of experts describes how marine protected areas support ecological and social adaptation to climate change and help in the sequestration of carbon in a study that was recently published in the journal One Earth.
“Marine protected areas are increasingly being promoted as an ocean-based climate solution. Yet such claims remain controversial due to the diffuse and poorly synthesized literature on climate benefits of marine protected areas,” write the authors. “To address this knowledge gap, we conducted a systematic literature review of 22,403 publications spanning 241 marine protected areas.”
The scientists discovered that carbon sequestration increased significantly in marine-protected seagrass areas, mangroves, and regions where sediment was not trawled. “Partial or full degradation of mangroves and seagrass both resulted in similar decreases of sequestered carbon, indicating that even low levels of human impact result in important carbon emissions,” they write.
In addition to boosting carbon sequestration, preserved areas were more biodiverse, had increased species richness, and showed benefits for humans, too. Marine-protected areas had greater food security, and fish stocks in waters adjacent to these protected areas swelled. The authors note that the mitigation and adaptation benefits of these protected areas were only achieved under high levels of protection and that benefits increased the longer an area had been protected.
“Across all four pathways analyzed, only full and high levels of protection resulted in mitigation or adaptation benefits,” they write. “In contrast, low levels of protection generated no benefits. Furthermore, increases in species richness and in fishers’ income only occurred for fully protected areas, where no fishing is allowed.”