Top marine predators like tuna and sharks are suffering from the effects of climate change as the availability of prey decreases and the spatial distribution of their prey shifts. Countless other marine plants and animals are also affected.
One way to adapt to or mitigate these changes is to design marine protected areas (MPA) and MPA networks that integrate these and other climate-related considerations. Accordingly, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has published Scientific Guidelines for Designing Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate in collaboration with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and based on the work of thirty-three of North America's top experts. The published guidelines were launched today at theRestore America's Estuaries Conference in Tampa, Florida. (See: http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=122&ContentID=25240&AA_SiteLanguageID=1)
Climate change is affecting Earth's oceans and many of the species that depend on them. Warmer ocean temperatures are being associated with smaller populations of phytoplankton and zooplankton, an important food source for fish and marine mammals. Rising coastal sea levels may impact nesting sites for turtles and habitat for marine birds. Also, the carbon cycle is being impacted by warmer temperatures and ocean acidification. This bleaches and kills coral reefs, a major undersea habitat and nursery for countless species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans of vital importance to us, and is negatively influencing natural carbon sinks such as mangroves, salt marches, seagrasses, and tidal wetlands, reducing their ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
MPA size, placement, and their respective role in reducing pressures such as fishing and coastal habitat conversion, are just some of the considerations for designing resilient MPAs in light of climate change. The CEC's practical set of guidelines will help scientists, MPA planners and managers improve their ability to design, connect, manage, assess and adapt MPAs and MPA networks to potential climate change at national and continental scales. The guidelines are broken down into four sections:
- Protect species and habitats with crucial ecosystem roles, or those of special conservation concern
- Protect potential carbon sinks
- Protect ecological linkages and connectivity pathways for a wide range of species
- Protect the full range of biodiversity present in the target biogeographic area
In November 2012 the CEC will be publishing a companion piece -- a practical guide for MPA managers and network planners on how to implement these guidelines.
North America is an ideal region to pilot this global effort because of the interconnectivity of its oceans, diverse marine life and its nearly 2000 MPAs. The guidelines identify some of the benefits of working collaboratively across a region such as North America, considering that connectivity is particularly important for migratory species and species that move throughout their life stages. The guidelines also advocate that international collaboration strengthens capacity through shared experiences.
Marine protected area experts and officials in Canada, Mexico and the United States have been working together over the past decade through the CEC's North American Marine Protected Areas Network (NAMPAN) to conserve North America's marine biodiversity. The guidelines were developed by Robert J. Brock (NOAA MPA Center), Ellen Kenchington (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and María Amparo Martínez-Arroyo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), in collaboration with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea Study Group on Designing Marine Protected Area Networks in a Changing Climate (ICES-SGMPAN).
For more information, please visit: www.cec.org/marine.
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