(CN) – With the Trump administration taking a hard look at scaling back some of the national monuments set aside by previous presidents, a new study reveals that protected marine environments can provide a bulwark against climate change.
Researchers at York University published a study Monday that argues Marine Protected Areas help both oceans and humans adjust to climate change in five key areas – ocean acidification, sea-level rise, increased intensity of storms, shifts in species distribution and the potential for decreased productivity and availability of oxygen.
“Many studies show that well-managed marine reserves can protect wildlife and support productive fisheries, but we wanted to explore this body of research through the lens of climate change to see whether these benefits could help ameliorate or slow its impacts,” said lead-author Callum Roberts, a professor with York University Environment Department. “It was soon quite clear that they can offer the ocean ecosystem and people critical resilience benefits to rapid climate change.”
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used other peer-reviewed studies on Marine Protected Areas and analyzed them through the lens of climate change.
The researchers found such reserves can promote long-term carbon storage, particularly in the form of coastal wetlands, which can also provide a barrier against rising seas and ocean acidification.
Current protections, which have been extended significantly in recent years, still only apply to 3.5 percent of the world’s oceans, and defend just 1.5 percent from economic exploitation such as natural resource extraction or fishing.
Overfishing and other depredations to various oceanic species requires sanctuaries, where species can go to recover, breed and restore the health of their populations, the study found. But beyond mere conservation principles, such reserves also help store carbon, mitigate sea-level rise and help serve as a bulwark against the increased severity of storms that many scientists anticipate will occur as a result of a changing climate.
“We were keenly aware that marine reserves can increase species’ abundance and help alleviate food scarcity, but our evaluation showed reserves are a viable low-tech, cost-effective adaptation strategy that would yield multiple co-benefits from local to global scales, improving the outlook for the environment and people into the future,” said co-author Beth O’Leary, a research fellow at York.
Former President Barack Obama greatly expanded the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument during his last year in office, creating the largest marine ecological preserve in the world. During the same year, Obama also designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first such monument to be designated in the Atlantic Ocean.
Since assuming office, President Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the department will review 27 monuments in the American West, one in Maine and five marine preserves to determine whether those monuments were designated “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
Both the Papahanaumokuakea and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monuments will be reviewed by the department, with the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and the Rose Atoll monuments also up for review by the department.
Monday’s study argues governments and resource managers should be increasing the amount of conserved ocean space rather than exploring scale-backs.
The authors call for setting a target of conserving 30 percent of marine areas, which would require several more large-scale preserves as well as international cooperation.