FEB 18, 2019 06:18 AM PST

Marine Protected Areas Crucial for Commercially Harvested Animal Populations

Humans commercially harvest many marine animals because a booming market exists above the ocean’s surface. Unfortunately, some these same animals are at risk of being overharvested, an issue that could prove dire for their populations if left unchecked. The unfavorable circumstances raise a pressing question: is there any way we can sustainably reduce our impact on these animals’ communities?

Image Credit: Charles Boch

New research published this month in the journal American Naturalist indicates that we could and that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) would play an instrumental role in making it happen. Just as the name implies MPAs are protected regions in which human restrictions are enforced for conservation purposes – this often comprises of barring or limiting activities that would disturb local wildlife, such as fishing.

The researchers purportedly reached their conclusion after using computer models to predict green abalone population influences with and without MPAs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, effective fisheries management resulted in sustainable green abalone populations, whereas unrelenting overharvesting of the species showed a continuous decline in population numbers.

Notably, overharvesting isn’t the only factor that contributes to population declines in various marine animals – so too do natural catastrophic events such as oil spills, tropical storms, and viruses. In the unfortunate circumstance that one of these devastating natural events do occur, immobile animals like abalone, sea stars, and sea urchins are some of the hardest-hit because they can’t move out of the way.

“For many species, reproductive failure may occur if abundance drops below critical Allee thresholds for successful breeding, in some cases impeding recovery,” the authors wrote in the paper. “At the same time, extreme environmental events can cause catastrophic collapse in otherwise healthy populations.”

Related: Can effective fisheries management prevent the extinction of marine fish stocks?

This detail is particularly significant to the study because the researchers also found that green abalone populations bounced back to normal much more quickly in MPAs after natural catastrophes than they did in non-managed regions where the animals were subjected to a combination of natural disasters and human-centric overharvesting.

To make matters worse, the green abalone doesn’t breed as effectively when population counts get too low, which has implications for the species in regions where the animals face all these suppressive challenges at one time. That said, when population counts get too low, they tend to stay low if/until the threats are neutralized.

“We found that MPA networks dramatically reduced the risk of collapse following catastrophic events (75-90 percent mortality), while populations often continued to decline in the absence of spatial protection,” the authors continued. “For species with Allee effects, the use of protected areas can ensure persistence following mass mortality events while maintaining ecosystem services during the recovery period.”

Related: Birds and fish both exploit 'waves' to reduce energy consumption and avoid collisions when moving in large groups

Given all the challenges that appear to be working against their favor, it seems from the results that green abalone and other immobile marine animals could benefit momentously from protected regions. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen at the time of this writing whether improved fisheries management will be implemented anytime soon.

Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, American Naturalist

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 15, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 15, 2019
The Science Behind Hemp
With the signing of the latest farm bill, President Trump has just legalized the cultivation of hemp. The idea behind this legislation was to boost agricul...
JAN 21, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 21, 2019
Here's What Makes An Elephant Trunk So Amazing
One of the most recognizable features of an elephant is its trunk – the long appendage that extends out from the animal’s face. Elephants use i...
JAN 22, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 22, 2019
Towards a Better Understanding of Genetic Modifications in Plants
Scientists have taken a close look at what happens on the molecular level when DNA is inserted into the genome of a plant....
FEB 05, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 05, 2019
Male Killer Whales Forage More Than Females, but Success Isn't Always Guaranteed
All wild animals must hunt to survive; it’s the natural order of things. But it’s sometimes tricky for scientists to understand the techniques...
FEB 12, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 12, 2019
Man's Best Friend - Wildlife's Worst Enemy?
Established as one of man’s best friends, dogs can seemingly be found in almost every other household you visit. But while humans may enjoy dogs&rsqu...
MAR 11, 2019
Plants & Animals
MAR 11, 2019
Scientists Find a Wild Bee That Was Thought to be Extinct
Bees are an essential constituent in the plethora of pollinating insects in existence today, and while there’s no arguing the fact that bee populatio...
Loading Comments...