Friday July 14, 2023

Science Daily

Rising ocean temperatures are sweeping the seas, breaking records and creating problematic conditions for marine life. Unlike heatwaves on land, periods of abrupt ocean warming can surge for months or years. Around the world these ‘marine heatwaves’ have led to mass species mortality and displacement events, economic declines and habitat loss. New research reveals that even areas of the ocean protected from fishing are still vulnerable to these extreme events fueled by climate change.

A study published today in Global Change Biology, led by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, found that while California’s network of marine protected areas (MPAs) provide many social and ecological benefits, they are not resilient to the effects of ocean warming. MPAs are locations in the ocean where human activities such as fishing are restricted to conserve and protect marine ecosystems, habitats, species and cultural resources. The study, part of a 10-year review of California’s MPA network conducted at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS), found that marine heatwaves impact ecological communities regardless of whether they are protected inside MPAs.

“MPAs in California and around the world have many benefits, such as increased fish abundance, biomass and diversity,” said Joshua Smith, who led the study while he was a postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS . “But they were never designed to buffer the impacts of climate change or marine heatwaves.”

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