The creation of a new generation of major marine reserves will require innovative new monitoring techniques to understand the impact of these reserves on oceanic biodiversity, according to a new study led by The University of Western Australia.
The research, carried out in partnership with Zoological Society of London and the Swiss-based philanthropic Bertarelli Foundation, has been published in the journal Biological Reviews.
Study co-author Professor Jessica Meeuwig, from UWA’s Oceans Institute, said while banning commercial fishing in marine reserves was a positive step towards rehabilitating troubled ocean ecosystems, it raised fresh problems for conservationists trying to monitor marine biodiversity with any degree of accuracy.
“If we look at species such as oceanic sharks, tunas and billfish, most of what we know about these iconic creatures actually comes from decades of commercial fishing records,” Professor Meeuwig said.
Mega marine reserves have recently been established in areas including Chagos, Chile and New Zealand.
The report identifies potential alternatives to commercial fishing records, including harnessing emerging technologies such as underwater action cameras as well as established methods such as acoustic echo-location to provide non-lethal monitoring of wildlife within these vast new ocean sanctuaries.
“While the role of marine reserves in protecting coastal ecosystems is now well understood, far less is known about the impact of their deep-water equivalents on highly migratory species like sharks and tuna, which often roam across entire ocean basins,” Professor Meeuwig said.
“If we are to demonstrate the success of these new sanctuaries, we need to think outside the box to devise effective, non-lethal monitoring techniques in areas where fishing is banned.”
Other announcements following the Chagos reserve include the 620,000sqkm Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, announced by the New Zealand government in September 2015, and the even larger 631,368sqkm Easter Island Marine Reserve, plans for which were unveiled by the Chilean government the following month.
“In order to find out if marine reserves are doing their job, we need to be able to answer questions like how many fish are out there and are their numbers and sizes increasing now they’re under formal protection,” Professor Meeuwig said.
“Thanks to the techniques explored during this study, we can now confidently say we’ve identified a multi-faceted approach that will help conservationists to answer these questions at relatively low cost and without causing any harm to the animals in question.”
Professor Jessica Meeuwig (UWA Oceans Institute) (+61 4) 40 024 999
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716