Public Release: 

Not all marine protected areas are created equal

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Europe's impressive network of marine protected areas (MPAs), which now cover 29% of territorial waters, is not as effective as has been thought at preserving the marine biodiversity it was created to protect. According to a new report, the waters of more than half (59%) of European MPAs are fished more intensely than other non-protected areas, greatly reducing the abundance of the sensitive species they contain. The results suggest that a lack of MPA standards within the European Union undermines broader conservation goals and that simply designating areas as MPAs does little to protect the most sensitive species. In the E.U. many types of MPAs exist, and while all have a goal of protecting biodiversity, few address commercial fishing activities. Trawling, the most common and damaging form of industrial fishing in Europe has been shown to be a great threat to many endangered marine species, as well as to seafloor habitats and biodiversity. Manuel Dureuil and colleagues evaluated the extent of commercial fishing associated with 727 European MPAs, as well as the impact of this fishing on biodiversity, focusing on elasmobranchs - cartilaginous fishes like sharks and rays. Elasmobranchs are particularly sensitive "indicator species." Dureuil et al. found that commercial trawling activity was 38% higher inside MPAs compared to unprotected areas, demonstrating that MPAs do not reduce fishing pressure under current regulatory guidelines. Furthermore, while rare through the areas of their analysis, particularly in heavily trawled areas, the authors discovered that elasmobranches were more common outside protected areas than within them. What's more, other endangered and critically endangered species were all five times more abundant outside MPAs. The results suggest that MPAs require stronger regulations to serve as truly protected areas.

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