Marine Protected Areas are Crucial to Save the African Penguin (And More)
Photo: WikiMedia Commons, CC
They Can Also Save Countless Other Species
Marine protected areas, where no fishing at all takes place, are win-win-win. These sanctuaries can protect marine ecosystems from collapse (ask Newfoundlanders about cod fishing...), they also benefit other ecosystems that are dependent on the ocean, such as the African Penguin, and they can protect fishermen from themselves, by making fishing a species to extinction a lot harder. And this isn't just theoretical...French researchers found that the endangered Cape penguin (Spheniscus demersus), the only African penguin, was primarily threatened by lack of food caused by competition from humans. The animals don't have the range that fishing boats have, and so they can't follow banks of sardines and anchovies once they disappear from the regions near the coast.
Faced with this crisis situation, and working with researchers and the South African fish industries, the South African governmental agency overseeing fisheries (Marine and Coastal Management) closed to fishing in January 2009 a 20-km radius ocean area around the largest African penguin colony (on the island of St Croix, Algoa Bay). A "control" zone around another penguin colony (Bird Island), 50 km east of St Croix in the same bay, has remained open to fishing in order to enable researchers to compare penguin feeding behaviors. [...]
The results are striking: In 2008, before the area was closed to fishing, the St Croix penguins mainly fished (75% of dives) more than 20 km from their colony, covering up to 150 km in two days in their search for food. In 2009, on the other hand, only 3 months after the area had been closed to fishing, 70% of dives were less than 20 km away, within the protected marine area. The time devoted to searching for food also decreased by 30%, which reduced their daily energy expenditure by 40%. By way of comparison, the area within which the Bird Island penguins (the control colony) searched for food remained the same both years, with the penguins even expending more energy searching for food in 2009. (source)
But policy is harder. Governments need to create marine protected areas on their territories, and states must agree in international agreements to create marine protected areas at sea (outside territorial waters). Without a large number these, our battered oceans don't stand a chance. African penguins are just an example, but countless other species are threatened in similar fashion.
The area in the Pacific protected by the Bush administration was a good start, but a lot more is needed. Some experts are even saying that 1/3 of the oceans should fall under a 20-year fishing ban. It's also a good way to save corals (which offer a home base to a huge number of species).
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