How Mobile Marine Reserves Could Save the Seas

Ronald Eliassen Hole/CC BY 2.0

With climate change, habitat destruction, and other factors keeping animals on the move in search of more hospitable homes, deciding where to designate protected areas becomes tricky. But what if these areas could move along with their inhabitants?

Advances in satellite imaging and GPS tagging of species make this possible, at least in the marine environment, scientists said at a recent summit in Vancouver.

Mobile marine reserves "could provide safe havens for endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles, albatrosses, sharks and other traveling species, and sea life that is abandoning its historic territories in response to climate change," The Guardian reported in an article about the proposal.

Angell Williams/CC BY 2.0
Sea turtles are among the marine creatures that travel great distances.

The areas designated as no-trawling zones would be identified based on the presence of conditions conducive to marine life and could change based on seasonal migrations, ocean currents, and weather systems like El Niño, the paper wrote:

"The stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most of the fish, turtles, sharks and seabirds," said Larry Crowder, science director at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. "We think of protected areas as places that are locked down on a map. But places in oceans are not locked down, they move."

Supporters say the flexibility of the approach could also benefit fishermen because it doesn't keep them permanently out of certain geographic locations. The idea also jibes with previous research showing that small interconnected networks of marine reserves are more effective than single large no-go areas because they better reflect patterns of ocean life and reduce the possibility of a backlash from disgruntled fishermen.

Tags: Animals | Endangered Species | Oceans | Sharks | Turtles