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Researchers map out where ocean conservation would be most impactful

Marine conservation is critical for ocean health and the continued survival of marine species, but when it comes to protecting our oceans, some regions pack a bigger conservation punch than others. A new study from the University of California, Santa Barbara has mapped out which areas of the ocean, if protected, would offer the most benefits in terms of species protection and climate change mitigation. 

To come to their conclusion, the researchers studied the unprotected regions of the ocean using an algorithm focused on three factors: biodiversity protection, seafood production, and climate mitigation. They used these metrics to map out where conservation measures would have the most impact.

Previous studies have determined that at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans must be protected to preserve marine health and corresponding benefits for our world. This study expands on that and finds that if that 30 percent overlapped with these mapped out regions, 80 percent of marine species would be protected, the fishing catch would increase by more than 8 million metric tons, and more than one billion tons of carbon dioxide would be prevented from entering the atmosphere. 

A majority of the identified regions lie within 200 miles of coastlines, meaning they could be regulated by those countries which they border. The remainder would have to be protected with international agreements. Within the identified areas, the most widely cited protection needed is fishing regulations. Overfishing has depleted certain populations to the verge of extinction, but if conservation measures are enacted, populations will bounce back so fishing can continue in a stable manner for generations. 

This study emphasizes that targeted and strategic conservation can protect our oceans and the species that rely on them while also slowing climate change and stabilizing the ocean-based resources we depend on for food. The researchers hope this map will offer a blueprint for countries looking for a place to start on ocean conservation. Study coauthor Darcy Bradley says, “Our approach is a way to bring multiple stakeholders to the table, to show that their interests can be prioritized, and ultimately to demonstrate that solutions that protect large ocean areas and benefit multiple simultaneous objectives exist.”

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