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Keep watching the seas

nz main.jpgMarine reserves can trigger a startling comeback for key species in just a matter of years.

Data from New Zealand’s reserves shows that species such as blue cod and rock lobsters get bigger and more abundant in reserves, Jonathan Gardner told a meeting at the Zoological Society of London yesterday.

While there are losers as well as winners – those bigger cod are going to eat a lot more of their prey after all – marine protected areas (MPAs) undoubtedly deliver lasting conservation benefits, says Gardner, a researcher at Victoria University of Wellington who has been visiting Britain as an NZ-UK Link Foundation visiting professor.

“Systems can respond often within two to three years,” he told the meeting. “If we don’t have good monitoring in place we won’t pick up these early gains.”

Good science underpinning the monitoring will allow the impact of such reserves to be established, which can in tern help sell the public on the not-insignificant costs of MPAs, he adds.

The rise of MPAs is discussed in a feature in Nature out this week, and the need for proper science and funding also features in a related editorial. With New Zealand’s nearest neighbour Australia also pushing forward with new huge MPAs, expect the topic to maintain a high profile for some time in conservation circles.

Indeed, the numbers in that feature may soon need updating again. Yesterday The Times announced that it had got wind of a proposed protected zone around the British island of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic (subscription required). Although the suggestion is already raising the hackles of Argentina – which has a long standing dispute with the UK over sovereignty in the region – it could be a new record holder for marine reserve size at over one million square kilometres.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that the government of South Georgia would have to make any announcement on the potential MPA, but that, “We would support moves which preserve the rich biodiversity of the Islands, which is a habitat for seven species of globally threatened seabirds.”

Image: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

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