Report: Ocean protections can help marine life bounce back

Media Contacts

Channel Islands Marine Reserves highlighted as example of long-term benefits of marine protected areas

Environment California Research and Policy Center

Los Angeles, California. — California’s own Channel Islands Marine Reserves are an example of ocean protection done right, according to a new report released Thursday by Environment California Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. Entitled New Life for the Ocean: How Marine Protections Keep Our Waters Wild, the report highlights how ocean habitats that are protected from destructive human activities, like the Channel Islands Marine Reserves, can help restore and protect ocean wildlife. 

“From sea otters to humpback whales, the iconic marine life that swims off our shores is an important part of our identity. Keeping our ocean ecosystems healthy is incredibly important,” said Caro Fett, Oceans Associate for Environment California Research & Policy Center. “That’s why the findings of this report are so significant–it highlights that not only do we have the tools to protect and restore our oceans, we already have a successful example of this type of protection in our own backyard.” 

Coming on the heels of President Biden’s executive order last Wednesday that set the national goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, the report looks at the Channel Islands Marine Reserves alongside five other highly- to fully-protected marine areas. The report found that within a decade of implementing this network of fully protected zones within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, there was an 80 percent increase in marine life in the protected zones. 

In reviewing the series of recent case studies from all six marine protected areas (MPAs), the report finds that highly- to fully-protected marine areas–safe from all or most destructive human activities — nurture and increase biodiversity, boosting overall ecosystem health. Well-designed and long-lasting protections also increase the abundance and biomass of marine life, while helping mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

Other findings from the report include: 

  • Dry Tortugas National Park and Ecological Reserve, Fla. Located at an “ecological crossroads” in the Gulf of Mexico, this area has seen an increase in certain species of fish gathering to spawn. This has helped replenish reef fish populations across the continental U.S.’s only barrier coral reef.

  • Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Hawaii. America’s largest marine national monument has helped rescue the endangered green turtle and Laysan duck from the brink of extinction and nurtured other thriving populations that have experienced massive population die-offs elsewhere.

  • Cabo Pulmo, Mexico. In one of the world’s greatest marine protection success stories, safeguards to this area enabled a reef to recover from near-total destruction caused by aggressive over-fishing. 

  • Great Barrier Reef no-take marine reserves, Australia. Protections have made reefs in areas where fishing is prohibited better able to rebound from coral bleaching, storms and coral disease than those in nearby areas with weaker protections. They also have  led to greater diversity, density and abundance of fish species.

  • Edmonds Underwater Park, Wash. An artificial underwater habitat located in Puget Sound, this area has succeeded in restoring depleted local fish populations, such as the copper rockfish, which is 15 times more abundant in Edmonds than in unprotected areas of the Puget Sound.

The findings of the report also add to the mounting evidence that we need to take bolder action to protect ocean habitats. Alongside implementing sustainable fisheries management practices and making efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, governments at all levels should commit to protecting 30 percent of ocean habitats by 2030. 

“We’ve taken too much from the oceans, and put too much pollution back in. It’s time to give our oceans a chance to recover,” said Kelsey Lamp, Protect Our Oceans campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center and co-author of the report. “Restoring our broken ocean ecosystems starts with protection.” 

Along with the report, the group created an “underwater hike” for those looking to virtually experience the marine protected areas highlighted in the report.

“For more than a century, our country has embraced the concept of wildlife refuges — spaces set aside to ensure healthy and vibrant wildlife populations,” said Fett. “This report makes it clear that setting aside critical ocean habitats is also a key component of this conservation legacy — that being good stewards of our seas starts with protecting our most vulnerable and amazing life under the waves.”