Where Is Ocean Biodiversity Most At Risk?

Where Is Ocean Biodiversity Most At Risk?New research provides an overview of where ocean biodiversity is most at risk, and how that compares with protected areas.

The results present the first comprehensive map of risks to biodiversity in the ocean.

Roughly 1 million plant and animal species face extinction, according to a multinational study by a United Nations-backed panel. But where are these species concentrated, and which regions are most vulnerable?

“The idea was to look at the measure of extinction risk at an ecosystem level, and see how it varies across the globe, across all the oceans,” says Casey O’Hara, a doctoral student at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “And then we asked, ‘How does that compare to where we put marine protections?'”

The global biodiversity picture

O’Hara and his colleagues combined range and extinction risk data for 5,291 marine species on the Red List of Threatened Species, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) curates, to map the average conservation status of marine biodiversity. The IUCN systematically assesses species and classifies their risk of extinction as “least concern,” “near threatened,” or “threatened.” The last category includes “vulnerable,” “endangered,” and “critically endangered.”

The team averaged the conservation status of all the species they looked at in an area and sorted their results by region, country, habitat type, and taxonomic group. They also did this while weighting the averages by species’ ranges, which emphasized the status of those rare and endemic.

In 83 percent of the ocean, at least a quarter of the species are threatened.

“Basically, I was trying to collect as much information as I could, from as many different species as I could, to map out the global state of marine biodiversity,” O’Hara says.

He found that barely 0.1 percent of the ocean was truly at least concern for extinction. In 83 percent of the ocean, at least a quarter of the species are threatened. Regions like the Mediterranean and Black seas showed the highest risks to biodiversity, the study reports.

When the team compared risks between protected and unprotected areas, they found that, on a global scale, protected areas show similar levels of risk to what’s found in unprotected areas. However, subtleties emerged when the researchers broke these results down into different regions of the oceans.

The difference between risks in protected and unprotected regions is particularly stark on the high seas. On average, high seas ecosystems are near threatened, but protection covers mostly healthy areas of the Southern Ocean, O’Hara explains.

“It’s a lot less politically and economically costly to protect areas that are far away from human activity,” he says. “So if you see something like this there’s a risk that these are merely paper parks, where you’re not really protecting an area from human activity because nobody’s using it.”

Where Is Ocean Biodiversity Most At Risk?(Top) O’Hara averaged the extinction risk across species in a given region to see where biodiversity was most at risk. (Bottom) He also weighted the results by species’ range size to emphasize the status of rare species and those with tight ranges. (Credit: Casey O’Hara)

It’s hard to tell from the results whether something is a paper park or not, “but the study could give you an idea about where to dig a little bit more to find out,” he adds.

Asia and North America have lots of protection in highly impacted areas. This may present an opportunity for countries in these regions to maintain the health of less degraded areas at fairly low cost. “You’re less likely to be taking those areas out of active use, so it just might indicate some opportunities for proactive protection,” O’Hara says.

Two conservation strategies

The results highlight two major strategies when it comes to conservation: proactive and reactive protection. The former aims to preserve healthy systems, while the latter is meant to allow degraded systems to heal. Both serve important roles by filling different conservation needs.

O’Hara and his advisor, Ben Halpern, a professor at the Bren School and director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, are currently working on a study comparing where species are threatened to the distribution of human impacts. This follows up on two reports Halpern released in 2008 and 2015. The new research will draw on O’Hara’s results and look at correlations on a species-by-species basis.

For instance, if conservationists know a certain fish faces risks from bottom trawling, the new study might look where in the ocean this species exists and compare that to where bottom trawling occurs. “This way we can get a finer resolution of where the threats are happening and where the species that are threatened by those occur,” O’Hara says. Once you find the overlap you see the risks.

These studies help identify places where conservation efforts can have a big impact, and O’Hara hopes they inform the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, an international agreement set to be negotiated next year.

“Biodiversity is actually a complicated collection of ideas,” O’Hara says. “The metrics we usually use don’t take into account conservation status. So what we’re doing is adding the IUCN conservation status into the mix, which provides an additional filter for looking at biodiversity.”

The research appears in Conservation Letters.

Source: UC Santa Barbara

Related Books

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

by Mark W. Moffett
0465055680If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.



follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email



PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
PBS Nova's Polar Extremes
by PBS
In this two-hour special, renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar…
A huge iceberg just broke off West Antarctica’s most endangered glacier
A Huge Iceberg Just Broke Off West Antarctica’s Most Endangered Glacier
by Madeleine Stone
Huge blocks of ice regularly shear away from Antarctica’s ice shelves, but the losses are speeding up.
The Rise Of Solar Power
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.


Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
Extreme Weather Could Push The U.S. Into Recession
by Karen Nikos
Physical climate risk from extreme weather events remains unaccounted for in financial markets, a new paper warns.
Why West Coast Water Troubles Will Head East
Why West Coast Water Troubles Will Head East
by Daniel Stolte
Even under modest climate change scenarios, the continental United States faces a significant loss of groundwater, a…
Ecuador's Fuel Protests Show The Risks Of Removing Fossil Fuel Subsidies Too Fast
Ecuador's Fuel Protests Show The Risks Of Removing Fossil Fuel Subsidies Too Fast
by Katherine Monahan
The protests started on Oct. 2 in response to the federal government’s “Decreto 883,” a packet of economic adjustments…
Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods
by Robert Wilby and Simon Dadson
As large swathes of the UK endure the worst floods in living memory, hearts and minds are rightly focused on protecting…
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
Keeping The City Cool Isn't Just About Tree Cover – It Calls For A Commons-based Climate Response
by Abby Mellick Lopes and Cameron Tonkinwise
A recent report by the Greater Sydney Commission singles out urban heat as one of four priority areas given our coming…
Low Flammability Plants Could Help Our Homes Survive Bushfires
Low Flammability Plants Could Help Our Homes Survive Wildfires
by Tim Curran, et al
Destructive wildfires are becoming more common in many parts of the world and are predicted to worsen with climate…
Carbon Pricing May Be Overrated, If History Is Any Indication
Carbon Pricing May Be Overrated, If History Is Any Indication
by Cameron Roberts
A common demand in discussions about climate change is to respect the science. This is appropriate. We should all be…
Here Are 5 Practical Ways Trees Can Help Us Survive Climate Change
Here Are 5 Practical Ways Trees Can Help Us Survive Climate Change
by Gregory Moore
As the brutal reality of climate change dawned this summer, you may have asked yourself a hard question: am I…