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Rising ocean temperatures harm protected coral reefs
Date:3/15/2012

Special conservation zones known as marine protected areas provide many direct benefits to fisheries and coral reefs.

However, such zones appear to offer limited help to corals in their battle against global warming, according to a new study.

To protect coral reefs from climate change, marine protected areas need to be complemented with policies that can meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions, researchers said.

The new study, published online recently in the journal Global Change Biology, was conducted by scientists from Conservation International, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To determine whether coral deaths caused by ocean warming were lower inside marine protected areas, researchers combined more than 8,000 coral reef surveys performed by divers with satellite measurements of ocean surface temperatures.

"Although marine protected areas could help coral populations recover from temperature-induced mortality in particular situations, this does not appear to be an effective general solution," said study author John Bruno, Ph.D., associate professor of biology in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

Elizabeth Selig, Ph.D., conservation scientist with Conservation International and the study's lead author, said corals living in marine protected areas can be just as susceptible to ocean warming as their unprotected neighbors.

"Marine protected areas (MPAs) can protect coral reefs from localized problems, particularly overfishing and terrestrial run-off," said Selig, who led the study as part of her dissertation in Bruno's lab at UNC. "However, the magnitude of losses from increased ocean temperatures as a result of climate change seems to be overwhelming these positive effects. This paper suggests that we need to rethink our current planning for MPAs in order to maximize the benefits they can provide."


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Contact: Patric Lane
patric_lane@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert

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