"The high seas are the least protected places on this planet ?a region where legal and pirate fishers rub shoulders in the pursuit of big fish and even bigger profits," says Callum Roberts of the University of York in the United Kingdom. "Conservationists are fighting to place some areas off limits to fishing. This study provides welcome advice on the best places to put them."
Some have doubted that marine reserves on the high seas would work because the big fish travel such great distances, but the new Science paper shows there are indeed consistent areas in which to prioritize conservation efforts. Overlaying detailed information on animal movements and shifts in local oceanographic habitats will help refine actual boundaries for marine parks.
Scientists hope that the global perspective provided by this paper will encourage fisheries managers to move out of a single species and single location mindset, addressing management decisions in a larger context that recognizes our cumulative and rapid impact on the ocean system.
The good news, say these scientists, is that there is hope for the future. The key pieces of the global biodiversity puzzle are still out there, including the physical structures upon which the big fish congregate. There are still a few remaining in formerly productive areas. If we allow these predators some reprieve, we could rebuild some of the lost biodiversity.
"Our paper suggests there is a solution ?while some hotspots have already disappeared, there are still some very special places where species concentrate," says Worm. "We have the chance and the political measures to protect some of these areas. To me, it's the most important thing in the world right now ?to keep as many pieces of the puzzle as we can before we destroy it."