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By David Shiffman
These related species — which, along with chimaeras, are known collectively as chondrichthyans — include some of the most threatened marine fishes in the world. Sharks and rays face a variety of threats depending on where they live and swim, but the biggest risk comes from overfishing, which takes a noticeable toll on these slow-growing, slow-to-reproduce animals. As a result, nearly 1 in 4 species of chondricthyan fishes is estimated to be, or assessed as, threatened, according to the IUCN Red List.
To fight this threat, nations have increasingly turned to a popular policy tool called a marine protected area — a part of the ocean where fishing is restricted or banned entirely. Between 2016 and 2018 the total area of ocean designated as MPAs to protect sharks and rays doubled to more than 8.1 million square miles.
However, not all MPAs are created equal. Some ban all fishing, while some only ban certain types of fishing gear. Some are focused on a particular habitat, while others are enormous and aim to protect a large ocean area. Many actually fail to protect the ocean, often because of preventable problems that occurred when they were being designated.
"There may be a lot of shark- and ray-focused MPAs, but very few of them have been demonstrated to be effective," said marine scientist Cassandra Rigby of James Cook University.
The MPAs that succeed, on the other hand, tend to have a few things in common, according to a paper published last year. Researchers found that sites that were most likely to accomplish their biological goals of protecting the ocean also include socioeconomic goals and incorporate stakeholder input.
Sand tiger shark
Now conservationists hope to replicate what we know about those successes and take future efforts to the next level. Last month the World Wide Fund for Nature and James Cook University published a new handbook called "A Practical Guide to the Effective Design and Management of MPAs for Sharks and Rays" which summarizes the science about what works — and what doesn't — and provides tips and tricks for future decision makers who want to get this right.
What Makes an MPA Effective for Sharks?
The authors found that in general it takes a lot of time, planning, engagement and consideration of stakeholders like fishermen, who may lose their source of income and food security if an MPA doesn't provide an alternative livelihood.
Rigby, the guide's lead author, explains that effective MPAs also need "committed and sufficient resources," which can include scientific research, government monitoring and enforcement, expert scientific advice, stakeholder outreach, and, of course, the money to pay for it all.
Without that commitment, Rigby warns, MPAs could become "paper parks" — protected sites that exist on maps but don't actually do anything to reduce threats to sharks and rays.
In addition, Rigby said, MPAs "should be designed to meet the goals using the most relevant available science on movement, biology and habitat use." She says easily accessible information for a wide range of shark and ray species is available to help make this planning possible.
Blacktip reef shark
Mark Nadon / NOAA
Finally, it's important to regularly check in and see how an MPA is doing through monitoring and adaptive management. "There should be ongoing evaluation of the MPA to ensure it is accomplishing its goals," Rigby said.
Although the guide is specifically aimed at shark conservation, it offers tools that have a broad application. As experts point out, a properly executed MPA can be a highly effective way to conserve a wide range of marine life, including apex predators such as sharks, which help ensure a healthy ecosystem.
"MPAs that are strategically placed, well-resourced and highly protected from human impact can help protect areas of biodiversity and habitat critical to buffering our oceans from the effects of global climate change," said conservation scientist Beth Pike, who manages the Atlas of Marine Protection and was not involved with the new guide.
What Doesn't Work?
Shark and ray MPAs that don't succeed in their goals tend to repeat the same mistakes. According to the guide, some MPAs don't even have stated goals, making it impossible to measure success. Sometimes they don't incorporate the best available science — for example, an area designed to protect a species isn't particularly useful if the species isn't actually found there.
In addition, many MPAs are designated through a top-down, heavy-handed approach, without first building support from local communities affected by a fisheries' closure. This can lead to higher levels of illegal fishing if community members feel disenfranchised by the process.
But the most common problem identified by the new guide is when governments announce a new protected area without actually putting in the work to ensure it succeeds.
"Designation of MPAs without the commitment of adequate resources can lead to poor planning, lack of engagement of the local communities, and then relying on enforcement to achieving compliance," Rigby said. "This is not realistically achievable in many of the developing countries with large shark and ray MPAs, where the ocean area is larger than the land area."
Here's something else that doesn't work: banning all shark and ray fishing.
According to the guide and experts interviewed for this article, the best available science says that we shouldn't flat out ban all fishing in MPAs or other areas except in cases where specific species are in need of recovery in a given habitat. While unsustainable fishing is common, sustainable shark fisheries exist and serve as important sources of employment and food. In many cases we can stop unsustainable fishing without banning all fishing — and in the process build support for future conservation efforts.
In particular, many small island nations don't have the resources to patrol and enforce huge no-fishing zones, making it all the more important to get fishermen to support the new rules. "Fishers might be supportive of a much larger area where controls on catching sharks aim to achieve sustainability than they would a no-take zone," explained Andy Cornish, a coauthor on the guide and leader of WWF's shark and ray initiative.
White cheek sharks slaughtered for the illegal shark fin trade.
Rigby and Cornish say they're optimistic that their new guide will help future shark- and ray-focused MPAs get it right from the start and also help to improve existing MPAs. They hope it will be read by environmental activists and concerned citizens pushing for new marine protected areas, as well as by decision-makers who create and implement the programs and sites.
With so many shark and ray species at risk of extinction, the authors suggest that implementing new MPAs and fixing existing ones could be the most effective tool to protect these ecologically important predators. And that, in turn, could help all marine species — and human stakeholders — gain the edge they need to survive for decades to come.
Shark Fishing Tournaments Devalue Ocean Wildlife and Harm Marine Conservation Efforts https://t.co/mCgWWF9T9H— TheRightBlue (@therightblue) January 2, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.