SAN FRANCISCO - One part of a new Google Earth feature that was announced today, Ocean in Google Earth, will highlight marine reserves - one of the most promising approaches to conserving biodiversity, restoring decimated fish populations and other marine species, and bringing significant parts of the world's oceans back to health.
The newest version of Google Earth, which enables users to dive beneath the surface of the sea and explore the world's oceans, was revealed today at an event in San Francisco and is available for download at http://earth.google.com/ocean/.
Through it, people around the world will now be able to see the locations of marine reserves, which are a type of marine area that is fully protected and classified as a "no-take" zone. Users can also follow links at these sites to easily learn more about the science of marine reserves and their value and limitations, obtain large amounts of data and see colorful animated illustrations of how marine reserves are protecting ocean ecosystems.
"This is an unparalleled opportunity to share this wealth of information about marine reserves with huge numbers of Google Earth users," said Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, a faculty research assistant at Oregon State University and marine reserve science coordinator for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, or PISCO. "To have all of this available to a diverse and global audience is what scientists dream of."
Viewers will be able to take a trip beneath the sea, possibly at a marine reserve near them, and learn how fish, plant life and other marine species are doing, and easily compare the present to the past, before the reserve was established. The animations are based on sound science from peer-reviewed publications - many of which are recent, as research on this topic has exploded in the last few years.
"The number of peer-reviewed studies on marine reserves has doubled in the past decade," Grorud-Colvert said. "We know so much more now than we did even a few years ago, and it's very rewarding to be able to provide that information to the public in a novel, interesting and colorful format."
The new Ocean in Google Earth feature also contains content from Protect Planet Ocean, a web site that is coordinated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and found at http://www.protectplanetocean.org/.
Information about marine reserve success stories, and lessons learned, was provided by PISCO in a project led by researchers at OSU and the University of California/Santa Barbara, which compiled scientific information about reserves from around the world.
Ocean in Google Earth has animation and details on five marine reserves or reserve networks, located at the Channel Islands in California, the Dry Tortugas in Florida, Apo Island and Sumilon Island in the Philippines, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. To tour these sites, visit http://www.piscoweb.org/ocean_in_earth. Additional sites will be added in the next few months. When complete, they will have information on 124 reserves from around the world. Thirteen additional in-depth case studies are hosted on Protect Planet Ocean.
Much of the marine reserves content for Ocean in Google Earth reflects findings from a two-year project just completed by PISCO, done with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Fully protected marine reserves are permanently protected from any extractive or destructive activities such as fishing, aquaculture, dredging or mining, but usually allow recreational activities such as swimming, boating and scuba diving.
"There have historically been a lot of unknowns and wild assertions about marine reserves," Grorud-Colvert said. "Some people argued they would solve every problem we have in our oceans, others suggested they were useless. Some insisted they might work in tropical waters but not temperate zones, or were needed only in places with no fisheries management. There were just a lot of questions.
"The new synthesis of studies from global oceans provides useful, credible information to clarify just what is known or not known."
Among the findings about marine reserves that have emerged in recent years:
• The positive effects of reserves are similar in both temperate and tropical ocean zones;
• The marine species that respond the most to protection are often those that have been most heavily fished;
• In marine reserves, fish are growing older and much larger, and often as a result have a hugely higher reproductive potential;
• Not all species are responding at the same rate - some changes happen quickly and then level off, while other species are still changing after 35 years;
• Reserves help to re-establish normal interactions between species, including important predator and prey relationships;
• Marine reserves are much more effective in protecting or recovering key species than marine protected areas that provide only partial protection;
• On average, marine reserves around the world result in a large increase in marine populations, body size and density - a greater than 400 percent increase on average in biomass, average density increases of more than 150 percent, average body size more than 25 percent and average overall biodiversity more than 20 percent;
• Marine reserves alone cannot address such larger issues as pollution, climate change or overfishing.
"In one California reserve, for example, lobsters were heavily fished before the marine reserve was established," Grorud-Colvert said. "But lobsters were part of what controlled populations of sea urchins. With less control on the sea urchins, they took over and were ravaging the kelp forests, with severe impacts on hundreds of other species that depend on the kelp, including lobsters.
"This is the type of thing you often get when a key predator is removed," she said. "Following establishment of the marine reserve and increases in the number of lobsters, we're now seeing strong recovery throughout the ecosystem."
There are about 4,500 marine protected areas with varying protection levels around the world in 45 nations, providing some type of restrictions on about 0.6 percent of the world's oceans. The fully protected marine reserves protect less than 0.01 percent of the oceans. Most reserves are quite small.
More information on marine reserves can also be found at the PISCO web site, at http://www.piscoweb.org/outreach/pubs/reserves. At that same site, people can also obtain either an electronic or printed copy, for free, of a new, 20-page booklet on the science of marine reserves, available in both English and Spanish.
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