'Mobile marine reserves' will help protect endangered species

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Scientists in the US have come up with radical new plans to protect marine animals unintentionally caught as by-catch by fishermen.

Researchers from Stanford University in California suggest that marine protected reserves would work much better if they were moveable and not fixed conservation areas based around static points such as coral reefs and seamounts.

The proposed conservation zones, which have come about as a result of various studies using satellite and tagging technology, would not impose fishing restrictions in one place, but would shift location according to where threatened species were expected to be found: thus taking into account the mobile nature of marine life.

Many scientists believe that the existing marine protection areas (MPA) system, where fishing is controlled to enable wildlife to recover, frequently fail to work as the endangered animals migrate to unprotected regions where they get caught anyway.

This is believed to be the main reason that populations of Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles, both critically endangered, have slumped dramatically in recent years as commercial fishing with nets and extremely long fishing lines has become more intense.

A mobile system where areas are monitored by satellite would enable endangered species to recover whilst allowing fishermen to fish other areas of the oceans.

Larry Crowder professor of marine biology at Stanford University is quoted saying: "Small, stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most fish, like the turtles and sharks and seabirds.

"You might say that the only way to achieve conservation of these kinds of organisms is to protect them everywhere in the ocean.

"But we don’t need to close the entire ocean; we only need to close the place where they are concentrated," he told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada.

He added that satellite imagery allows scientists to monitor areas where species are congregating, especially upwellings and convergence zones where two ocean currents meet. He suggested that the ideal place to start assessing this system would be the North Pacific convergence zone which moves 1000 miles a year from south of Hawaii to 1,000 miles north of it.

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