“We should’ve known,” said John Bruno, “but we really didn’t.”
Bruno is a professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina. Recently, he and his colleagues asked a simple question: If scientists know that climate change will alter national parks on land, how will it affect the thousands of national parks and conservation areas around the world that are underwater? The answer, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, shocked him.
But first: Yes, there are thousands of underwater national parks. In the last few decades, conservationists have rushed to protect biodiversity in the oceans. Governments have established more than 8,000 marine protected areas, or MPAs, worldwide. These protected areas include world-famous wonders—there are MPAs for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Galápagos Islands—but many of them also surround the United States. During his second term, President Barack Obama protected more than 750,000 square miles of ocean, expanding several national monuments created by his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
These conservation areas are supposed to act as refuges, shielding animals and plants from human exploitation of the environment. But Bruno and his colleagues found that they cannot protect underwater life from environmental problems that are truly global. The world’s 8,236 marine protected areas remain intensely vulnerable to climate change, their research found.