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News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Researchers Find Resilience Inside Marine Reserves

Posted On July 27, 2012 by

After a die-off, pink abalone populations inside of the Isla Natividad marine reserve in Mexico bounced back faster than abalone outside of the marine reserve. Credit: Channel Islands NMS

An exciting new study of pink abalone in Isla Natividad, Mexico sheds light on the ability of marine reserves to make the ocean more resilient to disasters.

Scientists from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station teamed up with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad to study a patch of ocean that was hard hit by two large die-offs related to recent hypoxic events, periods of low dissolved oxygen in the water. They compared fished areas to nearby marine reserves, with startling results:

“The study revealed that after a mass mortality of marine life in the waters off Baja California, Mexico, egg production of pink abalones in the marine reserves increased 40 percent while being cut in half in fished areas…a significant amount of larvae spilled over into unprotected areas open to fishing, which helped them rebound more quickly.”

So, not only did the marine reserve help the recovery of abalone inside the reserve, it helped abalone outside the reserve as well. Marine reserves provide a refuge for species to grow larger, and more abundant.  This proved crucial to the ability of the abalone population to recover from the die-off:

“Both the large size of the protected abalones and the population density were key to resilience,” noted (Stanford Professor Fiorenza) Micheli. “Marine reserves are vital to jumpstart the recovery of species following a mass mortality.”

While scientists have recommended marine reserves to communities looking to protect future reserves of fish, their ability to help ecosystems recover from disasters has been less well understood – which makes this study truly groundbreaking.

Ocean Conservancy has successfully advocated for marine protected areas in Florida, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and California. Check out a slide show of diving opportunities inside of California’s marine protected areas.