Between 17 and 24 February 2019 a scientific workshop was held at the Fundacion San Ignacio del Huinay, where scientists from Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Scotland and Canada came together to support and discuss how they can in their individual fields contribute to the study of climate change and it’s impacts on marine life worldwide. Dr. Graham Edgar and Dr. Mark Costello, conducted as part of two larger projects that encompass both global climate change and the status of marine protected areas worldwide, led the workshop.
The main objective of this group is to discover how high sea temperatures are affecting reef species, specifically concerning the consequences of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. IPCC reports (2018) indicate that between 2030 and 2052 the world will have an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperature levels. More than 93% of this heat generated by the emission of effective greenhouse gases has been absorbed by the sea (IUCN 2017). It is estimated that the average sea temperature will increase between 1 and 4 degrees by the year 2100. Due to this increase in sea temperature, it is predicted that there will be a loss of between 70-90% of the biodiversity of the world’s coral reefs (IPCC 2018). Additionally, this increase in temperature affects fish, birds and mammals, as the loss of breeding areas intensifies, mortalities increase and species migrations increase (IUCN 2017).
One of the purposes of the workshop was to conduct dives in different points of the fjord, transects in sites originally visited in 2012, to corroborate the effects of the multiple use Marine Protected Area of the Fundacion San Ignacio del Huinay on biodiversity conservation, which was part of the network of the global Reef Life Survey. This Reef Life Survey (RLS) is a global citizen science program that monitors marine biodiversity. The results of the original survey was published in the highly respected scientific journal ‘Nature’ as part of a global study on the effectiveness of marine protected areas worldwide. Conclusions were that at least four out of five requirements must be met for marine protected areas to have a significant impact on biodiversity conservation, compared to unprotected marine areas. The five requirements are: that it be an area without properly applied exploitation, larger than 100 square km, approximately 10 years old, and that the area should be isolated by deep water or sand.
After the dives in the protected area. What were the conclusions or impressions of international
Dr. Graham Edgar of the University of Tasmania, leader of this research group referred to what he saw during the visit on his dives, “I saw no indicator of conservation benefits made by the marine protected area”. He exposes “Human activities have had a negative impact on the fjord ecosystem since my visit six years ago. There is a lot of garbage from aquaculture and artisanal fishing, which is already distributed on the bottom of the sea and plastics on the shores. The abundance of deep-water coral species also seems to be declining. The marine protected area does not seem to be respected so it [the designation as an MPA] has produced little or no advantage that I could see.” However, Dr. Edgar said he remains fascinated by the unique marine life found in the region,” including many species normally limited to deep waters. They haven’t changed much since the dinosaur era!”
What are the challenges posed after the visit of this group of scientists?
The challenges posed corresponded to the true effectiveness of the marine protected area of San Ignacio del Huinay. Unfortunately, according to the study by Dr. Edgar and various scientists, this particular MPA is considered ineffective. Reasons for this include the allowance of artisanal fishing, the cultivation of shellfish and salmon within the boundaries of the area. Ideally, to have a significant impact on biodiversity conservation the area should be one of no exploitation or a ‘no-take’ area. Additionally, the size of the San Ignacio del Huinay MPA is only 4.15 sq km (significantly less than the 100 sq km proposed for minimal biodiversity conservation benefit) and finally, the MPA is not isolatedto boat traffic. Nonetheless, all these activities are with the permission of the law, since the designation of this marine protected area is for multiple uses. As a conclusion, it is questionable whether the designation of protected areas as multiple-use are really worth it?