On a planet comprised of 71 percent water, 4 percent of that seems like a literal drop in the bucket, but research has shown that by simply protecting 4 percent of the world’s ocean in specific areas, we can rehabilitate marine mammal habitat and protect these species from extinction.
A study conducted by Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that nearly a quarter of the 129 species of marine mammals on the planet are facing extinction. Marine mammals include whales, dolphins, seals, and polar bears — necessary apex predators for a balanced marine ecosystem. Taking these top predators away causes the whole system to crumble.
Researchers made a composite of several maps that showed significant points of the study:
- How many species are present in an area
- How close to extinction a species is
- How many (if any) endemic species are present
This was the first time scientists were able to view a worldwide map showing all the data in one place. What they discovered was a possible solution to the continued endangerment of marine mammal survival.
Globally, 20 sites were pinpointed that were suitable for conservation due to characteristics of the area, like biodiversity. It was discovered that protecting just 9 of these sites would preserve habitat for more than 84 percent of marine mammals.
These 9 areas are “species rich,” with a total of 108 marine mammal species. This amounts to just 4 percent of the entire planet’s oceans. The other 11 sites are of equal importance for the number of endemic species each area holds. Once those are gone, they will be very unlikely to return.
The nine sites in question are located off the coasts of eastern Canada, Japan, northwestern and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Baja California Mexico, Argentina, and Peru. Researchers on the project looked at how local climate disruptions, pollution, and commercial shipping overlaps with the species richness, and found that 70 percent of the richness areas were located in regions with a high human impact.
This study is good news for marine mammals, because scientists have been able to pinpoint areas that are rich in life, and begin formulating a more specific plan for preserving them. Much of the guesswork is eliminated as a result of this study, and now it is just up to people to implement the systems to protect and rehabilitate our oceans.