Part of our goal at the Marine Conservation Institute is to identify key marine areas to protect. Marine scientists often address the question, which ocean area will give you the greatest bang for your buck by protecting? In other words, where do we put a Marine Protected Area to save the greatest amount of marine life? While we continue to work out this question for our oceans, scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico are trying to answer this question for marine mammals.
In a study recently published by PNAS, a team led by Sandra Pompa identified 20 marine mammal hotspots, where they believe marine mammal conservation efforts should be focused. They determined these locations using a grid system, where they broke the world's oceans into 10,000 square boxes and then examined relevant content in each box, such as marine mammal species present, important feedings grounds and migration routes present, and local human impacts.
Of the 20 sites they identified, the following 11 are said to be "irreplaceable" for they are home to unique endemic species:
- Hawaiian Islands
- Galapagos Islands
- Amazon River
- San Felix and Juan Fernandez Islands (Chile)
- Mediterranean Sea
- Caspian Sea
- Lake Baikal (Russia)
- Yangtze River
- Indus River
- Ganges River
- Kerguelen Islands (Indian Ocean)
The remaining 9 sites, chosen for their species richness (they contain 84% of all marine mammal species), are found along the coasts of Baja California, the eastern Americas, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The team also mentioned two marine mammals found within these sites that are likely to be the next to go extinct, the Vaquita Porpoise and the Baikal Seal.
In order to make smart conservation decisions, we need a wealth of information. Pompa's team has gathered data that will be useful as a decision tool for effective conservation of marine mammals and the ecosystems in which they are found.