Climate Smart MPAs
Developing the evidence-base to support 'climate smart' decision-making around Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
The importance of finding solutions to tackle climate change is becoming an increasing political priority. However, aside from key interventions to take steps to reduce overall carbon budgets, options for policy makers to respond are limited. One emerging area of focus is emphasising "nature-based solutions"; utilising the knowledge on ecosystems and the services they provide to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The UK Marine Protected Area (MPA) network has been established to protect the range of marine biodiversity in the UK. An effectively managed MPA network has the potential to support mitigation against the impacts of climate change by virtue of the services that 'healthy' marine ecosystems provide, such as the sequestration or 'locking up' of atmospheric carbon in seagrass beds or the coastal protection service that sandbanks provide against predicted increases in storm surges.
JNCC has been working with Defra and the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom to undertake a project to start to build the evidence-base to support climate smart decision-making around MPAs. The project aims to build the evidence-base underpinning which MPA protected features may be at most risk from the effects of climate change, and their functional role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. An evidence-based approach was first used to prioritise MPA protected features in Secretary of State waters at highest risk from climate change pressures. In parallel, the role of protected features in climate regulation or mitigation of impacts assocated with climate change was reviewed and MPAs that contribute to these ecosystem services identified. The sensitivity of high-priority MPA protected features to climate-related pressures were assessed and results are presented on the Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN) website. To help communicate the impacts and the role of MPAs in mitigating against climate change, climate profile report cards for two study MPAs (Studland Bay and The Canyons) have been prepared and will be available shortly.
The evidence base from this project suggested that two main ecosystem services – coastal protection and carbon sequestration (capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere) – are provided by UK MPA protected features in relation to supporting the mitigation of climate change impacts. However, the high sensitivities of these protected features to climate change impacts could result in the loss of biodiversity, reducing the services they provide and the ability to support the mitigation of climate change impacts. Therefore, MPAs can play a vital role in best ensuring that protected features remain in good condition and continue to function well, enhancing their resilience to the impacts associated with climate change.
Further work and communications on the role that MPAs may play in climate change adaptation and mitigation is needed to enhance our understanding and support the evidence base used to inform future management of the marine environment.