Evidence That Marine Reserves Enhance Resilience to Climatic Impacts
Establishment of marine protected areas, including fully protected marine reserves, is one of the few management tools available for local communities to combat the deleterious effect of large scale environmental impacts, including global climate change, on ocean ecosystems. Despite the common hope that reserves play this role, empirical evidence of the effectiveness of local protection against global problems is lacking.
Here we show that marine reserves increase the resilience of marine populations to a mass mortality event possibly caused by climate-driven hypoxia. Despite high and widespread adult mortality of benthic invertebrates in Baja California, Mexico, that affected populations both within and outside marine reserves, juvenile replenishment of the species that supports local economies, the pink abalone Haliotis corrugata, remained stable within reserves because of large body size and high egg production of the protected adults.
Thus, local protection provided resilience through greater resistance and faster recovery of protected populations. Moreover, this benefit extended to adjacent unprotected areas through larval spillover across the edges of the reserves.
While climate change mitigation is being debated, coastal communities have few tools to slow down negative impacts of global environmental shifts. These results show that marine protected areas can provide such protection.