10 Dec 2019 Story Oceans & seas

High priority activities identified for future marine biodiversity conservation

Marine scientists from China, Japan, Korea and Russia identified conservation of biological habitats, plankton species, and environmental DNA as one of the highest priorities for the Northwest Pacific region, as well as the deciding way to protect marine biodiversity. These priorities were thoroughly discussed at a meeting held in Chiba, Japan, in November 2019. The Northwest Pacific region is famous for its numerous biodiverse areas. At the same time, the dense population and large-scale industry in the Northwest Pacific Action Plan countries pose severe anthropogenic pressures on marine biodiversity. In 2017, the Special Monitoring and Coastal Environmental Assessment Regional Activity Centre of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan proposed to develop a Medium-Term Strategy for marine biodiversity conservation. After two years of consultations and active discussions with relevant partners, Northwest Pacific Action Plan countries’ experts have agreed on priority directions and concrete actions to be included in the strategy. Tidal flats and salt marshes are habitats that provide essential ecosystem services to many species. For instance, these areas are critical for migratory birds for feeding, resting and wintering. This fact explains why scientists of the region agreed to map tidal flats and salt marshes separately from seagrass and seaweed meadows, as they have been doing for the past few years. They will develop a separate distribution map of these habitats for the entire region. The map will help to assess more precisely the anthropogenic causes of the deterioration of the coastal habitats and will contribute to the conservation efforts on endangered migratory birds. Another adverse impact is regular harmful algal blooms causing massive damage to fisheries and aquaculture in the Northwest Pacific region. Recent reports show that non-indigenous species, including red tide causative algae, invaded the region with ship ballast waters. Moreover, extensive blooms, such as green and golden tides, are becoming common phenomena in the NOWPAP region. Scientists of the Northwest Pacific region have, therefore, developed a database on harmful algal blooms. The database will allow the countries to assess changes in species distribution and impacts on natural ecosystems and services they provide. Environmental DNA is a new molecular biological technology that can be used to monitor marine diversity and specific species. The countries in the Northwest Pacific region will standardize the utilization of the environmental DNA techniques, develop a standardized manual, as well as establish a network of experts from the Member States. Overall, countries of the region will further continue to develop modern coastal habitat monitoring tools, applying new techniques, such as remote sensing and environmental DNA, for strengthening marine biodiversity conservation and assessing the scales of anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment and ecosystems. The work will help the countries to fulfill their commitments, such as Aichi Biodiversity Targets and several Sustainable Development Goals included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (Writer: Ning Liu, Editor: Anna Manikowska D.G., Reviewer: Yegor Volovik, Takafumi Yoshida)