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First global mapping of marine conflict zones

In a new international study, researchers have identified critical marine areas on Earth. It is the first time that the research world has taken a global grip on marine conflict zones where human activity affects whales, sea turtles, fish and birds that live at sea.
Sea turtle with gps transmitter.
The gps-transmitter on the turtle gives information about depth and position. The photo is taken at Ascension Island. Photo: Susanne Åkesson

“We would like the study to contribute to a global policy on how we use our oceans. We have produced a tool to help decision-makers to create such a policy”, says Susanne Åkesson, professor of animal ecology at Lund University.  

Since nearly two thirds, 64 per cent, of the world’s oceans are not under any individual national jurisdiction it is important that there be a global policy on how much human activity is permitted to affect life in the oceans, say the researchers from the 14 countries that have contributed to the study.  

Two people and a sea turtle on a beach.
Brendan Godley and Jaquie Ellick work with the gps transmitter on a sea turtle, Ascension Island. Photo: Susanne Åkesson

“Unfortunately, there are more and more conflict zones between animals and humans, not fewer. We highlight areas and corridors between these areas that are crucially important for marine life, but where human activity affects the animals’ habitats. One example is the whale calving grounds.”

Susanne Åkesson’s contribution to the study concerns sea turtles that live in a South Atlantic belt between Brazil and Southeast Africa. On Ascension Island, Åkesson and her colleagues have equipped the turtles with transmitters that have registered their movements and locations at different times of year.

Sea turtle on a beach.
Heading for the ocean. Photo: Susanne Åkesson

Marine conflict zones are not static; instead, they shift according to the seasons. Animals can be in one location when they give birth to their young and then move thousands of kilometres to areas richer in food sources.

New conflict zones can also emerge when human activity affects areas previously untouched. This may be due to new shipping routes for transport vessels, industrial fishing, oil extraction or new ferry routes.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.    

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