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Protecting Nemo

Coral reef areas are some of the best examples of nature in its most unaltered form. 
The beauty and wonder of these areas have been on display in documentaries such as Planet Earth and The Blue Planet, as well as in the animated film, Finding Nemo.  It would make sense that these areas would be fiercely protected, but new research published in Nature by David Mouillot and colleagues shows that the current protection system covers a measly 1.7% of the evolutionary history of coral and 17.6% of fish.  
With over 800,000 multi-cellular species living in and on coral reefs, these majestic branched structures support a staggering amount of biodiversity.  Additionally, coral reefs provide ecosystem services, or positive benefits provided to humans by ecosystems, such as incomes (through primarily fishing and tourism), to approximately half a billion people. 
Since there is substantial evidence that human activity, namely fishing and pollution, affect the resilience and state of coral reefs, the need for protection initiatives to conserve these areas is clear.  To fight against human impacts, a plethora of marine-protected areas (MPAs) have been created.  These areas are designed to protect the coral reefs that are within. 
The problem with the current system is that the breadth of coverage is not sufficient.  The current system covers only 5.9% of coral reef area worldwide.  The spatial design of MPAs across the globe is dependent on local conditions, such as need to maintain a costal fishery for jobs, rather than regional or global considerations.  This means that MPAs cannot be created to protect all coral reefs.  The challenge going forward to better protect biodiversity in coral reefs is, according to David Mouillot and his team, to come up with a protective system on a global level.  
The need for protection does not just apply to the Great Barrier Reef, but domestic coral reefs as well.  Most people associate coral reefs with tropical climates and warm, shallow waters; however, it may be surprising to learn that there are substantial coral reefs off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. For example, there are substantial coral reef systems off the coast of Charleston, SC.  These systems are not currently protected by the MPA system, but are considered a HAPC (Habitat Area of Particular Concern).   A designation of an area as a HAPC means that the area is considered to be vulnerable to degradation or is important for supporting marine life.  This means that the coral reefs systems off the coast of Charleston, SC, although considered to be important for supporting marine life, are not being actively protected.  
If the current MPA system stays the same and neglects areas such as those referenced off the coast of South Carolina, “Finding Nemo” may become even harder. 

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