From The University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science: “Marine protected areas can help safeguard ocean biodiversity”


From The University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science


The University of Miami

Robert C. Jones Jr.

With more than 98 percent of U.S. waters outside the Central Pacific not being part of a marine protected area, critical marine ecosystems are in peril and opportunities to mitigate climate change are being lost, according to Daniel Suman, a professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami.

Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Photo: Daniel Suman/Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science.

If the nation is to achieve its goal of safeguarding critical marine ecosystems and other ocean resources from detrimental human activity, it must not only establish more marine protected areas (MPAs) but also ensure they are strictly managed to accomplish desired results, a University of Miami environmental scientist and others agreed in a recent study that examines these important ocean zones.

“The detrimental impacts of not having an adequate number are just too costly,” said Daniel Suman, a professor of environmental science and policy at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science. “Increased threats to marine biodiversity and unchecked overfishing are just some of the consequences. We also lose the opportunity to fully confront climate change because MPAs, most notably those with seagrass beds and kelp forests that absorb carbon dioxide, are important in mitigating greenhouse gases.”

MPAs, which exist worldwide, range from minimally enforced zones, where resources are used in such a way that hopefully does not result in long-term damage to the environment, to no-take zones, where drilling, fishing, mining, and other extractive activities are not allowed.

More than 98 percent of U.S. waters outside the Central Pacific Ocean are not part of an MPA. And the few areas outside the Pacific that do have MPA status tend to be “lightly” or “minimally” protected from harmful human activity, the study found.

But creating more marine protected areas via legislation can be difficult, as opposition can arise from groups like the game and commercial fishing industry and offshore drilling companies. “The key is convincing groups like commercial fishing, for example, that MPAs are actually in their best interest, that it’s beneficial to engage in conservation for the healthy maintenance of fish stocks and their industry,” Suman said. “It can be challenging, and perhaps that’s why we don’t have more MPAs already.”

The U.S., Suman said, is already seeing some of the effects of not having an adequate number of MPAs.

“With changing ocean temperatures that are the result of global warming, we’re witnessing the displacement of fish stocks to the north,” he explained. “We’re seeing cod, for example, move further north from New England into the maritime provinces of Canada. And we need MPAs to protect habitats that are important for spawning and other important life stages of species.”

The Oregon State University-led study, which examined the 50 largest marine protected areas in the nation, noted that the U.S. has nearly 1,000 MPAs that cover 26 percent of U.S. waters, leaving the country only 4 percent away from achieving the goal of the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, a national effort to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Frontiers in Marine Science [below]

“But that’s a bit misleading,” Suman said, “because it’s really Hawaii and the Central Pacific territories where the vast majority of the MPAs are located. When we look at the continental United States, the numbers are depressing.”

Indeed, the percentage of MPAs outside the Central Pacific is paltry, said Suman, noting that only about 2.1 percent of the exclusive economic zone in the Southeast is protected by an MPA. “It’s a little better, 4.7 percent in the Northeast,” he said. “But Alaska is only 0.7 percent, so less than 1 percent of Alaskan waters are declared an MPA. And that’s extremely depressing because climate change impacts are the greatest in polar regions.”

Suman called for reestablishing the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee, which was disbanded by the Trump administration. “It was a great mechanism for communication among all the different sectors of our marine environment and for strengthening our system of MPAs,” noted Suman, who served on the very first MPA federal advisory committee. “We desperately need it again.”

Science paper:
Frontiers in Marine Science

See the full article here.


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The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is an academic and research institution for the study of oceanography and the atmospheric sciences within the University of Miami. It is located on a 16-acre (65,000 m^²) campus on Virginia Key in Miami, Florida. It is the only subtropical applied and basic marine and atmospheric research institute in the continental United States.

Up until 2008, RSMAS was solely a graduate school within the University of Miami, while it jointly administrated an undergraduate program with UM’s College of Arts and Sciences. In 2008, the Rosenstiel School has taken over administrative responsibilities for the undergraduate program, granting Bachelor of Science in Marine and Atmospheric Science (BSMAS) and Bachelor of Arts in Marine Affairs (BAMA) baccalaureate degree. Master’s, including a Master of Professional Science degree, and doctorates are also awarded to RSMAS students by the UM Graduate School.

The Rosenstiel School’s research includes the study of marine life, particularly Aplysia and coral; climate change; air-sea interactions; coastal ecology; and admiralty law. The school operates a marine research laboratory ship, and has a research site at an inland sinkhole. Research also includes the use of data from weather satellites and the school operates its own satellite downlink facility. The school is home to the world’s largest hurricane simulation tank.

The University of Miami is a private research university in Coral Gables, Florida. As of 2020, the university enrolled approximately 18,000 students in 12 separate colleges and schools, including the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in Miami’s Health District, a law school on the main campus, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science focused on the study of oceanography and atmospheric sciences on Virginia Key, with research facilities at the Richmond Facility in southern Miami-Dade County.

The university offers 132 undergraduate, 148 master’s, and 67 doctoral degree programs, of which 63 are research/scholarship and 4 are professional areas of study. Over the years, the university’s students have represented all 50 states and close to 150 foreign countries. With more than 16,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff, The University of Miami is a top 10 employer in Miami-Dade County. The University of Miami’s main campus in Coral Gables has 239 acres and over 5.7 million square feet of buildings.

The University of Miami is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. The University of Miami research expenditure in FY 2019 was $358.9 million. The University of Miami offers a large library system with over 3.9 million volumes and exceptional holdings in Cuban heritage and music.

The University of Miami also offers a wide range of student activities, including fraternities and sororities, and hundreds of student organizations. The Miami Hurricane, the student newspaper, and WVUM, the student-run radio station, have won multiple collegiate awards. The University of Miami’s intercollegiate athletic teams, collectively known as the Miami Hurricanes, compete in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The University of Miami’s football team has won five national championships since 1983 and its baseball team has won four national championships since 1982.


The University of Miami is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. In fiscal year 2016, The University of Miami received $195 million in federal research funding, including $131.3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services and $14.1 million from the National Science Foundation. Of the $8.2 billion appropriated by Congress in 2009 as a part of the stimulus bill for research priorities of The National Institutes of Health, the Miller School received $40.5 million. In addition to research conducted in the individual academic schools and departments, Miami has the following university-wide research centers:

The Center for Computational Science
The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS)
Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy
The Miami European Union Center: This group is a consortium with Florida International University (FIU) established in fall 2001 with a grant from the European Commission through its delegation in Washington, D.C., intended to research economic, social, and political issues of interest to the European Union.
The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies
John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics – studies possible causes of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and macular degeneration.
Center on Research and Education for Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE)
Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research

The Miller School of Medicine receives more than $200 million per year in external grants and contracts to fund 1,500 ongoing projects. The medical campus includes more than 500,000 sq ft (46,000 m^2) of research space and the The University of Miami Life Science Park, which has an additional 2,000,000 sq ft (190,000 m^2) of space adjacent to the medical campus. The University of Miami’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute seeks to understand the biology of stem cells and translate basic research into new regenerative therapies.

As of 2008, The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science receives $50 million in annual external research funding. Their laboratories include a salt-water wave tank, a five-tank Conditioning and Spawning System, multi-tank Aplysia Culture Laboratory, Controlled Corals Climate Tanks, and DNA analysis equipment. The campus also houses an invertebrate museum with 400,000 specimens and operates the Bimini Biological Field Station, an array of oceanographic high-frequency radar along the US east coast, and the Bermuda aerosol observatory. The University of Miami also owns the Little Salt Spring, a site on the National Register of Historic Places, in North Port, Florida, where RSMAS performs archaeological and paleontological research.

The University of Miami built a brain imaging annex to the James M. Cox Jr. Science Center within the College of Arts and Sciences. The building includes a human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) laboratory, where scientists, clinicians, and engineers can study fundamental aspects of brain function. Construction of the lab was funded in part by a $14.8 million in stimulus money grant from the National Institutes of Health.

In 2016 the university received $161 million in science and engineering funding from the U.S. federal government, the largest Hispanic-serving recipient and 56th overall. $117 million of the funding was through the Department of Health and Human Services and was used largely for the medical campus.

The University of Miami maintains one of the largest centralized academic cyber infrastructures in the country with numerous assets. The Center for Computational Science High Performance Computing group has been in continuous operation since 2007. Over that time the core has grown from a zero HPC cyberinfrastructure to a regional high-performance computing environment that currently supports more than 1,200 users, 220 TFlops of computational power, and more than 3 Petabytes of disk storage.