Far-field connectivity of the UK's four largest marine protected areas: Four of a kind?

Robinson, J.; New, A.L. ORCID:; Popova, E.E. ORCID:; Srokosz, M.A. ORCID:; Yool, A. ORCID: 2017 Far-field connectivity of the UK's four largest marine protected areas: Four of a kind? Earth's Future, 5 (5). 475-494.

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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are established to conserve important ecosystems and protect marine species threatened in the wider ocean. However, even MPAs in remote areas are not wholly isolated from anthropogenic impacts. “Upstream” activities, possibly thousands of kilometers away, can influence MPAs through ocean currents that determine their connectivity. Persistent pollutants, such as plastics, can be transported from neighboring shelf regions to MPAs, or an ecosystem may be affected if larval dispersal is reduced from a seemingly remote upstream area. Thus, improved understanding of exactly where upstream is, and on what timescale it is connected, is important for protecting and monitoring MPAs. Here, we use a high-resolution (1/12°) ocean general circulation model and Lagrangian particle tracking to diagnose the connectivity of four of the UK's largest MPAs: Pitcairn; South Georgia and Sandwich Islands; Ascension; and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). We introduce the idea of a circulation “connectivity footprint”, by which MPAs are connected to upstream areas. Annual connectivity footprints were calculated for the four MPAs, taking into account seasonal and inter-annual variability. These footprints showed that, on annual timescales, Pitcairn was not connected with land, whereas there was increasing connectivity for waters reaching South Georgia, Ascension, and, especially, BIOT. BIOT also had a high degree of both seasonal and inter-annual variability, which drastically changed its footprint, year-to-year. We advocate that such connectivity footprints are an inherent property of all MPAs, and need to be considered when MPAs are first proposed or their viability as refuges evaluated.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 23284277
Date made live: 23 Aug 2017 15:19 +0 (UTC)

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