Ocean in Google Earth and the Science of Marine Reserves


Science of Marine Reserves Animation in Google EarthIt is now possible to navigate via Ocean in Google Earth to over 4000 marine protected areas (MPAs) around the globe and discover if there is an MPA near you. Scientific information is available for many types of MPAs, including areas that are fully protected, called marine reserves. PISCO’s Science of Marine Reserves Team has developed interactive graphics in the new Google Earth MPA Layer that illustrate the results of research inside marine reserves. Scientific evidence shows that marine reserves usually boost the abundance, diversity, and size of marine animals and plants living within their borders.

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PISCO has also developed more in-depth information and case studies from scientific research conducted at marine reserves around the globe hosted at Protect Planet Ocean. This online resource provides users worldwide with compelling imagery, stories, and information about marine reserves and other types of MPAs around the world.

Tour Marine Reserves Around the Globe

The following is a short tour of a few of the marine reserves around the globe that have been studied by scientists. The results of this research show that the abundance, diversity, biomass, and size of fishes, invertebrates, and seaweeds usually increase inside marine reserves. Species that are fished show the biggest changes, sometimes increasing 10 or 20 times in marine reserves. These outcomes are consistent across different habitats in tropical and temperate waters.

To view these sites as part of a tour in Google Earth, click here. (You will need the latest version of the Google Earth application installed).


Established in 1982 on coral reefs surrounding Apo Island, the Apo Marine Reserve has been protected continuously for 26 years through the joint efforts of the fishing community, local government, and university. Scientific studies in the reserve, one of the oldest in the world, have provided an unparalleled, long-term understanding of biological changes in marine reserves. These results show that protection over multiple decades can lead to increases in abundance, size, and biomass; benefit the surrounding fisheries; and provide economic benefits to the local communities by increasing tourism and associated revenues.  Read more about Apo Island Marine Reserve...



photo: Brian Stockwell

Sumilon Marine Reserve has had a complex history of management due to changes in local governance. Although the reserve was established in 1974, full protection has been temporarily suspended 2 times for political reasons. Fish abundance decreased sharply when the area was opened to fishing. After full protection was reinstated, the number of fish gradually increased again. The history of this reserve shows that support of local government is critical for long-term effectiveness of marine reserves.  Read more about Sumilon Marine Reserve...



lundy, united kingdom


Photo: Paul Naylor

Established in 2003 as the first marine reserve in the United Kingdom, Lundy serves as an important example of the conservation benefits of well-managed reserves for northern European waters.  The reserve protects species living in diverse habitats, including rocky reefs, sea caves, underwater canyons, and sandy bottoms.  While the reserve is relatively small, a rapid increase in lobster size and abundance observed by scientists suggests that even a small reserve can benefit some species.  Over time, further increases in size and biomass may boost the number of lobsters migrating to areas outside the reserve, which would benefit the local fishery.  Read more about the Lundy marine reserve...




photo: Annie Crawley

In 2003, 11 marine reserves were established in state waters around the 5 northern Channel Islands in California. These areas were then expanded to include federal waters in 2006 and 2007. Even after only 5 years, the reserves of the Channel Islands are beginning to show the effects of full protection. Marine reserves have more kinds of fish and greater fish biomass than fished areas nearby. Studies of fish movement show that some individuals move from reserves to fished areas outside. Continued ecological and socioeconomic monitoring over the long-term is needed to understand how communities will continue to change after multiple decades of protection. Read more about the Channel Islands marine reserves here, and go here to read more about a Channel Islands reserve that has been protected for multiple decades.




photo: Jiangang Luo

The Dry Tortugas are small islands surrounded by coral reefs with areas governed by different fishing rules. Created after gathering input from commercial fishermen, dive-boat operators, and local environmental groups, the fully-protected no-take marine reserve yielded increases in numbers and sizes of three commercial species within three years. Responses were not as strong in a protected area where recreational fishing was allowed, demonstrating that full protection is preferable for the recovery of certain species. Read more about the marine reserve at the Dry Tortugas...




Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier
Marine Park Authority (©GBRMPA)

Created in 1975, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers 344,400 square kilometers along Australia’s northeastern coast. The Park Authority recognized it was important to increase the total area protected using the best available science and input from the public. In 2004, the new zoning plan protected more than 33% of the park as marine reserves. Well-defined scientific guidelines and careful consideration of stakeholder interests contributed to the success of this planning process. New data show that the responses to this increase in no-take protection were rapid and positive: coral trout, an important commercial species, increased by 57–75% inside marine reserves in 6 of 8 regions in the Great Barrier Reef.  Read more about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park...


torre guaceto, Italy


Photo: Egidio Trainito

The Torre Guaceto marine reserve was first established in 1991, with effective enforcement beginning in 2001.  By 2003, the marine reserve had 2-10 times as many sea breams - which are commercially important fishes - compared to a fully fished area outside.  Studies also show that sea urchins, which are eaten by sea breams, were 10 times less abundant inside the reserve due to the greater numbers of their fish predators.  This effect cascaded further down the food web, increasing the cover of large seaweed to 47 percent of the seabed inside the reserve.  Surrounding fished areas, where seaweed is grazed down by urchins, had only 15 percent cover of seaweed.  Read more about the Torre Guaceto marine reserve...


Cabo de palos, spain


Photo: Paolo Guidetti

The Cabo de Palos reserve in Spain was established in 1995 and is one of 54 reserves in the Mediterranean Sea.  Scientists have observed that fish biomass, abundance, and species richness are higher within the Cabo de Palos reserve compared to fished area nearby.  These studies also give evidence that fish are 'spilling-over' from Cabo de Palos reserve to fished areas.  The general pattern has been found for a number of western Mediterranean reserves and indicates the benefits of marine reserves for species, ecosystems, and local fisheries.  Read more about reserves in the western Mediterranean sea...





Photo: Robert Patzner

Established as a marine reserve and National Park in 1991, the Cabrera protected area in Spain encompasses the diverse terrestrial and marine biota of an island archipelago.  Like other western Mediterranean reserves, scientists have documented higher fish biomass within the Cabrera reserve compared to fished areas nearby.  The Cabrera reserve also appears to be a source of fish eggs that can drift outside and support populations beyond the reserve's borders.  Grouper eggs decreased in density from inside the reserve to surrounding fished waters where groupers are rare.  Such data provide mounting evidence that reserves can benefit local fisheries by protecting important spawning grounds for commercial fish species.  Read more about reserves in the western Mediterranean sea...


Cerbère-banyuls, france


Photo: Anders Finn Jorgensen

The Cerbère-Banyuls reserve in France was established in 1974, making it one of the first marine reserves to be established in Europe.  This long period of full protection has led to higher fish biomass and species richness within the Cerbère-Banyuls reserve compared to fished areas nearby.  Through field observations, scientists also found that fish biomass decreased consistently across reserve borders and into fished areas, indicating that adults were spilling over into fished waters.  Data on fishing effort and catches confirmed that fishing boats concentrated near the boundaries of the Cerbère-Banyuls reserve, where catch rates were higher. Read more about reserves in the western Mediterranean sea...



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