Enric Sala of the Pristine Seas project at the National Geographic Society and 25 other scientists from the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia report in the journal Nature that they have devised a planning framework and identified regions of ocean that would benefit most from status as Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs.

“In this study, we’ve pioneered a new way to identify the places that − if protected − will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions,” Dr Sala said.

The scientists argue that to safeguard their proposed areas could offer safety for 80% of marine species, ultimately add eight million tonnes more to the global catch than any uncontrolled trawling could offer, and prevent the release of more than a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year − simply by preventing disturbance of the sea floor.

The argument that humans can profit more from conserving the wilderness than by ruthlessly exploiting it sounds radical. But it has been demonstrated again and again: on land, separate research teams have found repeatedly that forests and wetlands deliver a higher net return in the long term, and to the greatest number of people, than mining, felling or farming can offer. It has been the same story afloat: world fish catches would benefit from protected areas; fishing itself would become more dangerous and offer lower returns in a regime of uncontrolled global climate change; and a reduction in the rate of global heating would pay off in richer marine harvests.

Read the full article about sustainable fishing by Tim Radford at Climate News Network.