Climate-smart, 3-D protected areas in the high seas


Marine species are moving rapidly in response to warming, often in different directions and with variations by location and depth. This poses challenges to conventional protected areas design. We develop a three-dimensional planning approach for the high seas that conserves biodiversity, minimises exposure to climate change, retains species within reserve boundaries, and reduces fishing conflict. Resultant climate-smart networks cover 11% of the high seas (5% of the ocean) and represent low-regret conservation options that are the first places to designate as new high-seas marine protected areas. With the current push to increase the area of ocean under protection to 30%, we must confront the challenges of climate-smart three-dimensional conservation in the 41% of the ocean that is beyond countries’ jurisdictions.


Isaac is a marine biologist (and a quantitative ecologist) investigating how the velocity of climate change (i.e., the speed and direction of isotherm movement) might influence species’ distribution shifts at different ocean depths and how this phenomenon can inform conservation. Ultimately, his research focuses on how best to include climate change in protected areas design. Designing protected areas in the ocean might be even more challenging than on land. Not only are species moving faster in response to climate change in the ocean, but its 3-D structure adds complexity. His recent work shows that climate velocity varies with depth and under different climate scenarios. For example, he found that climate velocity in the mesopelagic zone is currently half that at the surface, but is projected to more than double under a medium emissions scenario (RCP4.5) by 2100. Moreover, the direction of climate velocity also changes with depth, potentially causing bioregions at different depths. A new paradigm for the design of MPAs in the open ocean is needed – one that considers its 3-D nature, climate change, and different ocean bioregions.


Room 320, Steele Building (#03). Additionally, this seminar will be streamed using the video conferencing software, Zoom. If you would like the link, please email