A fast-moving target: the challenge of achieving marine conservation goals with MPAs under global change

Dr Gil Rilov1

1Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR), Haifa, Israel

Current and global climate change impacts, even under the most optimistic IPCC scenarios, pose a tremendous challenge to marine conservation. Species pools are shifting rapidly in many regions due to shifts in ocean isotherms, heat waves cause mass mortalities, and thermophilic aliens find it easier to establish in warming waters. All these can lead to major ecological shifts and even collapse of entire ecosystems. Under this scenario, preserving intact marine ecosystems and local biodiversity is an increasingly difficult challenge. How can policymakers and conservation managers be realistically expected to recover or even maintain intact native communities in the coming decades? Examining the current state of implementation of key European conservation-oriented marine directives (marine special plans for MSP and program of measures for MSFD), shows that so far, climate change has been very superficially addressed or not considered at all. Clearly, even the largest and best managed marine protected area (MPA) cannot be expected to achieve their conservation goals, especially in global change hotspots. In such regions, even inside MPAs, native biodiversity is or will surely be severely altered, thermophilic non-indigenous species will thrive and may shift the ecological balance, native commercial stocks will either collapse or be replaced with different types of stocks, and food-webs will re-shuffle, either maintaining or drastically shifting their ecosystem functions. It is thus necessary that we shift our expectations and perhaps our indicators of a good environmental status under a fast-changing ocean climate. In the talk, we offer a few suggestions to tackle this challenge.


Gil Rilov received his PhD from Tel- Aviv University in 2002 for his research on ecological aspects of species interactions on Mediterranean rocky shores. Between 2000-2008 he conducted ecological research on Atlantic and Pacific coral and rocky reefs as part of his post-doc periods as well as serving as a science coordinator of the Partnership of Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) project at Oregon State University. In 2009, at IOLR Gil established and headed the Marine Community Ecology Lab since 2009, and is head the Marine Biology Department since 2016. He have been studying the ecology of coastal communities (coral reefs, rocky shores and recently, seagrass) for the past 27 years in many biogeographic regions (Mediterranean, Red Sea, Pacific and Atlantic and Caribbean coasts). This includes ecological surveys and field and lab experiments on benthic-pelagic coupling (larval recruitment), species interactions, biodiversity and more. Gil  edited a Springer book on Marine Bioinvasions. Gil’s lab runs the National Monitoring Program on rocky shore biodiversity for the past 9 years, and investigates the ecology and biodiversity of Mediterranean coastal communities, and the effects of bioinvasions, climate change (warming, acidification, sea level rise and extreme events), fishing and marine protected areas on these communities and their functions. As part of a BaltMed project with GEOMAR (Kiel, Germany), Gil’s lab has constructed several innovative experimental setups (including a mesocosm facility) to test the effects of warming and acidification on species, communities and ecosystem functions.

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