NEW! Browse and filter actionable interventions for Habitat and Biodiversity Loss. Jump down the page to the Solutions Typology Table
Fortunately, we know the main drivers of the biodiversity crisis, and there are well-known solutions that can help bend the curve of habitat and biodiversity loss. The driving factors of this loss include: changes in ocean and land use; direct exploitation of organisms (e.g., unsustainable fishing); climate change, which exacerbates existing stressors and drives the scale and rate of change; and pollution (e.g., plastics, sewage, microcontaminants; and invasive species.1
Interventions for addressing the loss of marine biodiversity and habitat can be categorized into the following solution sets:
- Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other spatial conservation measures to conserve critical places, engage local stakeholders in protecting natural resources, as well as wrap-around interventions to ensure these areas are well-managed and stipulations are enforced.
- Sensitive habitat protection and restoration for particularly vulnerable ecosystems (e.g., corals, mangroves, seagrasses, and estuaries).
- Invasive species control to control and eradicate alien species and to prevent further invasions.
- Species conservation for keystone, charismatic, and highly impacted species (e.g., seabirds, sharks, turtles, rays, marine mammals), including reducing their illegal trade. Increasingly, genetic and assisted evolution interventions are being explored to support species conservation, especially for coral.
- Research and monitoring to track wildlife, improve ecological and management knowledge, and utilize novel technologies to enhance other conservation efforts (e.g., remote sensing).
- Conservation financing mechanisms such as ecosystem services and other valuation efforts aimed at “internalizing” conservation costs (e.g., green taxes, tourism-based business plans for MPAs, debt-for-nature swaps, parametric insurance).
The following sections feature highlights of leading interventions and active opportunities for the marine conservation community to help move the needle on this issue.
Marine Protected Areas and other spatial protections
To address losses in biodiversity and marine habitat, the international community has increasingly focused on the protection of marine areas. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as: “A clearly defined geographical space recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” Effectively managed MPAs can help protect coastal areas and species, support food security, safeguard coastal jobs and cultural identities, and maintain the productivity and resilience of ecosystems.
Global coordination to protect biodiversity for the next decade is gaining momentum and will be an area of heightened focus as countries gather at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming in October 2021. A growing coalition of scientists, Indigenous peoples, and advocates are calling for an updated global target to protect at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, building off of Aichi Target 11 to protect ten percent of the ocean by 2020. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the coverage of MPAs, from less than one percent of the ocean protected in 2000 to eight percent protected in 2020 (or 5.7 percent if only considering implemented MPAs).2
While the sharp uptick in MPAs represents a substantial achievement for the global community, it is important to note that most MPAs are only lightly to minimally protected and many lack management plans. There is substantial opportunity both to strengthen protection in existing MPAs and to create new highly to fully protected MPAs.3 According to recent meta-analyses, the maximum environmental and societal benefits of MPAs do not accrue until 30 to 40 percent of key marine ecosystems are represented in fully or highly protected and implemented MPAs.4 An assessment by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that only three percent of key habitats considered in the study were within fully protected MPAs.
As MPAs rapidly expand in number and coverage, scientists and practitioners warn that key enabling conditions and considerations of quality and effectiveness must be present to prevent a more singular focus on quantitative targets (e.g., area coverage). Field-building efforts focused on definitional clarity, standards, and shared accounting systems—such as the MPA Guide and IUCN MPA standards—provide a mechanism for supporting improved implementation and counteracting tendencies of “paper parks” (e.g., designations that exist on paper but lack adequate management and enforcement in practice). The role of well-resourced staffing and financial capacity is also critical to MPA success: a global study found that MPAs with adequate staff and budget capacity had fish recoveries which were nearly three times as large as those without sufficient capacity.5 As the global community negotiates the post-2020 framework for ocean protection, it is necessary to simultaneously advance MPA effectiveness by enhancing governance, protection level, financial and staff resources, and shared definitions and implementation standards.
Closing the “biodiversity governance gap” represents a near-term opportunity to protect biodiversity in the 60 percent of the ocean that makes up the high seas and is beyond the national jurisdiction of any one country. To date, the implementation of MPAs has been far higher in coastal waters than on the high seas. International law does not currently address biodiversity in the high seas in a meaningful way, which has been a concern of the global community for at least two decades. As of late 2020, governments are in the final stages of negotiating a new UN agreement that, if approved, would enable the establishment of networks of MPAs in international waters, significantly accelerating progress in this overlooked area.
Factors influencing MPA effectiveness are well assessed in the literature, providing a strong evidence base for understanding best practices to achieve ecological outcomes. The ecological impacts of MPAs can vary considerably in direction and magnitude depending on governance, management capacity, biophysical factors, and species traits.6 The following practices have been linked to improved ecological outcomes and are considered particularly important in the face of climate change:
- Successful MPAs tend to have the following key traits: no-take restrictions, strong enforcement, are well established (in existence for over ten years), are large (over 100 km2), and are isolated by deep water or sand.7
- Networks of MPAs are an important strategy and should protect habitat diversity across different ecosystems and depths.8 The networks should also take into account home ranges and larval dispersal patterns of species under changing conditions, prioritizing connectivity across patches and habitats. This helps to increase the probability of “evolutionary rescue,” in which adaptive genes can spread across meta-populations, increasing resilience and chance of recovery after a temperature anomaly event.
- Networks should include a myriad of ecosystems and should be viewed as coherent ecological units. For example, protecting adjacent seagrass beds and mangroves can help to increase the resilience of coral reefs. Mangroves are important habitat for fish species, may serve as a refuge for corals by reducing light stress and buffering against local effects of ocean acidification, and can enhance fish biomass.9,10 Seagrass beds have been associated with natural biocide production, reducing pathogen levels and disease rates on coral reefs.
- MPAs should be “climate smart” with climate projections and considerations of limits to ecosystem resilience integrated into their design. This includes siting MPAs in places that will be climate refuges. Examples include places where slow-growing species (e.g., corals) are known to be heat-tolerant; deeper reefs and channels; and areas of cool-water upwelling.11
- MPAs should be integrated with coastal zone management, given the importance of coordinating action to reduce both land and ocean-based local stressors to marine ecosystems.12
The social dimensions of MPAs are widely debated and far less understood than ecological outcomes. These impacts vary drastically across social domains, spatial and temporal scales, and within and among social groups.13 MPAs can have a range of positive impacts on communities. For example, evidence suggests that MPAs significantly increase aspects of food security for most fisher groups, though the long-term impacts on health outcomes is unknown. Communities can also gain economic benefits from MPAs, such as increased revenue from non-extractive uses (e.g., user fees from tourism).
Co-management and inclusion of local voices tends to improve MPA design and increase success in implementation. The long-term success of MPAs is directly related to the buy-in and support of local stakeholders. Giakoumi et al. (2018), for example, find that “stakeholder engagement was considered to be the most important factor affecting MPA success, and equally, its absence, was the most important factor influencing failure.”14 This buy-in and engagement is increased through both long-term human well-being derived from MPAs and a sense of ownership. This well-being however, is rarely based on economic utility alone. For example, increased catch per unit effort, a key outcome from a fisheries economics perspective, tended to increase conflict among stakeholders as increased catch can also mean increased inequality.15 Despite increased research on the social dimensions of MPAs since the early 2000s, significant research gaps still remain regarding specific well-being domains (i.e., culture, education), social groups (i.e., gender, age, ethnic groups), and impacts over time.16
As the global community seeks to prioritize the leadership and engagement of Indigenous peoples and local communities in implementing MPAs, the evidence base provides guidance on avoiding negative social impacts and unintended consequences. MPAs reallocate property rights over marine resources, which can affect human well-being, especially for local communities who depend on fishing for subsistence and livelihoods.17 As a result, MPAs can impact economic well-being and cultural identity, and potentially lead to social conflict since costs and benefits tend to be unequally distributed among social groups.18 Resistance tends to be highest from local communities in MPAs that were established via “top-down” governance processes that disempower local stakeholders by revoking decision-making authority and resource use rights.19 The following challenges and key considerations are important to think about when implementing MPAs in the context of CBNRM:
- The majority of MPAs globally do not have adequate staff or budget capacity, which jeopardizes ecological outcomes. This would likely be a significant challenge in many developing countries.20
- Some of the ideal criteria for MPAs, such as no-take zones, effective enforcement, and large size may be especially difficult to implement at the community level, due in part to scalar mismatch, social acceptability, and capacity.
- MPA networks that focus on a diverse set of management goals, including conservation, fisheries, and socio-economic objectives are more likely to garner stakeholder support.21
Habitat protection and restoration
Coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems—including actions to conserve and restore mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses, and to cultivate seaweed for the purpose of carbon sequestration—have garnered increased attention in recent years as a climate mitigation tool that also provide several socio-economic and ecological co-benefits. Blue carbon ecosystems provide “more for the buck” than terrestrial forests from a carbon storage perspective as they cover only 1.5 percent of the area of terrestrial forests but sequester upwards of ten times more carbon per unit area.22 The conservation and protection of blue carbon ecosystems, as well as the restoration of degraded ecosystems and the cultivation of seafood (macroalgae) through aquaculture has a total mitigation potential of 0.50 to 1.38 GT carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050.23 The important co-benefits of blue carbon ecosystems—including protecting coastlines from storms and erosion, sustaining biodiversity, and providing food security for coastal communities—reinforce the value of protecting and conserving coastal and marine ecosystems. This field is currently in a growth phase as philanthropy, civil society, scientists, and governments seek to expand blue carbon projects as a conservation and development tool, while also filling key knowledge gaps around basic inventories of ecosystem extent, factors that influence sequestration, ongoing monitoring, and best practices for management.
The research and intervention space for coral reef adaptation and restoration is also actively expanding as the field grapples with how to restore reefs to withstand a two-degree (or more) warmer ocean. Coral reef declines have been observed across all major tropical ocean basins since the 1980s, averaging approximately 30 to 50 percent reductions in reef cover globally. At a high level, mitigating climate change and reducing co-stressors are key factors in supporting coral reefs on a recovery trajectory given their high sensitivity to thermal stress. A global study that considered “recovery wedges” for restoring marine life by 2050 found that rebuilding coral reefs carries the highest risk of failure given that cumulative pressures (e.g., overfishing and pollution) that led to their historical decline are now amplified by warming-induced bleaching.24 The capacity to restore coral reefs is lower compared other marine habitats since coral reef restoration projects are generally expensive, slow, and tend to have a smaller footprint.25
Reverting coral loss at scale will ultimately depend on mitigating underlying drivers of loss (especially climate change) and advancing innovative approaches to restoration in the near-term, ideally this decade.26 Even as the field practices well-tested interventions such as reducing overfishing and pollution, other efforts are pursuing more experimental approaches, including using assisted or accelerated evolution, assisted migration, reintroduction, and other tools. As a framework for categorizing interventions for coral reef adaptation and mitigation, the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program in Australia proposes the following model:
- Prevent exposure to temperature extremes
- Assist adaptation to climate change
- Restore and promote recovery of priority reefs
- Accelerate carbon mitigation
- Intensify conventional management
For details on individual interventions, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has compiled an interactive tool to explore the benefits and risks of implementing novel approaches to increase coral reef survival in deteriorating environmental conditions.
The conservation finance space is one in which well-tested tools (e.g., tourism-based business plans for MPAs) continue to be applied, even as the field experiments with new tools (e.g., parametric insurance for coral reefs) to bring additional finance into this space. From a policy perspective in the near term, climate mitigation and adaptation provide key policy and public funding opportunities for financing biodiversity protection. Opportunities over the next two years (e.g., Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Agreement , Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement, and the CBD Conference of Parties in 2021) offer the chance to adopt a new target of protecting 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030 and to accelerate ocean action. Philanthropy and civil society could help drive the ambition of such policy frameworks by enabling the coordination of NGOs and multi-lateral organizations, some of which have been instrumental in elevating these talking points to the United Nations level. Increased alignment of climate and biodiversity finance represents an emerging opportunity which appears to be gaining increasing traction in policy discussions.
Potential Solution Areas That Are Underexplored or Understudied
While efforts such as 50 Reefs sought to identify a global portfolio of reefs that should be targeted for conservation action, there is a lack of a global plan to consider how to maintain coral reefs beyond 2050. Perhaps the most concerted work is taking place in Australia among government, research institutions, industry, and civil society—through the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program—to systematically assess solutions for helping coral reefs adapt to climate change. Beyond academic institutions and labs that are beginning to apply modern genomics as novel conservation approaches, there is no long-term strategic plan at the global level for the conservation of coral reefs.
Knowledge Gaps and Outstanding Questions for the Field
There is a need for better quantitative toolboxes to inform climate-smart MPA design. Understanding, predicting, and abating drivers of biodiversity loss requires large amounts of data, including biological, biogeochemical and physical time series (e.g. productivity and ecosystem function, species composition, allelic diversity, and genetic expression), but also social and economic indicators.27 The design, governance and practical application of such integrated data systems benefits from multi-sectoral collaborations and could be hosted by marine NGOs that have demonstrated leadership of such efforts in the past.
Emerging Areas of Interest and Research
There is emerging opportunity to bring climate and biodiversity under a shared agenda, with MPAs as one important tool in a portfolio approach. In the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity observes that, “Many of the measures that are required to tackle poverty, reduce hunger, tackle climate change and reduce the risk of future pandemics are also those that are needed to support biodiversity, so there is potential for a powerful shared agenda.”28 Highlighting the shared goals of biodiversity not only with those of climate mitigation and adaptation efforts but also with other Sustainable Development Goals can strengthen the case of a portfolio approach and cement MPAs as one key management tool that can complement more traditional approaches, including fisheries management.
Typology: Direct Interventions
|Intervention Category||Intervention Subcategory||Examples|
|Land and Water Management ||Area-Based Management ||MPA design and management|
|Land and Water Management ||Area-Based Management ||Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM) that may provide biodiversity conservation benefits; this may include locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs)|
|Land and Water Management ||Area-Based Management ||MPA compliance through effective monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS)|
|Land and Water Management ||Area-Based Management ||Coral ecosystem protection: MPAs, reducing other stressors, fishing policy, enhanced adaptation|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Restoration of marsh, seagrass, and/or mangrove habitats on degraded lands|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Creation of artificial reefs|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Restoration of existing coral reefs|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Blue carbon restoration projects|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Mangrove protection: education, blue carbon protocols, national policy|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Protection of seagrasses, estuaries, marshes, and other near-shore habitats|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Promoting the protection and stewardship of biodiversity, including through engagement with and supporting the leadership of Indigenous and local communities|
|Land and Water Management ||Protection and Restoration ||Protection and Restoration of remote island habitats for seabird colonies|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Protected Area Designation and/or Acquisition ||Creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of different jurisdictions: local, national, regional, global, high seas (i.e., outside of EEZs)—and protection levels (fully protected, highly protected, lightly protected, minimally protected)|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Land/Water Use Zoning and Designation ||Marine Spatial Planning (MSP)|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Land/Water Use Zoning and Designation ||Designating an area as an important conservation area, though without formal protection (e.g., Wild and Scenic Area)|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Land/Water Use Zoning and Designation ||Zoning for development and conservation areas|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Conservation Planning ||Prioritization studies and programs to identify important habitat use areas and potential livelihood projects.|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Community based planning for resource management and conservation ||Incorporating community input and participation in the designation and management of MPAs|
|Conservation Designation and Planning ||Conservation Planning ||Place-based and cultural ecosystem services|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Regulating the harvest of mangroves for fuelwood|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Regulating the harvest of seagrass for subsistence and livelihood use|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Regulating the harvest of corals, through quotas, seasonal restrictions, fines, etc.|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Traditional eradication and biocontrol (e.g., rodent eradication on islands, targeted killing of invasives such as lionfish)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Novel interventions for eradication (e.g., genetic interventions including CRISPR and gene drive for rodent eradications on islands, female lethality, self-limiting genes, sex-ratio biasing; robotics technologies to limit Crown of Thorns or lionfish)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Habitat Management ||Tropic and fecundity management to drive an increase in fish biomass, particularly in nearshore marine environments, usually through bottom-up measures that enhance primary productivity|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Protection of spawning, breeding, and nursery grounds, upwellings, etc.: Developing reproductive strategies for coral|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Protection of spawning, breeding, and nursery grounds, upwellings, etc.: Enhancement of reproduction (e.g., inducible spawning in corals)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Marine mammal protection (e.g., bycatch prevention, ship strike prevention, ending whaling, etc.)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Shark and ray protections (e.g., policy fora such as CITES or CMS, national-level laws, "shark sanctuaries," demand reduction, ecotourism)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Turtle protection (e.g., bycatch prevention, nesting beach protection, species recovery)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Seabird protection (e.g., bycatch prevention, invasive species eradication)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Stewardship ||Invertebrate protection (e.g., coconut crab protection)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Species Reintroduction and Translocation ||Reintroduction, assisted migration, colonialization, translocation, or assisted/accelerated evolution of coral translocation8 |
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Ex-Situ Conservation ||Captive breeding|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Ex-Situ Conservation ||Genetic reconstruction or de-extinction (e.g., Great Auk, stellar sea cow)|
|Species and Ecosystem Management ||Ex-Situ Conservation ||Reef management through landscape genetics|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||Remote sensing and technology development|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||Habitat observation and research (e.g., satellites, acoustics, sensing technologies, mapping)|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||Species tracking|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||eDNA|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||Genetic interventions and synthetic biology, including sequencing, gene banks genome editing/CRISPR, and gene drives; synthetic species creation, de-extinction; synthetic alternatives (horseshoe crab blood)|
|Infrastructure, Services, and Technology ||Cryopreservation and banking cells, tissues, and gametes for future restoration|
Typology: Indirect Interventions
|Intervention Category||Intervention Subcategory||Examples|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||Laws, Regulations, and Codes ||Endangered species and wildlife trade (i.e., petitions and policy interventions at CITES, national level enforcement and implementation)|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||Laws, Regulations, and Codes ||Customary law which forms the basis for community managed MPAs|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||Policies and Guidelines ||MPA certification (e.g., IUCN Green List, Blue Parks Program)|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||Policies and Guidelines ||Measuring MPA effectiveness and MPA management evaluation (e.g., MPA Guide)|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||De jure property rights ||Laws to ensure property rights and tenure for communities|
|Legal and Policy Frameworks ||De jure property rights ||Other measures to support Indigenous and community-based leadership and self-determination relating to protected areas and conservation|
|Education and Training ||Training ||Training and capacity development programs for marine reserve managers, enforcement agencies, and local community members (particularly those displaced by biodiversity conservation actions)|
|Education and Training ||Training ||Training for monitoring and evaluation|
|Education and Training ||Training ||Elders sharing traditional ecological knowledge with local community members and/or conservation agencies|
|Education and Training ||Formal and informal education ||Educational programs focused on habitat and biodiversity protection (e.g., formal courses, in-person tours, and field trips to increase awareness and understanding)|
|Education and Training ||Formal and informal education ||Programs featuring experiential learning, local knowledge, and transmission of traditional and local knowledge|
|Awareness Raising ||Outreach and Communications ||Outreach through traditional media and social media to promote awareness of and inspire protection of local habitat and biodiversity|
|Awareness Raising ||Outreach and Communications ||Community engagement and events to inspire protection of local habitat and biodiversity|
|Livelihood, Economic, and Other Incentives ||Linked Enterprises and Alternative Livelihoods||Ecotourism (i.e., protected area tourism, shark/ray tourism, whale tourism) and other alternative livelihoods|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Internal Organizational Management and Administration ||Hiring and managing staff for protected areas or conservation agencies|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Internal Organizational Management and Administration ||Serving on the board of a conservation organization|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Internal Organizational Management and Administration ||Managing a conservation program|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Internal Organizational Management and Administration ||Providing basic support functions for a marine reserve|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||External Organizational Deelopment and Support ||Pro-bono services to a conservation organization (e.g., financial training, legal support, technical training, technological tools)|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||External Organizational Deelopment and Support ||Other programs to advance organizational capacity|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Alliance and Partnership Development ||Partnerships and coalitions aimed at protecting sensitive habitat (e.g., Blue Carbon Initiative, Wyss Campaign for Nature, 30x30 Campaign)|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Ecosystem services approaches [e.g., valuation and payment for ecosystem services (PES)]|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Green taxes|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Tourism-based business plans for sustainable MPAs|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Marine biodiversity offsets|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Debt-for-nature swaps|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Green bonds|
|Insistutional and Organizational Development ||Financing Conservation ||Parametric insurance (e.g., Swiss Re insurance program in Mesoamerican Reef)|
- IPBES. IPBES Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers. 2019.
- Marine Conservation Institute, MPAtlas (Seattle, 2020), www.mpatlas.org.
- Rogers, A., O. Aburto-Oropeza, et al. 2020. Critical Habitats and Biodiversity: Inventory, Thresholds and Governance. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Available online at www.oceanpanel.org/blue-papers/critical-habitats-and-biodiversity-inventory-thresholds-and-governance.
- Gill, D.A. et al. “Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally.” 2017. Nature (543): 665-671.
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- Mumby, P.J., Edwards, A.J., Arias-Gonzalez, J.E. et al. (9 more authors) (2004) Mangroves enhance the biomass of coral reef fish communities in the Caribbean. Nature, 427 (6974). pp. 533-536. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02286.
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- Ainsworth, T.D. et al. Climate change disables coral bleaching protection on the Great Barrier Reef. Science 352, 338–342 (2016).
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- Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal.