An international team of scientists revealed that more than 17,000 species of marine life worldwide are still largely unprotected in their respective natural habitats.

Among nations with highest rates of unprotected species, the United States ranks low in terms of suppporting proper marine protected areas (MPAs), experts found. This emphasizes the need for more formal MPAs to safeguard the future of biodiversity globally.

In a study featured in the journal Scientific Reports, the group of researchers discovered that about 97.4 percent of 17,348 endangered marine species have less than 10 percent of their natural habitats established as MPAs. Along with the U.S., countries such as Brazil and Canada have high rates of unprotected or "gap species", they said.

Dr. Ben Halpern of the University of California - Sta. Barbara explained that in recent years, most of the increase in the number of protected areas comes from very few numbers of large MPAs. He said that although valuable, these very large MPAs can mislead people into thinking that biodiversity is being well-protected because of them.

"Species all around the planet need protection, not just those in some locations," said Halpern, adding that the results of the study point out locations where protection gaps exist.

Halpern and his colleagues found that poorly-represented species are found in exclusive economic zones, and that at least two percent of their natural range can be located within an MPA.

With that, the team suggests that an importance needs to be placed on areas where protection has yet to be implemented.

Study co-author Dr. James Watson said that the task of creating an efficient network of MPAs is extremely urgent, and that the goal is not only important for nature, but for humanity as well. He added that millions of people depend on marine biodiversity for important valuable services.

Dr. Carissa Klein, the study's lead author, agrees with Watson, adding that it would improve the impact of MPAs on livelihoods, and it would reduce negative economic and social impacts on them.

The study's findings also provide strategic guidance on accurate locations where MPAs could be placed, Klein added.

The study is a collaboration between scientists from the University of Queensland, UCSB, Imperial College London, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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