Marine Protected Areas: a safe sanctuary or false sense of hope?

Ocean conservation emphasises the importance and fragility of our ocean, a resource inseparable from the survival of our species. Providing 90% of all living space for 80% of life on planet, the ocean is rich with biodiversity and provides invaluable benefits whilst securing economic, social and environmental stability. Ocean health is essential to allow both nature and humans to thrive. But our ocean is deteriorating. Habitats are being destroyed; biodiversity is plummeting; species are going extinct. Climate change is threatening life as we know it.

A legal framework to protect biodiversity launched globally in 1993: The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). Targets were set to protect 10% of the world’s ocean by 2020. Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) are internationally recognised zones that have been established to protect important, rare of threatened habitats and species, vital for the overall productivity and health of our ocean. Although this 10% target has yet to be met, over 7% of the ocean globally is now covered by protected areas (compared to 0.7% in 2000), which is a tenfold increase Protected Planet claims. Since 1993, scientists have now recognised that protecting 10% of the ocean is not sufficient.

An international study led by the University of Queensland discovered that we must conserve between 26-41% of ocean area to preserve marine biodiversity, identifying 8.5 million km2 that needs attention. An earlier study evaluated 35 years of marine protected area expansion and found that protected areas are needlessly costly and often located in the wrong place. Suggesting strategic planning is vital to maximise economic efficiency and conservation efforts. Professor Watson, Director of Science at the Wildlife Conservation Society and University QL scientist responded, “We need to use a broad range of strategies such as no-fishing zones, community marine reserves and broad-scale policies to put an end to illegal and unsustainable commercial fishing operations.”

Amongst the recognition of inadequate policies, an effort to increase global conservation by adopting the 30×30 approach to protect 30% of the World’s oceans by 2030 has emerged. Protecting 30% of the ocean is an ambitious requisite needed to defend the oceans biodiversity and the very ecosystems which deliver security to our health and economy. However, increasing the number of MPA’s alone is not sufficient.

MPA’s across the globe all have different levels of enforcement; many offer minimal protection which lack restrictions, policies and effective management. Without controlling what takes place in these designated zones, they offer no more than a name on a piece of paper. The Marine Conservation Society, a leading UK charity proclaims “Of the 355 MPAs in UK seas, only four are fully protected from all extractive activities, covering less than 20km2. All other UK MPAs allow some extractive or damaging activities (e.g. fishing, aggregate extraction, angling etc.) within their boundaries. In their current form, MPAs are little more than ‘paper parks’, lacking the protections they urgently need.”. Not only is it essential that we continue to establish more MPA’s around the globe, we must enforce policies to physically protect and secure the threatened habitats and species within them.

We encourage you to do what you can to help, contact your local environmental authorities and find out what is being done to protect your local marine environment. Be a voice for the sea. Sign the 30×30 petition here and share this article with your friends to show your support.

Be the change that you wish to see in the World.
Mahatma Gandhi

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