Extraordinary progress in the past decade has brought 1.6 per cent of the world’s ocean to a category of “strongly protected,” researchers say in a new analysis, but the accomplishments are still far behind those that have been achieved on land – and those that are urgently needed.
In a report published in October 2015 in the journal Science, researchers from Oregon State University point out that numerous international policy agreements call for protecting 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, while some conservation organizations and most scientists say 20-50 per cent of ocean protection is needed.
The science of marine protected areas is now mature and extensive, the researchers say, and the multiple threats facing the Earth’s ocean from overfishing, climate change, loss of biodiversity, acidification, and many other issues warrant more accelerated, science-driven action.
There have been significant and recent success stories, the scientists pointed out.
In October, three new, large and fully protected areas were announced at the United Nations and at the Our Ocean conference, which encompass waters around Chile and New Zealand. Last year, the US expanded by six times the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument; and the United Kingdom created what will be the world’s largest fully protected marine area, the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve.
Marine protection can range from “lightly protected,” which allows some protection but significant extractive activity, to the “full” protection usually identified as marine reserves. Such areas, covering an almost undetectable total area of the ocean a decade ago, are rapidly gaining attention as their social, economic, and environmental benefits become more clear.
The scientists said that policy improvements can be aided by embracing more options, bringing more users into the discussion, and changing incentives so that economic and social impacts can be minimized. New enforcement technologies can also help, along with integrating reserves with other management measures.
“An accelerated pace of protection will be needed for the ocean to provide the full range of benefits people want and need,” the scientists wrote in their conclusion.
Seven Key Findings
• Full protection works. Fully protected and effectively enforced areas generally result in significant increases in biomass, size of individuals and diversity inside a reserve. Those benefits in turn often spill over to adjacent areas.
• Habitats are connected. Many species move among habitats during their life cycles, so a range of protected areas will aid in protecting biodiversity and enhancing benefits inside and outside the reserve.
• Networks allow fishing. A network, or set of reserves that are connected by the movement of juveniles and adults, can provide many of the benefits of a single large area, while still allowing fishing between the reserves.
• Engaging users usually improves outcomes to address both conservation and fishery goals.
• Large reserves can enhance resilience and assist in adapting to environmental and climatic changes.
• Planning saves money.
• Ecosystems matter. Complementary efforts to ensure sustainable uses outside a reserve are needed. The goal is to use the ocean without using it up.