Quite a “kerfuffle” (defined by Webster’s as a commotion or conflict) erupted this past week over an editorial by Dr. Luiz Rocha in the New York Times. In Bigger is Not Better for Conservation. Dr. Rocha, a coral reef scientist and curator of the California Academy of Science, argues that the recent, much publicized trend of creating large-scale, but remote marine reserves is missing the point. A counter argument by the Ocean Elders argues that bigger is better. So, does size matter and how can we really get the biggest bang out of Marine Protected Areas? Let’s explore three different takes on this important issue. (photo – Burt Jones)
Coastal areas with more Biodiversity deserve more protection
Dr. Rocha contends that vast marine protected areas established in the open ocean are important, but protect relatively little in comparison to near-shore waters. Coastal areas with a greater diversity of species, need more protections because they are faced with threats from tourism development, habitat degradation and overfishing.
Rocha points out that last year Chile was praised for creating an MPA covering an impressive 278,000 square miles surrounding Easter Island. However, the MPA does not ban fishing in the coastal waters that support the most biodiversity and requires the most protection. Rocha argues that these coastal marine habitats make up less than one-tenth of a percent of the ocean’s floor but are home to 25% of all marine species.
Mexico, the U.S., Palau, Britain, the Seychelles and just this month Brazil, have all created large open ocean reserves, while proposals for protecting smaller coastal areas have been less successful. See: Update: New Marine Protected Areas Created in Brazil
Ocean Elders argue Bigger is Better
In their counter statement the Ocean Elders agreed that protecting coastal areas is vital, but to maintain a healthy ocean environment “safeguarding large areas of the ocean and the biological, physical, and geological systems and processes that they embrace are essential for human prosperity, health, and security.”
“We can, and we must, safeguard vital large areas of the ocean that underpin Earth’s life support systems and urgently restore areas damaged by centuries of human degradation.”
Marine Protected Areas Are Not An Either/Or Proposition
In Deep Sea News, author Rick Macpherson suggests that in this spat we should find common ground and not lose perspective on key issues.
Mac points out that there are about 20 large, open ocean, marine reserves around the world ranging in size from tens-of-thousands to millions of square kilometers and may vary widely in their protections from full, no-take fishing to continued multiple use. While, estimates from the Marine Conservation Institute’s MPA Atlas suggest that globally there are about 15,000 small, coastal MPAs, some encompassing only a few square kilometers.
The important thing to remember is that combining both the small coastal reserves and the vast open ocean areas adds up to only 2% of the world’s seas that are under any type of protection. Far less than the 30% by 2030, called for by the IUCN in 2016.
Macpherson adds that when countries like the U.S. and Australia are rolling back protections for MPAs that it is time for “Yes/Also should become our mantra! We must embrace a process of continuous improvement in our MPA work, not display a reflex of undercutting other conservation efforts.”
“And we need to keep our focus and attention on the real threats to a healthy ocean: over-fishing, illegal fishing, pollution, climate change, and lack of political will for action.”
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
See these additional, related Blue Ocean Posts on MPAs!
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