Today’s article is #2 in our series: Top Stories of 2017 and highlights the progress that Marine Protected Areas made in 2017. But the year also included less positive stories on illegal fishing and slavery on the High Seas. Lets start with the good news.
Progress Made for Marine Protected Areas
At the Our Ocean Conference that was recently held in Malta, there was great progress made on ocean issues, including commitments made to dramatically increase the number and size of marine protected areas. The conference acknowledged that natural migration paths must be part of the MPA strategy to provide protection for large migratory marine species like sharks. Dr. Sylvia Earle pointed to Cabo Pulmo in Mexico as a successful “Hope Spot.”
Heather Kuhlken reported for Blue Ocean on the conference, see her report: Marine Protected Areas; Seed Banks for the Future.
North America’s Largest MPA
In November, Mexico was headlined for its creation of Parque Nacional Revillagigedo, North America’s largest MPA. Located 240 miles southwest of the tip of Baja California the Parque Nacional encompasses four small, volcanic islands surrounded by 57,000 square miles of ocean.
All forms of fishing are prohibited within the Parque, providing protection for the tuna, sharks, whales and sea turtles that migrate through these rich waters.
The South Pacific’s New Marine Protected Areas
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the remote southeastern Pacific Ocean, already world famous for its giant stone heads called Moai, announced the creation of an enormous marine park in the waters surrounding the island. At 740,000 sq.km, the Rapa Nui MPA is roughly the size of mainland China and one of the world’s largest marine protected areas.
Also in the Southern Pacific, the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve sets aside 830,000 square kilometers to protect one of the world’s most pristine ocean environments. Although, as we reported in “Thousands of Miles Away Is Not Far Enough to Escape Plastic Pollution” Henderson Island located in the center of the Reserve has seen its share of ocean plastic pollution.
Protection for Antarctic’s Marine Wildlife
In 2016 the Ross Sea Marine Sanctuary was created. Encompassing 5.55 million km of the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean, it is one of the world’s last intact untouched marine ecosystems and will protect penquins, Weddell seals and killer whales. But in 2017 there were also setbacks in the Antarctic, see below. And we need to remember that research has suggested that to be sustainable we must protect at least 30% of the world’s oceans and as of 2017 we have only gone a short distance toward that goal.
Rangers on the Front Lines
The success of our Marine Protected Areas depends on the individuals that devote their lives to protecting these important preserves from poaching, shark finning and the loss of endangered species. Blue Ocean contributor Jo Marlowe brought us two articles on the marine rangers that patrol the Misool Marine Reserve in the heart of Raja Ampat in Indonesia. “There is greater biodiversity — on these reefs than anywhere on earth.” See Jo’s article: Misool Ranger Patrol – Defending the Heart of Marine Biodiversity. (photo – Shawn Heinrichs)
Chris Figgener brought us Sea Turtle Rangers a vivid look at the long hours and hard work involved in patrolling Costa Rican beaches during turtle nesting season. The rangers not only protect the nesting females and deter poachers from stealing their eggs, they are a repository of important information on sea turtle behavior that guides both marine biologists and visiting international volunteers. Christine’s articles are a tribute to these unsung heroes of sea turtle conservation. (photo – Wilberth Villachica)
Since most rangers come from the local communities, an important byproduct of their conservation efforts is to cement the symbiotic relationship between the marine protected areas and the surrounding communities.
Now the Bad News on Marine Protected Areas
Unfortunately, for each good story there have also been set-backs; for example, hopes for the world’s largest MPA to be created in Eastern Antarctic were postponed, although Greenpeace has vowed to fight on for this important marine sanctuary.
Plus, there was the grounding of a cruise ship, the Caledonian Sky on a pristine coral reef in the heart of the Raja Ampat National Marine Park. Estimates indicated that over 13,000 square meters of coral reef were totally destroyed with another 6,000 being moderately damaged.
Trump Attacks EPA and Marine Protected Areas
In 2016, President Obama greatly expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Hawaiian Islands to protect its 7000 species of marine life by making it a no fishing zone. That was just too much for President Trump who has shown a distinct predilection for overturning anything Obama, especially if it gets in the way of the fishing industry. The future of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is still being debated along with other marine parks that Obama created. (photo – James Watt, Papahanaumokuakea Marine Park)
Future of Australian MPAs and Great Barrier Reef Imperiled
In 2012 the Australian government created a string of 44 marine areas, encircling the continent and representing nearly 36% of the country’s exclusive economic zone. Australia’s new government has passed legislation to roll back those protections.
This is in addition to backing a plan to open the country’s largest coal mine that would require cutting a ship channel through the Great Barrier Reef. See Saving the Great Barrier Reef, from Coal for a petition.
Closely related to Marine Protected Areas is the issue of Illegal fishing. In 2017, we published numerous articles on attempts to curb shark-finning. In: Sea Shepherd Catches Illegal Chinese Shark Fishing, we described how the Ocean Warrior tracked and aided in the capture of a Chinese ship illegally poaching sharks in the Galapagos National Marine Park.
Blue Ocean also reported on the use of illegal gil nets by Mexican fishermen in the Gulf of California, that is the cause of the dramatic decline in the Vaquita population, the world’s most endangered marine mammal.
Slavery On the High Seas
Much of the Illegal fishing originates from ports in China and South-East Asia and a very upsetting side-story to illegal fishing is the slavery that allows these fishing fleets to operate. Because of a labor shortage, Thailand’s fishing fleet, which is the world’s third largest, has been forced to rely on migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar. The result has been murder, abandonment at sea, slavery and human trafficking.
This very disturbing issue was covered in our article: Outlaw Ocean: Slavery on the High Seas where we followed the reporting of Ian Urbina who brought this issue to the world’s attention in an award-winning series for the New York Times. Leonardo Dicaprio intends to bring a film version of this story to us shortly, stay tuned.
Rob Stewart’s Legacy!
We cannot leave the subject of sharks in 2017 without remembering the untimely passing of Rob Stewart, the beloved underwater photographer and filmmaker who brought the plight of the world’s sharks to our attention in his films Sharkwater and Revolution.
Rob is much missed, but his passion is being carried on. Watch for Sharkwater II to be released in 2018.
“We have the greatest opportunity in history to do something right, to right the wrongs, to be a hero, to save ecosystems, to create a world that’s beautiful.” ~ Rob Stewart
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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