Falling Behind in Ocean Protection

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It’s National Oceans Month and on June 8 we celebrate World Oceans Day, so it’s a good time to check in on how close we’re getting to the international goal of fully protecting 10% of the world’s ocean. Unfortunately it looks like we have a long way to go, especially right here in North America.

This week the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) released the first-ever joint assessment of progress on marine protected areas (MPAs) in North America.

There’s a lot of ocean surrounding continental North America – over 15 million km2 – with an incredible variety of ecosystems. From the ice-covered high Arctic Ocean, to the rich temperate waters of the Atlantic and Pacific and the tropical coral reefs in the Caribbean, these systems are valuable to the species they support, as well as the coastal communities that depend on them.

The largest whales on earth inhabit these waters, along with seabirds, turtles, and a diversity of fishes. But the health of this wildlife and the ecosystems they live in face many threats, including pollution, increasing temperatures, and overfishing. One way to mitigate these threats is to protect large areas where some, or all, extractive activities like fishing and oil drilling are excluded. As John Kerry, US Secretary of State and ocean lover, said at a recent meeting, “marine protected areas enable parts of the ocean to rejuvenate without human interference and they can serve as replenishment zones for fisheries and provide safe harbors for entire ecosystems.”

Sadly, according to the analysis, only 0.88% of the North American continental ocean is currently in MPAs and only 0.04% is fully protected. By comparison, MPA coverage within the ocean of all countries (not including the high seas) is about 5.27%. All three countries are seriously lagging behind the rest of the world, and Canada is even farther behind than the US or Mexico.

  • Canada is furthest behind with only 0.11% protected. Just 0.02% is in strict no-take reserves; the rest is still open to commercial fishing, shipping, and industrial activities. Fourteen proposed MPAs, if completed, would contribute another 2-3% to Canada’s MPA targets.
  • The USA has protected only 1.29%* of its continental ocean (this excludes Hawai’i and Pacific Island territories). Only 0.03% of the total USA coverage is in fully protected areas; the rest is still open to commercial fishing, extraction, and industrial activities.
  • Mexico has the highest coverage of the three countries with 43 MPAs protecting 1.62% of its ocean territory. There are currently five proposed MPAs under consideration that, if completed, would contribute another 19.8% to Mexico´s marine conservation efforts.

To make matters worse, recent scientific evidence indicates that the 10% target is not good enough; we need to get to at least 30% in order to restore the health of the ocean, and the MPAs need to be fully protected from industrial activities, including commercial fishing.

shared via: voices.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/03/falling-behind-in-ocean-protection/
article: Valerie Craig
photo: Enric Sala/National Geographic

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