Global Ocean Legacy, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners, is seeking to establish a new benchmark for the protection of ocean ecosystems: creation of the first generation of great marine parks around the globe by 2022.
In recent years, promising developments have taken place in the designation of large, fully protected marine reserves. In 2012, Australia took the bold step of creating the Coral Sea Marine National Park, fully protecting 502,000 square kilometers (194,000 square miles) of essential coral reefs, atolls, and deep-sea features that offer habitat to 62 nationally threatened and protected species. Three years earlier, the United Kingdom designated the largest marine reserve in the world: the 640,000-square-kilometer (247,000-square-mile) Chagos Marine Reserve in the Indian Ocean, encompassing more than 50 islands and coral atolls. And in 2006, the United States created the 362,000-square-kilometer (140,000-square-mile) Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. That step ensured protection of more than 7,000 marine species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a full quarter of which are endemic to the area.
Despite this progress, the world’s marine ecosystems continue to be seriously degraded by overfishing, pollution, climate change, and other human activities that threaten the livelihoods, food security, and economic futures of many millions of people. The world’s oceans need to be better managed to safeguard the full range of their marine life and critically important ecosystem services.
Depending on how it is measured, 6 to 12 percent of the world’s land has been protected to conserve biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide to human societies. By comparison, only about 1 percent of the world’s oceans have been similarly protected, as of September 2013. Most marine no-take areas are small and inshore, providing important local conservation benefits in regions that are already heavily fished. However, these places provide relatively limited protection for many wide-ranging species that move through the broader seascape. Large reserves, where ecological processes and functions can operate much as they have for millennia, are virtually missing from the marine conservation and management portfolio.
The world’s great terrestrial parks provide important services, preserving ecosystems and wide-ranging species, and supporting non-extractive industries such as tourism. The world needs to establish similar ocean-scale reserves so we can restore and rebuild our global seascape.
Global Ocean Legacy is working with governments, local communities, and scientists to identify and establish the first generation of very large marine parks. Many of these ecosystems have not been fished intensively, are still relatively intact, and lie within the political jurisdiction of nations with the capability to monitor and enforce protection.
We are convinced that creating a worldwide system of very large, fully protected marine reserves is an essential and long-overdue step that will significantly improve stewardship of the global marine environment.
Supporting StatementsGrowing market demand for declining fish stocks means that even isolated and remote locations are likely to lose their de facto conservation status in the near future—unless there is a transformative improvement in the management and governance of marine ecosystems.
The goal of Global Ocean Legacy is to identify and secure protection for additional large marine ecosystems—until recently protected only by their geographic isolation—before significant environmental degradation occurs. The expected benefits of these reserves include:
- Helping to ensure that top predators such as sharks, swordfish, and marine mammals remain abundant, while preserving intact food webs still free from severe depletion.
- Providing reference sites for future scientific research and public education.
- Matching the scale of management to the scale of important ecosystem processes, such as dispersal and migration of many species. Offshore islands and reefs are typically small and relatively isolated from one another compared with continental coastlines. Consequently, marine species at isolated locations have fewer and more distant sources of replenishment. Effective management should protect the entire life cycle of species.
- Improving resilience to the accelerating impacts of climate change. A growing body of evidence indicates that protecting the structure of food webs and maintaining the ecological function of targeted species is critical for building resilience and preventing regime-shifts, or abrupt, large-scale reorganizations, in degraded ecosystems.
- Supporting the long-term recovery, conservation, and maintenance of populations of highly mobile and migratory species. Large reserves protect a sufficient expanse of ocean to provide important habitat and refugia for species such as tuna, sharks, seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals.
- Supporting protection while minimizing social and economic costs. Very large no-take marine reserves are highly appropriate for remote, relatively intact areas because they protect biodiversity, species, and habitat in areas where there are few existing uses and therefore minimal potential conflicts and costs to society.
- Enhancing the global reputations of managing nations. Countries that create very large no-take areas will be recognized as world leaders in developing new solutions for the stewardship of marine biodiversity.
ConclusionGlobally, there are a relatively small number of intact regions where it is possible to establish, implement, and monitor very large marine reserves. These regions should be an urgent priority for protection, based on strong public and political support.
We, the undersigned, for all of the aforementioned reasons, support the efforts of Global Ocean Legacy. We look forward to working collaboratively to achieve this ocean legacy for future generations and for all humankind.
Callum Roberts, Ph.D.Professor of Marine Conservation, Environment Department, University of York
Terry Hughes, Ph.D.Director, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; ARC Laureate Fellow (2012-17)
Carl Safina, Ph.D.President, Blue Ocean Institute; Research Professor, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University