Big things happening this week, readers. Not only did the Astros TAKE IT TO the Yankees to make it past the wildcard round, but Chile and the U.S. announced plans to establish four new marine sanctuaries off their respective coasts at the Our Ocean conference in Valparaiso. There was much rejoicing. Today, Andrew and I reflected on these decisions and the role that similar MPAs will play in ocean conservation for the next few decades.
Together with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), President Obama declared plans to establish marine sanctuaries off the coast of Maryland and in Lake Michigan off the coast of Wisconsin. Both of these areas contain important historical landmarks and unique biodiversity, making them great options for federally protected waters. Moving a little further south, Chile’s newly established marine parks comprise about one million square kilometers including the waters surrounding Easter Island. Protecting this amount of marine habitat is quite the statement from a nation with the seventh largest commercial catch globally in 2010.
In addition to the obvious ecological benefits of protecting these areas, Andrew and I both agreed that this sends a very blatant message to the international community that the sustainable management of marine resources should be a key focus of national politics. While marine protected areas (MPAs) are certainly not perfect, they are one of the best tools we have available for marine protection. A large majority of research on the topic suggests that, when established correctly, MPAs can increase fish biomass and abundance relative to nonprotected areas. They do this by restricting certain uses, such as fishing, mining, diving, or all of the above, in a given area. MPAs are founded on a very simple principle: if you remove the cause of harm from an ecosystem, that harm may be alleviated and the ecosystem may recover.
The good news is that the number of MPAs globally is likely to increase, especially if we’re to meet the target set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.* However, we shouldn’t rely solely on MPAs to provide all of the necessary protection for threatened marine ecosystems. While management is a great tool, awareness and activism are just as important to our ocean’s future. Continue to stay informed on issues facing our marine environment. Blogs like Deep Sea News, Southern Fried Science, The Echinoblog, and yours truly are all great sources of underwater information. Once you’re equipped with the proper knowledge, you can then voice your informed opinions to our elected officials. If we as a global and ocean-reliant community speak up for Blue, we can inspire real change in the way we prioritize the sustainable management of our marine resources. And there will be much rejoicing.
*Member countries agreed to protect 10% of the world’s oceans using MPAs by 2020. Prior to the Our Ocean announcements, we sat at just over 2%.
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