I spent the last couple of weeks enjoying two of Africa’s great wonders: the Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains. They are among the many large protected areas in Africa, acknowledged as assets for the continent and its wellbeing. Together Earth’s protected areas cover more than 12% of its land surface. I could list here the many great benefits they offer – ecological, financial, aesthetic – but I’m sure you know them.
I acknowledge that terrestrial wilderness parks aren’t perfect, but whatever our wildlife parks’ problems, my point is that we’re doing a lot better on land than we are in the sea. In the oceans, only around 1% of the total area is protected in any way.
1/100 of the Ocean
One percent. One-hundredth of the ocean. That’s not much when one considers the vast diversity of animals, plants and types of habitat in the seas. Everything from roaming tuna to sedentary mussels, spiny fishes to soft corals, big blue whales to miniscule krill, ice water-inhabiting narwhals to tropical clownfishes finds a home in the oceans. How could 1% ever encompass this diversity?
And of the small percentage of the ocean that is listed as protected, just a fraction of that is actually off limits to fishing – somewhere around 13% – a dismally tiny amount. Imagine Africa’s great game parks were open to hunting?
All sounds rather depressing.
On The Bright Side
But it’s not. On the bright side, we’ve already come to realise that marine protected areas – like their terrestrial counterparts – are a great asset, and we don’t have enough of them. Recently there’s been a push to protect more of the ocean. (Yes, if you can believe it, 1% is the result of a push.) Since 2003 the total ocean area under protection has risen by 150%. And the Convention on Biological Diversity’s goal is to see even more of the seas under protection: 10% by 2020.
Setting up more marine protected areas as part of a larger conservation plan does plenty of good not only for oceans and fisheries, but also for us in turn. It doesn’t require any guesswork; we know they are good for both marine wildlife and people.
What can you do?
Do a quick internet search and you’ll find causes, petitions and campaigns that you can support to get more marine protected areas established in your part of the world. Here are a few to get you started:
Sign a scale to show support for marine protected areas.
Support marine protected areas in Northern California
Learn more at the National Marine Protected Areas Center
Lisa Boonzaier is a young woman who loves the ocean: its wild, mercurial character; its colour; its life; its waves; everything. She hopes to contribute as much as she can to saving our oceans as we know them before they’re irreversibly changed.