03 Apr 2019 Story Oceans & seas

Beyond a paper exercise: giving teeth to marine protected areas

Photo by Fabrice Dudenhofer/CRIB

Pair trawling is when two ships travel in parallel several hundred metres apart towing a huge net which indiscriminately scoops up marine animals in its path.

Our planet’s oceans are under ever increasing pressure from overfishing and other human activities. We are consuming 31 per cent of fish stocks at unsustainable levels, largely due to illegal, unreported or unregulated activities. We are using the ocean’s resources faster than they can naturally recover. There is a widening gap between the declining health of the ocean and the growing demand for their resources.

Oceans provide nourishment for over three billion people and absorb 30 per cent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere and 90 per cent of the heat from climate change. We need to look after them.

image
Photo by Mike Markovina/CRIB

In addition to intensive fishing, marine pollution, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, warming ocean temperatures and melting sea ice are adversely affecting marine biodiversity and whole ecosystems.

Half the world’s coral reefs have already been lost. Global warming is causing repeated cycles of coral bleaching events. The fate of corals, breeding grounds for many fish species, hangs in the balance.

Around the world human activity is undermining the long-term sustainability of our ocean and coasts. This, in turn, undermines social and economic sustainability.

UN Environment and partners are promoting the implementation of effective and equitable marine protected areas to secure fish populations and ecosystem function, thereby ensuring wide-ranging benefits to people and societies. UN Environment assists countries to effectively and fairly manage marine protected areas by providing technical expertise and capacity-building support.

“Marine protected areas can help maintain and restore the health of ocean and coastal ecosystems,” says UN Environment oceans’ expert Ole Vestergaard. “In the long run, using the ocean in a sustainable way is our best option for preserving the abundance of resources that we take from them—the recently announced UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 should help provide impetus to protection efforts.”

image

There has been a 25 per cent increase in designated marine protected areas in the last 15 years. Currently there are 14,882 marine protected areas covering 7.6 per cent of the global ocean, an area nearly three times the size of the United States. The most recently announced marine protected area is around Ascension Island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Ross Sea marine protected area, which is about the size of Mexico and was created in 2016, is the biggest.

However, research indicates that many marine protected areas, especially the larger ones, are not always effective and need better governance. Some studies indicate that 40 per cent of marine protected areas have major deficiencies, according to UN Environment’s Frontiers, 2017, report.

To be more effective, these areas need strong governance that also promotes a sense of stewardship that demonstrates the social, economic and environmental benefits for user communities.

UN Environment’s new guidance on marine protected areas

The governance of these areas is recognized in Sustainable Development Goal 14 - Life below water, Target 14.5, as well as in Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, and UN Environment is a long-standing thought-leader in the field.

image
Photo by CRIB

UN Environment has just launched a practical guide for governments, planners and decision makers to support the effective design and active management of marine protected areas. Case studies and examples of best practice are taken from 34 marine protected areas around the world. No two areas are the same, so a flexible approach is necessary.

Rather than assuming that marine protected areas are set aside from use, the guidance recognizes that these areas should be seen more as vehicles for promoting integrated and sustainable use in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

UN Environment’s Regional Seas Programme, launched in 1974, aims to address the degradation of the world’s oceans and coastal areas through a “shared seas” approach. Today, more than 143 countries have joined 18 Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans for the sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment.

In addition, UN Environment’s Clean Seas Campaign (#CleanSeas on social media) was launched in February 2017, with the aim of engaging governments, the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic pollution. So far 60 countries have joined the campaign.

For further information please contact Ole Vestegaard: Ole.Vestegaard[at]un.org