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Global Ideas

A guide to ocean protection

Oceans cover 71 percent of our planet, and are home to huge variety of species - that's why Marine Protected Areas, are so important. Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, explains.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are areas of ocean protected for conservation purposes. They vary in size and level of protection with six major types of MPAs, including those that restrict fishing, tourism or mining. But why do we need them and how do they work? Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of #link:http://www.iucn.org/media/iucn_experts/?11632/Carl-Gustaf-Lundin--Director-IUCN-Global-Marine-and-Polar-Programme:Global Marine and Polar Programme#, at conservation organization, IUCN, spoke to Global Ideas.

Why do we need Marine Protected Areas?

What we would always say on land is that we need to have some reference points - some ways of understanding what nature looked like before humans started to change it so much. It's the same in the ocean. If we ever wanted to come back to a healthy system, we have to know: How does a health system actually work? Without some reference points, how would you know?

That's what we are trying to do here. We want to try to keep the oceans intact. Make sure they actually deliver the benefits we're relying on and that so many people are dependent upon.

Who governs these MPAs?

Every country has a maritime area of 200 nautical miles, which actually is their jurisdiction, and there they can declare these parks and we know who is going to enforce them. There are various forms of governance. You might have local authorities that are responsible. Often it's a park service or department of fisheries.

On the high seas, we don't have that. We need to create intergovernmental bodies between states that are actually capable of enforcing something. You might have fisheries management organizations that have responsibility for fishing, or the seabed authority that sets aside some reference points in terms of not mining in those areas. Or you might have a maritime authority that actually regulates shipping lanes, which might also then affect what is in the high seas. But that’s much patchier and really not a comprehensive system of protection.

Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme

Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme

Often enforcement has been the limiting factor. But currently there are a lot of good movements using satellites and various types of information to understand what is actually happening. So you don't have to send out big warships to catch people, you can do it remotely.

More than 64 percent of the ocean is beyond national jurisdiction. That's a huge part of this planet, and almost half of it right now is lawless in the sense that people get away with all kinds of bad activities.

What are the dangers to and benefits of oceans and marine protected areas?

Many of the fishing grounds we have today, we have overfished badly. So many of these stocks have now crashed. Many of the most valuable bigger fish have disappeared completely, and we calculate that as much as 95 percent of the big fish are gone in most places - the whales as well. It's a pretty bad and drastic situation. One way of getting out of this is to create some areas where these fish can reproduce. So they have a chance to bounce back again. We need to have those over a longer period of time so they really can establish mature individuals.

We often refer to them as BOFFFF, or Big Old Fat Fecund Female Fish. As fish get older, they actually get better at producing new eggs, which means a small fish maybe can have a thousand offspring, whereas a big female could have 15,000 or something like that.

Another thing is the whole integrity of the system. In 1970, we had maybe 50 to 60 percent coral coverage in the Caribbean. Today we are down to an average of less than 14 percent - but in many places, we are at 2 and 3 percent. So basically the coral reefs of the Caribbean have collapsed. We haven't protected these systems enough. In the places we have provided decent protection, the reefs are actually doing quite well, and they are coming back. Given that tourism is by far the biggest industry for many Caribbean island nations, this is very important for them. If they can actually recover their reefs, they can once again become a top tourism destination.

Another issue is the rapid changes we see due to climate change. In many places, we have now already seen more than a 1 degree warming of water - and in the Baltic Sea, we calculate more than a 2 degree Celsius shift. When you have these quite rapid shifts in any kind of system, obviously a number of species do much worse than they used to and are likely to disappear, while others might do better. A healthy system tends to be more resilient than one that has been degraded or destroyed through habitat destruction. A marine protected area is more stable and has more opportunities to recover.

Why is just 3 percent of the ocean delineated into protected zones, compared to 12 percent for land?

To some degree it's out of sight, out of mind. People see a surface of water and think, "well, whatever is below it doesn't really matter," and we forget the fact that all life came from the ocean and that we are very dependent on what actually happens in the sea for our own benefit - many functions that are absolutely essential, like the production of oxygen. If you just look at how many people derive some of most of the positive aspects of their lives like vacations and sustenance and so on from the ocean, it's very important.

So a lot of these areas also aren't managed as well as they could be?

Of the 3 percent of the ocean managed as marine protected areas, maybe as much as half is not well-managed. That's to say, just a very small section of the overall ocean is in good shape. That's a real big worry for all of us, and I think we have a lot more work to be done there.

How else could we improve in managing these areas?

Often, it is just the nations that have to take the responsibility. Most countries understand they should have a protected area network, and most countries now - regardless of whether they are rich or poor - actually have land protected areas. Now, it is a matter of them stepping up and doing their duty in the ocean, and taking responsibility for what's under their jurisdiction.

The IUCN is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. The organization helps to categorize and define marine protected areas, and is also one of the main collaborators in Ocean in Google Earth.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity

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