World needs to protect 32 million square kilometers of ocean in two years

Jeremy Hance
October 20, 2010

According to goals set in 2002 by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, nations must spend the next two years catching-up on creating ocean reserve. Currently, about 1.17 percent of the ocean is under some form of protection, but the 2002 goal was 10 percent by 2012. That means protecting over 32.5 million square kilometers, of the ocean twice the size of Russia. According to a recent report, Global Ocean Protection by the Nature Conservancy, not only is the world failing on its goals to protect a significant portion of the ocean, it's also failing to protect 10 percent of various marine ecosystems.

"Overall the shortfall in our achievements is quite shocking," says Mark Spalding with The Nature Conservancy and an editor of the report. "We attained only one tenth of our target. Even that statistic is buoyed up by a handful of giant marine parks, leaving a greater shortfall in many areas where the pressures are most intense. We need to realize that marine protection isn’t just about nature, it’s about ourselves. If we can’t manage and sustain our seas in their entirety, humans will be high on the list of losers."

Coral reef off Cancun. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Overfishing, pollution, and climate change has left the world's oceans in dire shape: marine species (such as sharks and tuna) are plummeting, coral reefs face possible extinction from acidification due to greenhouse gas emissions, and runoff from agriculture has left parts of the ocean virtually starved of oxygen. A study in 2008 found that only 4 percent of the ocean could be classified as 'pristine'.

Researchers with the Nature Conservancy suggest that governments around the world work on 'marine spatial planning', i.e. zoning the oceans in a way a city creates zones.

"There are areas for the houses where we live, areas for the businesses and industries where we work and shop, and areas set aside as parks and open space where we play and watch wildlife,” says Imèn Meliane a lead author with the report. “If we apply these same principles throughout our oceans, we’ll have a long-term approach that combines ocean protection with sustainable use.”

While land ecosystems have been seeing varying degrees of protection for over a century, the concept of marine protected areas is relatively new and has only become centralized in the late Twentieth Century.

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Jeremy Hance (October 20, 2010).

World needs to protect 32 million square kilometers of ocean in two years.