The race to protect our oceans

As a member of Great British Oceans, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has published a league table of nations for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The document highlights countries leading the way to achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity target of protecting 10% of the world’s marine environment by 2020, and noting which nations have made little or no progress.

Analysis carried out reveals only 19 nations across the world have achieved or exceeded the 10% target. Topping the table is Monaco, having declared 100% of its waters as MPAs, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina with 97%, and Portugal with 52%.

In stark contrast, 33 nations have officially protected less than 0.1% of their waters and a further 49 have protected less than 1%.

The UK comes in ninth place with 25% of its waters having some form of MPA designation. The UK’s place in the top ten is due to large designations in the UK Overseas Territories; the Chagos Marine Reserve , an area larger than France at 640 km2, and the new South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands MPA about the size of Egypt at 1 million km2.
However, the Great British Oceans emphasises that these figures are not a true reflection of how well our oceans are protected. In many cases, areas officially designated as MPAs only offer minimal protection to the biodiversity within them, resulting in nothing more than paper parks.

ZSL’s Great British Oceans Coordinator, Fiona Llewellyn says: “Despite the promising figures at the top of the league table, total global MPA coverage stands at just 2.6%. And unfortunately we know that the level of protection afforded to marine biodiversity in the majority of these areas is questionable. The world’s governments have not acted responsibly, and despite commitments to safeguard marine life by creating protected areas, there has been very little implementation of these promises.”

At Rio +20, Great British Oceans are calling for the designation of more ‘marine reserves’, a type of MPA, in which all fishing and other extractive and damaging activities are prohibited. Marine reserves are a simple and scientifically proven tool.

Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL says: “We want Rio+20 to result in real outcomes for oceans. Genuine sustainable development cannot be achieved without a healthy marine environment. Governments already know this – now they must act.”

As part of Great British Oceans, ZSL hosted their side event ‘Oceans for the future: How can we achieve marine reserve targets?’ at Rio+20 on Saturday 16th June, where they sought re-commitment and action from world leaders to achieve the 10% MPA target by 2020 as an absolute minimum first step towards healthy oceans.

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