IUCN Charts Course for Marine Protected Area Networks


WASHINGTON, DC, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - Connecting marine reserves into larger networks will make marine species and ecosystems more resistant to climate change, overfishing and pollution, many ocean scientists agree, but making it happen can be difficult. Today, a new guide for establishing marine protected area networks was released at the IUCN Marine Protected Area Summit in Washington, DC.

Some 50 marine experts and conservationists have gathered at the invitation-only Summit to strategize on bringing the world from today, when most countries and regions have just started to develop a few small marine protected areas to a time when over 20 to 30 percent of oceans and seas are safeguarded in protected areas.

The new guide, "Establishing Networks of Marine Protected Areas – Making It Happen," is intended as a chart to help planners navigate that distance.

The guide is published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, in collaboration with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the World Wildlife Fund–Australia, and The Nature Conservancy.

"Better protecting our oceans is essential for tackling climate change," said Dan Laffoley, marine vice chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas.

"Our oceans play a fundamental role in shaping and regulating our climate, and yet today, only one percent of our oceans are protected. Marine protected areas are vital in promoting the recovery of our oceans and in supporting the survival of millions of people living by the sea over the coming century," Laffoley said.

Eight criteria for establishing marine protected areas, MPAs, are given in the new guide - representativeness, replication, viability, precautionary design, permanence, maximum connectivity, resilience, size and shape.

"It is unrealistic to expect that building MPA networks can be achieved in a single step," the guide says. "Instead, planners should expect to develop a gradual strategy for implementing a full network, slow the loss of endangered marine species, and restore depleted fisheries."

Primary considerations include "feasibility, affordability, public understanding and protecting areas most vulnerable to impact from human activities."

Key to the entire process, the guide stresses, is political will, and developing this will requires involving stakeholders from the very beginning in an open, participatory process.

The participation of all types of groups is encouraged - from indigenous community meetings led by traditional leaders, to government-sponsored opportunities for information sharing and comment, to intergovernmental planning meetings. And at the planning stage, compliance and enforcement considerations should be built into the process.

But time is short, and the target date is just five years away.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the G8 Group of Nations have called for establishing a global system of Marine Protected Area networks by the year 2012.

But before the goal of 2012 is even understood by most countries, it appears to have been outdated by new pressures upon ocean resources.

The draft challenge under discussion at the Summit today states that, "Climate change, surface ocean acidification, fisheries with new gear types expanding away from depleted coastal margins to exploit the High Seas, marine-based renewable energy sources, carbon free energy generation systems injecting captured carbon dioxide into the seabed, and escalating fuel prices are all now major drivers for significant change."

The pressure of climate change is particularly challenging, but governments are already adapting to it, the draft says.
"We see the beginnings of a new world order arising, with strong legislative and political processes bringing nations together in fresh alliances, particularly geared to tackle the economic impacts of climate change," the draft challenge states.

”Governments and the conservation community need to step up marine protection if we are to support the global effort to tackle climate change,” said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre as the Summit opened on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, at the close of the Summit, participants will finalize the challenge, identifying priorities for action for the marine community and governments around the world.

The statement that "the MPA target for 2012, once seen as the goal, must now be viewed as the minimum," is likely to top the list of priorities.

The Summit will also launch a new tool for increasing understanding of how well oceans are protected. Called the "Wet List," this annual report will track the progress being made in marine conservation, and help the global community rise to the challenges.

The Wet List will take the form of an annually produced, Internet-based global overview, supported by 18 Internet-based regional reviews. It will also be published as a single hard copy report.

The data to support these reports and analyses will be furnished by the continuously updated database of MPAs - the World Database on Protected Areas - a joint project of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, which is the custodian of the database.

To view the guide, "Establishing Networks of Marine Protected Areas – Making It Happen," click here (http://www.iucn.org/themes/wcpa/biome/marine/mpanetworks/networks.html).

The United States is developing a national system of marine protected areas. To find out more click here (http://mpa.gov/national_system/framework_sup.html#nextsteps).

In 1998 a bleaching event struck the corals of the Rangiroa Atoll in French Polynesia that was so severe it could be seen from space. (Photo courtesy NASA - http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images_topic.php3?topic=life&img_id=5050)

The coastal area of Belize features the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. It is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.