So you want to create a Marine Protected Area?…

Marine Protected Areas

Why are we so keen to establish more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)? 

MPAs help the ocean to withstand the impacts of climate change, which is raising its temperature and acidity, as well as helping it to recover from overfishing and marine pollution. A healthy ocean is ecologically really complex, with a huge range of species and lots of individuals. This makes the ecosystem more stable and helps it to resist being worn down by damaging activities, and to recover from stress.

There are loads of different types of MPAs, all with different restrictions on what can take place within them. So some will not allow any fishing, mining or other destructive activity at all. Some MPAs will allow some activities seasonally and then close areas for the rest of the year, and some will manage human activities a bit, but let them continue as long as they do not affect a particular feature or species that the area is designed to protect.


Fantastic MPA graphic from Ocean Conservancy via Save Our Shores

What do you have to think about when planning an MPA?

There are some big questions when you’re planning an MPA. Firstly, where will you put it and what are you trying to protect? There’s no point designating a small area of ocean to protect something which swims long distances, like whales, dolphins and tuna, as they will just swim straight in and out of the area and will barely be protected by it at all. It’s better to look at where these species gather to breed and feed at certain times of year and to focus efforts there. That way you are more likely to protect more individuals more effectively.

Then you’ve got to think about the size, and the number. Studies have shown that it’s better to protect more areas in a network, rather than to try to designate one massive area. This is because the sea is such a complex system, and species move around from area to area, but also up and down from the surface to the seabed. Designating a network of MPAs means there is a better chance of protecting more species effectively, as they swim or drift around during their lifetimes. The number of MPAs needed to be effective is a difficult question, but it’s safe to say that right now designating too many is not a concern. Less than 1% of the ocean is fully protected today, and ideally we need to increase that to 30% by 2030, so the more the merrier.

You’ve also got to think about who you will affect by designating this MPA, and who is going to manage it. Will the management be led more by the government or by local people? Where will the people who used to fish in that area go now? How do you balance the economic and welfare needs of those who depend on the ocean with its conservation needs? All very complex questions, and the answers will depend on many factors including the location (which country’s waters it falls into, if at all), how much fishing happens there and how many people depend on the area for their livelihood.

After all this, it’s a good idea to make people aware of it, otherwise they won’t know how it will affect them. Educational campaigns go hand in hand with MPA designations, because the more you tell people about why it’s important, the more likely they will be to support the idea and to stick to the rules.

Ocean Optimism

We’ve designated more than 2.5 million square kilometres of ocean in the last year, and that is a great step forward. Now we need to designate more, and once we have it’s just as important to make sure they are being managed well and doing their job properly. A healthy ocean is crucial for a healthy climate and MPAs can be a powerful tool to ensure that the ocean can continue to support us in the future.


This is what we’re going for. Source: NatGeo + Pristine Seas







The lungs of our planet

Marine Protected Areas, Ocean Optimism, Step Up For The Sea

Today is Oceans Day at the climate change negotiations conference, COP21, in Paris.

It’s really important not to forget how much we rely on the ocean.

It’s a major source of food, a massive oxygen producer, soaks up huge amounts of excess carbon and houses 80% of all life on earth. We’d be pretty stuck without it.

Climate change is causing unprecedented changes in the ocean, and we need to act now to prevent further damage.

This isn’t only damage done to the ocean itself, but also to the entire support system it gives us.

Climate change is making the ocean warmer, more acidic and it’s rising too. We don’t know how much longer the ocean will be able to provide for us if we keep pummelling it with high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Marine Protected Areas can really help. They allow certain areas of the ocean to be under reduced pressure from human activities, like fishing, mining and dredging, and this means they are better able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The last year has been great in terms of MPAs, with more than 2.5 million square kilometres designated. A positive step for sure.

Ideally we need to fully protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, that’s up from less than 1% right now.

Check out the infographics below from IUCN-WCPA all about how we can’t have a healthy climate without a healthy ocean. Join the conversation on Twitter with #OceanforClimate, #OceanCOP21 or #OceanOptimism.

lungs 1lungs 2

Are MPAs becoming fashionable?

Marine Protected Areas

Pitcairns...KermadecsNazca-DesventuradasEaster Island and now Palau.

All these Marine Protected Area designations or proposals have sprung up in the last year or so. It seems that the MPA movement is gaining momentum and with more and more countries proposing or designating large proportions of their national waters to be protected from damaging human activities, it seems almost fashionable to be doing so.

Pew have calculated that, since June 2014, 1.5 million square miles of ocean have been protected, which is 62% of all fully protected MPAs. This is amazing because it means that recognition of the importance of protecting the ocean is spreading rapidly worldwide, and that countries are playing the long game and designating now to ensure that their marine environment is protected for the future.

Just designating it isn’t enough though. Marine conservationists are optimistic about this huge step forward, but the key to success will be ongoing effective management of these designated areas. When such vast areas are designated it doesn’t make any physical difference to the marine environment unless fishing is closely monitored, human activities are properly zoned, local communities are involved and not excluded from the process, and other local factors are considered. An MPA which has been designated on paper but which doesn’t make any actual difference on the ground is called a ‘Paper Park’ and these are useless. Fully protecting a marine reserve, and preventing all these great designations becoming Paper Parks, will require a lot of resources and coordination, but phasing the management in should make these targets more achievable.

Explore global MPAs here.

Marine Conservation Zones

Marine Protected Areas

On the 30th of January 2015 only 23 of the 37 Marine Conservation Zones proposed by DEFRA for UK waters were put forward by the government for public consultation. This is frustrating as it is not the first time this has happened in the UK and proposed areas have fallen through. In 2013, 127 MCZs were proposed and only 27 were actually designated – this is not enough to prevent ecological damage to our seas!
Read more about the campaign for a network of Marine Conservation Zones in the UK here:

Marine Conservation Society

Guardian 30/1/15