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No-take marine reserves best hope for world’s oceans

No-take marine reserves best hope for world’s oceans

Global efforts to protect the world’s oceans from over-fishing and biodiversity loss are not enough and it is time for a re-think on marine conservation, scientists say.

Global efforts to protect the world’s oceans from over-fishing and biodiversity loss are not enough and it is time for a re-think on marine conservation, scientists say.

Associate Professor Mark Costello of the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Auckland and Dr Bill Ballantine, a pioneer of marine reserves in New Zealand, say the definition of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) has become too loose and there is too little certainty about how effective they are.

Instead, more no-take marine reserves, where fishing of any kind is prohibited, must be established and existing MPAs which allow some fishing should not be reported by countries unless they can prove biodiversity gain.

“We say that if organisations and countries want to report on marine biodiversity protection, then that can only be done robustly from within designated no-take reserves,” Dr Costello says.

The United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity has a goal of managing ocean resources sustainably by 2020. Dr Costello says that goal is looking less achievable, not more.

“Most people probably think we are making progress in marine conservation but the figures show that’s not the case,” Dr Costello says.

“So far extinctions in the ocean have been lower than on land but we know some marine species are on the brink and at least a ten-fold increase in no-take marine reserves is the best way to conserve marine biodiversity for future generations.”

Less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans are designated no-take marine reserves and less than one quarter of coastal countries have even one designated marine reserve.

The latest study shows that, since 1950, 9,000 MPAs have been established by 150 countries. Today, just 6 percent of those are no-take; in 1950 the figure was 27 percent. By 2013, a total of 94 percent of MPAs allowed some fishing.

“MPAs are often multiple-use, with the aim of managing resources rather than preserving and protecting biodiversity in its wild condition,” Dr Ballantine says.

“Only areas that are no-take should be regarded as truly protecting ocean ecosystems and if countries can’t accurately report from no-take areas within MPAs, then conservation gain should be assumed to be zero.”

Of the existing 9,000 MPAs around the world, protection measures vary.

“Any fishing tends to impact marine ecosystems and particularly if regulations for an MPA allow fishing of the largest animals which has a direct impact on population structure and therefore the ecosystem as a whole,” Dr Costello says.

New Zealand protects 6.9 percent of its marine environment through some form of protection but less than 1 percent of the Exclusive Economic Zone is protected through no-take reserves.

The study is published today in ecology science journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.


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