Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:
SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.
From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.
Near-shore waters have a greater diversity of species and face more immediate threats from energy extraction, tourism, development, habitat degradation and overfishing. If we leave these places at risk, we’re not really accomplishing the goal of protecting the seas.
As the United States undertakes an alarming rollback in environmental protections, other countries are making news by safeguarding remote expanses in efforts to meet or even surpass commitments to the United Nations to protect 10 percent of marine areas by 2020. We should not continue applauding countries that are simply drawing a line around relatively empty waters where protections are neither essential nor most effective to meet a target. Instead we need to do the harder work of safeguarding the most threatened regions of the ocean — the coastlines — even if they’re smaller.
Last year, for example, Chile created a marine protected area that stretched 278,000 square miles around Easter Island. It is impressive in scope, but the protected area still allows fishing in the coastal waters that are the habitat of unique species requiring the most protection. This misguided action was praised as a win for marine conservation…
Read the whole op-ed here.