Save our oceans call by world conservationists

Posted: 25 October 2005

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has called on nations across the world to step up their efforts to protect the world's vast and increasingly vulnerable marine environment from climate change, pollution, resource depletion and other threats.

The plea was made at the opening of the First International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1), which continues throughout the week in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

In an address to the Congress, IUCN Director General Achim Steiner called for concerted international action to establish a global representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2012, a target the global community had set itself at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development.

“Our seas and oceans cover a staggering three quarters of the planet’s surface, but less than one per cent of the marine environment worldwide is under protection today – despite the political imperative and mounting scientific evidence that marine protected areas can be a central tool against fish stocks depletion, alien species invasions, and the great shifts caused by climate change,” said Steiner.

Thinking big

“If we are to improve the global ocean governance system, restore fish stock productivity and achieve sound management of existing and future marine protected areas, we need to think as big as the oceans are vast.

"The World Conservation Union calls on all parties – sovereign States, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, regional fisheries management organisations, and the conservation community – to work together on developing and implementing a ‘navigational chart’ for establishing a global representative system of MPAs by the year 2012,” Steiner told a gathering of some 700 IMPAC1 participants from over 60 countries.

Steiner said the Congress is an opportunity for the conservation community to reconnect with agencies responsible for fisheries management and trade.

More often than not, he said, conservation and fisheries authorities were at odds over the establishment of marine protected areas. "We need to demonstrate that MPAs not only benefit marine species and habitats, but can also play a crucial role in preventing the collapse of the world’s fisheries. Marine protected areas are not just a conservation priority – it is our shared mandate as a global community.”

Over the past ten years, the World Conservation Union has identified marine areas in urgent need of protection on the global scale such as coral reefs and the “high seas”, or areas outside of national jurisdiction, which should become the key elements of a global representative system.

“Vast areas of ocean – first of all, the high seas – lack an effective management regime. We are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of our knowledge of open ocean species and ecosystems at all depths, and realise the urgency of protecting them from degradation through over-harvesting and destructive fishing practices such as deep sea bottom trawling. We must protect the high seas before it’s too late,” he said.

Steiner also addressed the growing international problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. “IUU fishing is a scourge on the oceans, and more nations need to follow Australia’s example in taking a tough, no-nonsense, stance in tracking and capturing such criminals. IUCN is proud to be part of the High Seas Task Force, of which Australia is a member, that aims to combat IUU fishing,” he said.

The Congress aims to advance MPAs as a key tool for marine conservation. It is jointly organized by Parks Victoria, the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Department of Environment and Heritage and Australian Fisheries Management Authority together with IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas.

“The Congress comes at a crucial time. We have seven years to meet the globally agreed target to establish a global representative network of marine protected areas, and thereby make a difference for the world’s oceans,” Steiner concluded.

Minimal protection

According to IUCN, while less than 1 per cent of the marine environment is protected the ocean covers 70 per cent of the earth’s surface. By comparison, over 12 per cent of the world’s land surface is protected.

“The world urgently needs a comprehensive system of MPAs to conserve biodiversity and to help rebuild the productivity of the oceans” said Graeme Kelleher, author of IUCN’s Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas. There is, therefore, an urgent need to increase MPAs but also to ensure that they are effectively managed.

The World Commission on Protected Areas, one of IUCN’s six commissions, works to promote the establishment and effective management of a worldwide network of terrestrial and marine protected areas. In addition, IUCN is focusing attention on the high seas which represent 50% of the Earth’s surface.

As Valli Moosa, IUCN President, said: “It is important that the protection of marine life and the oceans should not be a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. Marine conservation is a matter of global priority and utmost urgency; it is time to reverse the trend of marine exploitation.”

Related links:

World Conservaton Monitoring Centre

See also our factfile entry on coastal management