Ocean experts urge faster action on marine reserves

Posted: 16 April 2007

The Earth's oceans are being destroyed at a much faster rate than they are being protected, said the world's leading marine experts at the end of the IUCN Marine Protected Area Summit.

To save the oceans, participants urged governments, business and civil society to rapidly increase marine protected areas and to step up measures making marine environments more resistant to climate change.

The high seas - oceans beyond national jurisdiction - are particularly threatened: "Entire ecosystems in the high seas are being damaged and lost before we have even acted to protect them," says the summit's closing statement.

As a key solution, the summit proposed to rapidly increase protection of the oceans and connect marine protected areas through corridors. These 'marine corridors' would allow marine species to recover and migrate under changing sea temperatures and sea chemistry. Currently, only 1 per cent of the oceans are protected, compared to over 12 per cent of the Earth's land surface.

"Summit participants urge governments to establish marine protected area networks by 2012, and to protect at least 10 per cent of oceans under national jurisdiction as decided under several legally binding agreements," said Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas. "With the current pace of action, the targets will not be met."

Red Sea

Marine protected areas have been proven to allow threatened fish stocks to recover - and to increase the fishing yield in adjacent areas. In the Egyptian Red Sea, five years after the establishment of marine reserves, fishing has increased by 66 per cent in neighbouring areas.

To make oceans more resistant to the impacts of climate change, other stress factors such as pollution and overfishing need to be kept away from marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, a major source of income and protein for millions of people worldwide.

"Climate change makes oceans warmer and more acidic, which causes corals to bleach and erodes their ability to build reef skeletons. But corals can adapt and survive if they are healthy and don't suffer from sedimentation or disruptive fishing practices," said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN's Marine Programme.

Better management of marine environments will also save mankind from accelerated climate change. Today, oceans are the world's largest carbon sink, absorbing around 50 per cent of atmospheric CO² every year. However, continued discharges of carbon dioxide and poor marine management may turn oceans from a carbon sink into a major carbon source, releasing vast stores of carbon into the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change.

The IUCN Marine Protected Area Summit, organized by its World Commission on Protected Areas, brought together the world's leading marine experts from 10-12 April in Washington to develop a strategy for protecting oceans from increasing pressures such as climate change, ocean acidification and overfishing.

The IUCN Marine Protected Area Summit statement is available here

For information on establishing marine protected area networks click here