Marine reserves could offset costs of climate change

Posted: 28 June 2009

An expert group examining the long-term future of New Zealand's marine environment, has concluded that protecting valuable marine resources could offset the projected economic costs of climate change.

The group, which included fishermen, scientists, government and Maori representatives, assessed the future of New Zealand's marine environment, already under pressure from fishing and mineral extraction, competing marine interests and pollution.

They concluded that New Zealand must take major steps to protect the country's marine resources from the effects of climate change - steps that also could be replicated in other countries.

Kulape-Batu-Batu Marine Protected Area
Kulape-Batu-Batu Marine Protected Area
Kulape-Batu-Batu Marine Protected Area, Tawi-Tawi province, Philippines. Photo: Abdullajid Basali/ IUCN
In particular, they highlighted the importance of marine reserves and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as a way of counteracting the cost of climate changes to the marine environment.

Whether one looks at the most optimistic or most prssimistic scenarios for climate change, says their report, "there is scope for much more extensive activity in the seas and that access to the ocean's resources could generate economic boom or recession."

"On the other hand, closer analysis of predicted climate change impacts showed that many marine species are likely to come under severe stress in the next 50 years and the stability of ecosystems is not guaranteed."

Marine reserves do not need to detract from the potential value of the marine economy, says the report. Indeed, they could add to the value to activities undertaken outside of reserves, for example by conserving a pool of genetic diversity which could improve species health in other areas.

In these two scenarios, the report says, the costs of the reserves were minimal compared to the eventual benefits and the costs of climate change. "In fact, they were more like an insurance investment, which allowed the communities to prepare themselves for the changes that were inflicted by larger forces" including climate change and intensified human activity.

NOTE: Over 30 marine reserves have been established in New Zealand waters. Today marine reserves cover 5.4 per cent of the territorial sea, or 0.2 per cent of the country's total marine environment. The largest reserves by far surround the remote Auckland Islands and Kermadec Islands, which comprise 99 per cent of the marine reserve area in New Zealand

'Future Seas' is a WWF report developed by a representative group of fishers, scientists, energy experts, community leaders, eco-tour operators, environmentalists, and Mäori and government representatives