The race to protect our oceans – MRC delivers MPA league table at Rio +20
On 16 June the Marine Reserves Coalition (MRC) hosted a successful side event at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio +20). The event saw the launch of the MRC’s ‘Marine Protected Areas League Table of Nations’ – the result of new analysis on the global coverage of ‘marine protected areas’ (MPAs).
The league table shows the nations that are leading the way to achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity target of protecting 10% of the world’s marine environment by 2020, and those that have made little or no progress.
The analysis, carried out by the MRC, reveals only 19 nations across the world have achieved or exceeded the 10% target. Topping the table is Monaco, having declared 100% of its waters as ‘protected’, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina with 97%, and Portugal with 52%. Following the announcements last week of a new network of MPAs in Australian waters, Australia jumped up from number 19 to number seven in the table.
In stark contrast, 30 nations have officially protected less than 0.1% of their waters and a further 49 have protected less than 1%.
The UK comes in tenth place with 25% of its waters having some form of ‘protected’ designation. The UK’s place in the top ten is due to large designations in the UK Overseas Territories; the Chagos Marine Reserve, an area larger than France at 640 km2, and the new South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands MPA about the size of Egypt at 1 million km2.
The MRC’s league table is primarily based on the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), although some large areas not recorded in the WDPA, such as Motu Motiro Hiva and the Charlie Gibbs MPA, were also included by the MRC in their analysis.
However, the MRC emphasises that these figures are not a true reflection of how well the ocean is protected. In many cases areas officially designated as MPAs only offer minimal protection to the biodiversity within them, resulting in continued degradation. Furthermore, the MRC would argue that some areas included in the WDPA are not true MPAs.
ZSL’s Marine Reserves Coalition Coordinator, Fiona Llewellyn says: “Despite the promising figures at the top of the league table, total global MPA coverage stands at just 3.2%. And unfortunately we know that the level of protection afforded to marine biodiversity in the majority of these areas is questionable – in fact, we would question whether some of the areas should be included in the WDPA at all.
“The bottom line however is that the world’s governments have not acted responsibly towards our oceans, and despite commitments to safeguard marine life by creating protected areas, there has been very little implementation of these promises.”
At Rio +20, the MRC is calling for the designation of more ‘marine reserves’, a type of MPA, in which all fishing and other extractive and damaging activities are prohibited. Marine reserves are a simple and scientifically proven tool.
Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL says: “We want Rio+20 to result in real outcomes for the ocean. Genuine sustainable development cannot be achieved without a healthy marine environment. Governments already know this – now they must act.”
At Rio +20, which runs until 22 June, the MRC is seeking re-commitment and action from world leaders to achieve the 10% MPA target by 2020 as an absolute minimum first step towards a healthy ocean.